The appellation of Côtes du Rhône covers an incredible 31,134 hectares of vineyard spread across 6 départments producing over 1,310,738 hectolitres of wine each year (over 174 million bottles). The most amazing fact of all is that winemakers largely manage to adhere to their forebears' aspirations of providing consistently dependable quality across one of France's most voluminous vine areas. That is a magnificent achievement and one we should celebrate – ideally with a glass or two of its reasonably-priced and reliable wine!
Jean-Pierre Meffre and his impressively monikered son-in-law Christian-Yves Carré de Lusançay are based at Domaine Saint Gayan - which lies between Gigondas and Séguret - where they produce a diverse range of accessible blends. A recent addition are two IGP Méditerranées, called 'Argiles'. The white is made from a blend of Piquepoul, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc that are grown on clay and gravel soils and vinified in thermo-regulated stainless steel vats. The finished wine is wonderfully fresh with a bright acidity and zesty citrus notes – it makes a versatile aperitif or partner to shellfish. A rosé sibling is made from 70% Grenache Noir and 10% each of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. It has a lovely coral pink colour, ripe red fruit aromas and a racy palate redolent of redcurrants. Not to be overlooked is their Côtes du Rhône Villages 'Sablet' – a complex blend of Viognier, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne in descending proportions. With wildflower and citrus scents and a stone-fruit palate offset by a fresh finish, it drinks well from release. Their red Côtes du Rhône 'Tréscartes' is made from Grenache Noir, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre. Matured for 18 months in vat before bottling, it has a lovely briary bouquet and beguiling hedgerow fruit flavours offset by fine-grained tannins.
One of our best-selling Côtes du Rhônes is the Pascal Frères bottling from Vacqueyras-based négociant-viticulteur Yves Chéron. Made from a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvédre, it has garrigue berry aromas and a palate packed with ripe red fruit, earthy undertones and peppery notes. It is a versatile crowd-pleaser that pairs well with grilled red meats.
The great Northern Rhône vigneron Jean-Louis Chave is not averse to sourcing fruit from the sunny south to make his excellent négociant bottling of Côtes du Rhône 'Mon Coeur'. Made from a base of 70% Grenache Noir along with 30% Syrah that are sourced from around the villages of Vinsobres and Cairanne, it has a deep purple robe and core of dark forest fruit offset by supple tannins.
Christine Vernay and daughter Emma Ansellem's pure fruit-forward Syrah comes from a small 1ha plot on the steep slopes above the town of Condrieu. Classed as IGP Collines Rhodaniennes (Rhône Hills), its blue-violet robe belies intense black cherry and cassis aromas, crushed blackberry fruit and sleek, supple tannins.
Completing our compendium is the Boisson family's 'Petit Caboche' - an IGP Vin de Pays de Vaucluse made from an esoteric blend of Caledoc (a Malbec and Grenache cross), Syrah, Marselan (a Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec cross) and Egiodola. It is evocative of crushed forest fruit with peppery undertones and smooth tannins and is made for gratifying off-the-bat drinking.