With around 30,000 hectares under vine across 6 départments and encompassing 21 different grape varieties, you could be forgiven thinking that the Côtes du Rhône appellation would produce hugely variable wines but what is amazing is how consistently good they are. The entry level is high and, in the 21st Century, its rare that you come across a truly duff example. That said, we have been cherry-picking the very best for over 50 years so like to think our range would be hard to improve upon.
Based in Gigondas, the Meffre family's Domaine Saint Gayan is one of our longest-serving suppliers and is an excellent source of sensibly-priced and well-crafted wines. Their terrific white 'Sablet' is made from a blend of Viognier, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussanne and Grenache and has bright peach and apricot scents and flavours and a smooth, dry finish. They also make a crisp IGP rosé from Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Cinsault that has an attractive salmon-pink colour and a generous weight of summer berry fruit. Completing the range is their principal bottling of red Côtes-du-Rhône, from Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre in descending proportions. It has a palate redolent of juicy, dark garrigue berries with warming peppery undertones and will cellar well for 3-5 years.
Just 5 kilometres to the south in Vacqueyras, our old friend Yves Cheron's 'Pascal Frères' négociant enterprise is an equally dependable outlet. Their unfailingly-reliable, red 'Cuvée Personelle' is made from a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mouvèdre; it has stewed red fruit aromas and a pleasant, plummy palate supported by supple tannins.
A popular recent addition to this range is Jean-Louis Chave's impressive 'Mon Coeur', which is another négociant bottling from Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah grown around the hill villages of Cairanne and Vinsobres. It has a beautiful black fruit bouquet and a dense, dark, pitchy palate offset by cooler, granitic notes.
Another celebrated Northern Rhône wine-maker producing sensational but accessible wines is Christine Vernay whose Sainte-Agathe bottling of Syrah exhibits signature sleek, dark berry and cherry characteristics over a framework of silky tannins. It drinks well from release but will mature gracefully for at least 5 years. For reasons too arcane to go into here it has now switched from being a Côtes du Rhône per se to being an IGP Collines Rhodannienes but it proves the axiom that 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'
Another IGP interloper here is Jean-Pierre and Emilie Boisson's 'Petit Caboche' from the Vaucluse. Made from a blend of Caledoc, Syrah, Marselan and Egiodola it has rapidly gained an appreciative audience seduced by its voluptuous, soft red fruit and incontrovertible good value.