None of the wine-makers featured here are known or perceived as being first and foremost producers of Côtes-du-Rhône as they all bottle wines from more prestigious, and necessarily more costly, appellations. That, however, is overlooking the point that, in volumes terms at least, most of them put their names to more bottles of Côtes-du-Rhône than anything else, so perhaps they should be judged in terms of quality in relation to quality. As Mr Yapp senior has been fond of observing: "It is easy to buy small volumes of fine wines at commensurate prices but sourcing commercial volumes of well-made, keenly-priced wines is another matter altogether." Happily, these vignerons have a wealth of experience and every listing is hard fought. Of course, cheaper examples can be readily found. Better ones? Less so.
Based in Gigondas, Jean-Pierre Meffre, ably assisted by son-in-law Christian-Yves Carré de Lusançay (which is a moniker that is easier to get your lips around after a glass or two), is a gifted grower whose family have been bottling Grenache-based blends there for over 500 years. His Domaine Saint Gayan bottling of red Côtes-du-Rhône is one of our bestselling wines and has proved remarkably consistent over numerous vintages. It has a wealth of dark, garrigue
berry fruit over a background of fine-grained tannins and is a sure fire crowd-pleaser. Equally meritorious is his white 'Sablet', from a diverse blend of Viognier, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussanne and Grenache. With bright apricot and peach scents and flavours and an alluring, dry finish, it has enough weight to stand up well to fish and chicken dishes. Poulet à l'estragon
, as immortalised by Elizabeth David, springs to mind. New to this list, from a blend of Grenache and Syrah, is a cracking, coral pink Côtes du Rhône rosé. It is packed with inviting crushed berry scents and flavours and will make for terrific summer drinking.
Jean-Pierre's near neighbour, Yves Cheron, whose HQ is 3 kilometres further south in Vacqueyras, trades under the pseudonym 'Pascal Frères', as his complex négociant dealings preclude him bottling his entire output eponymously. No matter, the end results are magnificent and his cracking 'Cuvée Personelle', which is commendably aged before release, is an object lesson is assiduous vineyard and cellar management. Made from a classic blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, it has a bouquet of stewed red fruit and a palate of ripe plums and damsons with pleasant peppery undertones.
La famille Boisson are best-known as producers and purveyors of Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the celebrated Domaine du Père Caboche estate, but they also make some wonderfully-accessible wines from less rarefied locations. Their 'Petit Caboche' bottling, which is a humble Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, has fast established itself as a firm favourite with our discerning clientele. Blended from an unusual but harmonious admixture of Caledoc, Syrah, Marselan and Grenache; it is bursting with juicy, blackberry and blackcurrant flavours offset by supple tannins and a fresh acidity.
Jean-Louis Chave enjoys world renown as a vigneron-éleveur of topflight Hermitage. Happily for the more impecunious amongst us, he also makes a superb Côtes-du-Rhône called 'Mon Coeur', which is sourced from mature rootstock around the villages of Vinsobres and Cairanne. Expertly blended from a base of Grenache, Mouvèdre and, bien sur, Syrah, it has an enticing black fruit aromas and a dense, dark granitic palate with a core of briary hedgerow fruit. It drinks very well from release but will readily support 3-5 years bottle age.
Based in Condrieu, Christine Vernay is another prestigious Northern Rhône producer who has added some creditable Côtes du Rhône to her portfolio. From vines adjacent to Côte-Rôtie, her sublime Syrah 'Saint Agathe' exudes bags of glossy, dark fruit underscored with subtle herb and mineral nuances preceding an elegant and persistent finish. It merits decanting and will make a perfect foil to grilled red meat or fricasseed wild mushroom dishes.
Lastly, we are thrilled to have secured a parcel of the Clape family's terrific Côtes du Rhône, described as "an especially good bargain" by none other than Robert Parker. Made from pure Syrah, it carries the house signature mineral-streaked hedgerow fruit offset by a fresh acidity. It is readily-approachable from bottling but will cellar well for (at least) 5 years.