The hilly, free-draining vine country to the west of the Rhône represents a happy hunting ground for those looking for well-made, characterful and keenly-priced wines. The pioneering 'Vignerons Ardéchois' cave coopérative, based in Ruoms, 20 kilometres due south of Aubenas, produce an excellent range of well-crafted, accessible wines for immediate drinking. They deploy an unusual but effective blend of Grenache Blanc and Sauvignon for their white 'Les Terrasses' bottling, that is sealed under screw-cap to conserve its youthful freshness. It has a subtle bouquet of citrus fruit with hints of herbs and a zesty, dry, un-oaked palate. A sibling red, also bearing the 'Les Terrasses' label (and screw-cap), is made from a blend of Merlot and Syrah and has bags of ripe cassis fruit over a background of supple tannins. Viognier is a difficult grape to both grow and vinify, but the Vignerons Ardéchois version is exemplary. It has lush, almost tropical, fruit aromas and a smooth, peachy palate with an elegant, dry finish. A pure Chardonnay is equally reliable with generous orchard fruit scents and flavours and delicate mineral notes. A straight Cabernet Sauvignon is one of our most popular red wines with bright blackcurrant aromas and a plummy, mid-weight palate with a fresh acidity, it is terrific value for money and would give many a Petit Château claret a good run for its money. Their Pinot Noir also exhibits bags of varietal character with appealing raspberry aromas and supple, stewed red fruit flavours over a foundation of fine tannins. A cracking Côtes du Vivarais, from the south of the Ardèche, is blended from Syrah and Grenache and has lots of warming, spicy, dark fruit, making it an ideal accompaniment to simple roasts and casseroles. A welcome new arrival here is a 'Basalte' Syrah grown on the iron-rich volcanic soil on the Massif du Coiron plateau below Privas. Writing in The Telegraph, Victoria Moore described the 2016 vintage as "elegant and satisfying" appreciating its aromas of "stone and dark fruit." It is the cheapest un-blended Syrah that we list and, as such, a relative bargain.
We have listed the Cave de Saint-Désirat's Gamay for decades and it remains as good as ever. It has inviting summer berry scents and a juicy, ripe cherry and cranberry palate with pleasant peppery notes. It drinks well lightly-chilled in the summer and makes a fine accompaniment to all manner of picnic foods.