Côtes-du-Rhône, the largest Appéllation Contrôlée in the Rhône valley – encompassing more than 30,000 hectares under vine across six départments – is (amazingly), one of its most reliable. Production here is focused overwhelmingly on red wine (accounting for 86% of output) and, given the scale of the operation, it is remarkably consistent, delivering rich, generous and warming wines with spicy undertones that pair well with food.
Jean-Pierre Meffre and Christian-Yvès Carré de Lusançay are based at Domaine Saint Gayan - between Gigondas and Séguret - where they produce a range of characterful wines with a strong sense of terroir and tradition. New to this list is their white IGP Méditerranée 'Argiles', made from an unusual blend of Piquepoul, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc. Initially produced for their personal consumption, it proved so popular with friends and family they decided to make it commercially. A sibling rosé - made from Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Cinsault - has a coral pink hue, a garrigue berry bouquet and juicy redcurrant and raspberry flavours. Their white 'Sablet' is made from a blend of Viognier, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc and has uplifting wild flower and citrus scents and a palate of yellow stone fruit with nervy mineral notes. Completing their range here is the über-reliable red Côtes-du-Rhône 'Trescartes', made from a base of Grenache Noir with lesser volumes of Syrah and Mourvèdre. With bramble fruit aromas and a pitchy core of black fruit and supple tannins, it drinks well from release with meat or mushroom dishes.
A few kilometres to the south in Vacqueyras, Yves Chéron makes a superb négociant bottling of Côtes-du-Rhône under his popular 'Pascal Frères' label. Made from a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre that is matured in vat before bottling, it has a wealth of dark berry scents and a smooth, sensuous palate of autumnal fruit with peppery undertones.,p>For the last 20 years, the celebrated Northern Rhône wine-maker Jean-Louis Chave has been making an excellent bottling of red Côtes-du-Rhône called 'Mon Coeur' which he releases under his 'J-L Chave Sélection' négociant label. Made from a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, it has inviting black fruit aromas and flavours, spicy undertones and fresh acidity that lends it well to drinking on its youthful fruit.
Another Northern Rhône luminary producing terrific forward-drinking red Rhône is Christine Vernay whose Collines Rhodaniennes bottling 'Sainte-Agathe' is made from pure Syrah grown on a steep escarpment above the town of Condrieu. With a purple robe, tapenade and black cherry notes and a sleek palate of juicy dark fruit supported by supple tannins, it drinks well from release and can be cellared for 5-7 years. The Saint Agathe vineyard also furnishes some of the Syrah for an additional cuvée, called 'Fleurs de Mai' with the balance coming from the 'Maclas' plateau. The de-stemmed grapes are crushed and the wine is raised for 6 months in 30 hectolitre 'tronconic' barrels before being fined and filtered. It has appealing raspberry scents and a smoothly-textured palate of stewed dark fruit with peppery undertones and a fresh finish.
Completing our range of wines for upmarket everyday drinking is the Boisson family's wonderfully reliable 'Petit Caboche'. Made from a blend of Caledoc, Syrah, Marselan and Egiodola, it is a spicy, fruit-laden 'crowd pleaser' designed to be enjoyed from release on its peppery red fruit.