Over-production of inferior wines lead to the collapse of the bulk wine market and the creation of infamous 'wine lakes' after France joined the E.U. and the Common Agricultural Policy in 1957. This induced the government to give grants for grubbing up high-yielding grapes such as Carignan and Aramon and to introduce the ground-breaking 'Vin de Pays' system. The hope was that focusing on superior 'cépages améliorers' would improve quality and revive the market. Happily, it did and a group of forward-thinking caves co-opératives were pivotal to that success. A fine example of which is the Vignerons Ardéchois operation based in the heart of the Ardèche in Ruoms, which was founded in 1967 and remains a terrific source of well-crafted inexpensive wines.
Their red and white 'Les Terrasses' cuvées, that are blended from Merlot - Syrah and Grenache Blanc - Sauvignon Blanc respectively, are both well-balanced, clean and fruity and intended to be jolly palatable with or without food. Commendably, they are bottled under screw-cap to conserve their youthful vigour so are ideal for entertaining. A pure Chardonnay that is mid-weight, un-oaked and redolent of ripe orchard fruit is very good value and full enough to partner fish and poultry. A sibling Viognier also has bags of varietal character with tropical fruit scents and flavours and an elegant dry finish. It makes for an uplifting aperitif or partner to spicy Asiatic dishes.
The team at Ruoms are equally adept at producing crowd-pleasing reds. Their Cabernet Sauvignon has classic cassis and pencil shaving aromas and a juicy, berry-infused palate supported by fine-grained tannins. It is a failsafe red to have in the kitchen to augment stews and reward plongeurs. A pure Pinot Noir is lighter both in colour and taste with lots of ripe, raspberry fruit and subtle wood-smoke aromas. It drinks well lightly chilled and would make a perfect accompaniment to some grilled pigeon breasts or freshly-foraged morels. The Union's extensive reach also takes in a fine Côtes du Vivarais 'Réserve' bottling which is blended from Syrah and Grenache and has lots of dark, forest fruit set against a backdrop of peppery tannins. A recent addition to the range is a 'Basalte de Coiron' Syrah grown on the iron-rich volcanic soils of the massif below Privas. With a core of seductive autumnal fruit and a fresh acidity, it is a relative bargain compared with many offerings from the Rhône.
The highly-regarded Cave de Saint-Désirat, which is located beside the busy Route Nationale 86 due east of Annonay, produces an excellent Gamay that has engendered a loyal following among the Yapp party faithful. It has a bright, red berry bouquet and a ripe redcurrant and raspberry palate with pleasant peppery undertones and lends itself well to al fresco imbibing when lightly chilled.