WineWriting.com & French Mediterranean Wine
Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

France - southern Rhône Valley: Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cairanne, Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau, Séguret, Uchaux, Visan, Lirac, Gigondas, Ventoux, Tavel. 'Southern Ardèche, unknown Rhône' - Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Vivarais, Ardèche IGP, Lavender Museum, restaurants...

Southern Rhône winery A to Z

Domaine Brusset (Cairanne)
Clos de Caveau (Vacqueyras)
La Célestière (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Domaine Jean David (Séguret)
Vignerons d'Estézargues (Côtes du Rhône)
Clos du Joncuas (Gigondas)
Marrenon (Ventoux)
Domaine de Mourchon and HERE (Séguret)
Château La Nerthe and HERE (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Ogier - Notre Dame de Cousignac (2012 update: see Southern Ardeche feature below too - Côtes du Vivarais/Rhône Villages)
Palai Mignon (Tavel & Lirac)
Cave de Rasteau and HERE and HERE (Rasteau): update to follow soon...
Domaine St Etienne (Côtes du Rhône)
Clos de Trias (Ventoux).

Other regional posts:
Rhone "reds of the moment": Rasteau & Lirac (Feb 2015)

Châteauneuf-du-Pape: 'World Grenache Competition' (Feb 2013)
Côtes du Rhône mini-focus (Nov 2014): Estézargues, Saint Etienne, Mourchon, Rasteau.

'Southern Ardèche, unknown Rhone...' Wine tasting and travel report on the southern Ardèche, a lesser-known region in the Rhône Valley (Côtes du Rhône/Côtes du Vivarais/Ardèche IGP) featuring these producers: Couron, Libian, Nicolas Croze, Chapitre, Coulange, St-Just St-Marcel, Abbé Dubois, Vignerons Ardéchois, Notre Dame Cousignac, Bagnols, Orgnac Aven, Peyrebrune, Colombier, Cassagnole, Alba Romaine, Pecoulas, Grangeon, La Cévenole... (2010).

The southern Ardèche to be exact, or "Ardèche méridionale" in French, which has a "sexier south" ring to it somehow. When sightseeing and wine tasting around here, it's difficult not to be wowed by the stunningly varied and wild countryside in the southern chunk of this huge département: "number 09" in the vaguely alphabetical region system (rather than my slight yet apparently continuing obsession with the recently repeated / remade Prisoner series). It spans out from the Rhône river - its eastern flank stretches along almost the entire length of those more familiar northern to southern Rhône Valley wine areas - way out west into the Cévennes hills on the edge of the Massif Central range; marked by the winding Ardèche itself, and those spectacular gorges it has carved out over time, and dotted with myriad hilltop villages teetering with history.
Wine producers, big and small, along with the tourist board, restaurant & hotel owners, museums & sites etc. appear to have got their act together in this neck of the woods. As a starting point, there's a regularly updated programme of winey and other things to do/see on this site: lesvinsdArdèche.com; as well as generic info and stats on each wine region, grape varieties, local food specialities and a winery directory (click here for the latter: ardeche-wines.com). And read on, of course, for my findings and feelings gleaned from a flying visit to the area in June 2010. An overview: "One of a handful of emerging Rhône valley wine regions, although still not well known outside of France, the southern Ardèche is nurturing some surprisingly good, and great value, fruity peppery Grenache and Syrah based reds and rosés; as well as tasty contemporary whites, made from Viognier, Marsanne, Chardy and Grenache blanc in particular..."
To get to grips with the whole, we can split it up into three distinct wine appellations. Firstly, 1400 hectares (ha = 3500 acres) of Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages around the town of Bourg-Saint-Andéol in the southeast corner (northwest of Orange, across the river obviously). A few recommended estates here - generally, the southern Ardèche is dominated by sometimes well-run, now amalgamated co-op cellars - include Domaine de Couron, Mas de Libian, Domaine Nicolas Croze, Domaine du Chapitre (owner Frédéric Dorthe's sublime 1999 CdRV shows how well certain reds can age), Domaine Coulange and the St-Just St-Marcel co-op for value. Refer to my notes, recommendations and comments below; and click on the ardeche-wines.com link highlighted above for contact and web details (same goes for producers mentioned below).
"ABC: it's Chatus, silly!"
Heading to the west and north, you cross over into Côtes du Vivarais country (500 ha = 1250 acres): names to look out for here include Clos de L'Abbé Dubois, Vignerons Ardéchois, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac, Mas de Bagnols (a small 6 ha estate in Vinezac) and Cave d'Orgnac l'Aven (see notes below). Keep going west and north, and you'll find vineyards (7500 ha in all) growing vins de pays des Coteaux de l'Ardèche and the new IGP ("indication géographique protégée," which will replace vin de pays) Ardèche zone. A useful source of very good value varietals and blends from wineries such as Domaine de Peyrebrune, Domaine du Colombier, Domaine de Cassagnole, Cave d'Alba La Romaine (part of the Vignerons Ardéchois group with about 30 member growers producing mostly white wine, "unusually"), Domaine de Pecoulas and Domaine du Grangeon (see wines below). And not forgetting the Cave Co-op La Cévenole, "passionate defenders" of (drum roll)... the Chatus variety! An obscure local red grape, which seems capable of making long-lived structured reds and is being gradually replanted on certain terraced hillside sites...
Our guide to the Cévenole side of the Ardeche, with its very different terrain and climate (more mountain-like), and informer on all matters "Chatus" was Hervé the co-op Pres. Sporting flip-flops, workmanlike shorts, T-shirt saying "Paysan et fier de l'etre" ("Farmer" or "country boy and proud of it") and riding in a Williams-Renault Clio type motor that looked like it'd been through a muddy vineyard; the omens were good! "We are replanting it but taking it easy, so the market follows," Hervé explained. "Chatus resisted well to the drought in 2003, but in 2008 we had a few problems with mildew." There are still some ancient Chatus vines too near the village of Rosieres, about 130 years old apparently! Anyway, try the red (I'm not 100% on the rosé they make from it) if you're in the area and, whatever you do, don't pronounce the "s" on the end. In addition, Hervé's colleagues are working on creating a "wine tourism charter" and can organise trips around their vineyards with a tasting and meal, for example. Within the entire Ardeche sector, there are four mapped-out "wine routes"; and some of the estates and co-ops already mentioned will lay on tailor-made mini-tours and tastings for small groups, as well as offering holiday gite or B&B accommodation (again, see website above). The amazing Ardèche gorges are also canoeing heaven, by the way, even if not connected with this (drinking and canoeing, could be dangerous...)


The Côtes du Vivarais region is home to the fragrant Lavender Museum too, in Saint Remèze (ardechelavandes.com), surrounded by rolling wind-swept lavender fields and where they still produce their own addictive oils, soaps and other lavender products (available in the shop on the way out, of course!). The guided tour was instructive too: I wasn't up to speed at all on the production process - it's distilled for a start - and different lavender varieties. The three main ones they "grow" here are: "lavande fine" at 500m to 1400m above sea level, which is the most sought-after by perfume companies for its indeed very fine aromas; "aspic" which grows wild from 200-600m altitude and is very intense and spicy; and a natural hybrid of the two called "lavandin," the more common-or-garden and productive variety that's easier to cultivate and is probably the one you've got on your terrace or garden, if you have a lavender plant. Lavandin oil is cheaper than the other two, but I find it very pleasant and sleep-inducing when sprinkled under your pillow!
On the eating front, the photo here is "chèvre chaud rôti aux amandes et à la farine de châtaigne" = baked goats' cheese in almond and chestnut flour (recipe by Raymond Laffont, a restaurateur in Ozon, copied from lesvinsdardeche.com); try it with a nice zesty white or rosé picked from my top 40 below! By the way, chestnuts, in many different guises, are a huge local speciality; I had them in savoury and sweet dishes, as well as being used for making a kind of jam spread or purée. And the region boasts several delicious goats' cheeses... the lunch menu we had at La Mère Biquette, found near Saint-Pons down a winding little lane in the middle of green rocky hilly nowhere (they have rooms too: check it out on www.merebiquette.fr), featured both. We started with a pile of homemade charcuterie and terrines, followed by a tasty pork stew/tagine with chestnuts, then a mini-selection of local cheeses (including their own, non-Brussels friendly goats' cheese; one of which was so aged, spicy and intense, it made my tongue glow!) and finally a delicious duo of chestnut ice cream and apricot sorbet. See below for which wines I thought worked best, or didn't. Other Ardeche restaurant and hotel recommendations include Le Prieuré in Bourg-Saint-Andéol.

WINES

Wine "scores." You'll notice a departure here from the usual "100-point" system proliferated across this site, as I suddenly just got (and still am) bored of this narrow, although admittedly widely recognised, way of "assessing" wines. So, for this feature I dreamed up a new simpler scheme showing one to three ticks, as below, which echoes the already popular "star" ratings you see around. Still best to actually read my comments at the end of the day, if that's not too boring. And inevitably, I ended up giving some half-marks as well represented by a tick in brackets! These were sampled on 1-3 June 2010 in winery, restaurant or garden...
√ = good √ √ = very good √ √ √ = fabulous

Côtes du Rhône & Côtes du Rhône Villages - tasted at L'Étourdi bar - restaurant Saint-Martin d'Ardèche

WHITE
2009 Domaine de Couron "Les Demoiselles" (Grenache blanc, Viognier) - quite rich nose with bruised pear and tropical fruits, spicy too; has attractive zest vs "sweet" fruit vs rounded oily mouth-feel, fresh and more mineral on the finish vs fairly punchy too. €5.20 √
2009 Mas de Libian "Cave Vinum" (Roussanne, Clairette, Viognier) - quite exotic pineapple and honeysuckle nose with complex toasty / lees tones; full-bodied and rounded vs crunchier "chalky" finish, intricate lees character and bite vs light creaminess; has power and concentration too, needs a few months to come together but very promising. €10 √ √
I also tasted Mas de Libian's seductive 2009 Viognier (vin de pays = √) over dinner the night before. Certain plots/varieties at Libian are organically farmed using horses in the vineyard. Some of their wines are available in the UK from the Wine Society and specialist importer/retailer Caves de Pyrène.

RED
2007 "Grande Réserve" Cave Coopérative de Saint-Just Saint-Marcel (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - enticing up-front fruity nose showing ripe and spicy black plum, liquorice and smoky cherry too; quite rich and soft vs a hint of grip and peppery tones, attractive "sweet" liquorice vs dry texture. Value @ €4.50 √
2008 Domaine Nicolas Croze "Notre Dame de Melinas" (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault) - cooler black cherry fruit and white pepper aromas; firm framework with spice and oomph, subtle concentration of darkish cherry fruit vs tight refreshing and "chalkier" finish; has taut length and more "reductive" style anyway, needing a bit of time to express itself although good with food now. About €10 √ (√)
2009 Mas de Libian "Khayyam" (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) - nice dark cherry and white pepper on the nose; grippy structure vs concentrated spicy damson flavours, powerful with plenty of extract / coating of tannins vs "sweet" fruit vs fresh bite too. Promising. €11 √ (√)
And their tasty 2007 the night before = √+ too.
2005 Domaine du Chapitre "Le Chapitre" (Grenache, Syrah) - wow: violets, squashed plum and liquorice with complex volatile edges, turning savoury and peppery; concentrated dried fruits with touches of leather, still pretty solid vs smoky meaty edges; nice chunky vs "sweet/savoury" finish going well with food, although there's a few years in it yet. €9 √ √ (√)
I tried Chapitre's 1999 red (his first vintage) with dinner the night before, which was lovely and mature also warranting at least √ √.
2007 Domaine Coulange (Grenache, Syrah) - minty smoky nose with ripe black fruits and liquorice; supple lush and "sweet" vs peppery and powerful, tasty "sweet/savoury" finish vs still pretty structured. Attractive now although will go 1-2 years easily. €10 √ (√)
2007 Domaine du Chapitre "Le Cardinal" (Syrah, Grenache) - definitely more Syrah (although hints of "cardboardy" wood on the nose too?) with crunchier black fruit profile vs underlying oak spice and grainy texture; tight closed and firm on the finish, again a bit extracted and very grippy but it's concentrated for sure; spicy with slightly awkward alcohol/tannins, no doubt will develop well even if hard work at the moment. €22 √ √
2008 Domaine de Couron (Grenache, Syrah) - usually has a splash of Mourvèdre too but not in 2008. A touch stalky or corked on the nose, even the second bottle? Shows better "sweet" fruit on the palate vs chunky tannins and fresh bite, tight "chalky" finish. Probably just a bit awkward at first (generally the 2008 reds take more time to express themselves than the seductive 07s), it did open up revealing attractive spicy side too. Needs 6 to 12 months. €6.50 √

Côtes du Vivarais: tasted at the Lavender Museum (outside!), Saint Remèze

WHITE
2008 Clos de l'Abbé Dubois (Grenache blanc, Marsanne) - quite rich / oily and nutty style with nice rounded mouth-feel vs quite crisp and balanced finish, nutty oxidising edges too; attractive even if lacks a bit of concentration. €7 √

ROSÉ
2009 Vignerons Ardéchois "Beaumont des Gras" (Grenache, Syrah) - nice raspberry and redcurrant vs creamy texture vs crisp and dry, light bitter twist too; attractive glugger at this price. €3.30 (√)
2009 Vignerons Ardéchois "Réserve" (Grenache, Syrah) - riper strawberry and red cherry profile; weightier and more concentrated too with fruity vs zesty palate, tight and crisp vs creamy on the finish. €4.70 √
2009 Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan; converting 10 ha over to organics) - warm "winey" nose, less aromatic style with more weight and oily texture; good crisp vs powerful finish making it a nice foodie (e.g. with tomato based dishes). €5.70 √
Latest Notre Dame de Cousignac vintages HERE (Dec 2012).

RED
2004 Mas de Bagnols (50/50 Grenache, Syrah) - attractive mature dried cherry and savoury notes; soft elegant mouth-feel, quite light but it's a nice mature wine showing "sweet" fruit, a touch of tannin still and subtle length. Value too @ €4.20: √
2006 Mas de Bagnols "Cuvée Pauline" (Syrah, Grenache) - spicier with wild herb tones vs dried black cherry; fuller and rounder, again has attractive savoury maturing notes with good balance and style; light tannins adding more structure vs elegant length. €6 √(√)
2007 Clos de l'Abbé Dubois (50/50 Grenache, Syrah) - enticing ripe vs wild edged and smoky nose with "garrigue", liquorice and spice aromas; quite firm palate yet has nice texture and dry vs "sweet" vs spicy profile, still fairly tight and structured vs lovely dried black cherry and liquorice fruit. Again great price €5. √(√)
2008 Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) - closed and awkward on the nose although displays some white pepper; lively "chalky" mouth-feel layered with cherry and blueberry flavours, tight (almost tart) finish with solid tannins, fair weight and spicy lavender notes. Needs 6 months or so to come together (typical 2008 perhaps). €5.70 √
2009 "Cuvée de l'Aven" Cave Coopérative d'Orgnac L'Aven (Grenache, Syrah) - quite rich and aromatic with nice ripe strawberry, black cherry and a tad of liquorice too; peppery and fairly powerful, firm and fresh vs "sweet" fruited with "chalky" texture; nice wine especially at this price. €3.40 √
2009 "Réserve" Vignerons Ardéchois (Grenache, Syrah) - more extracted style with black fruits, berries and damsons; taut solid and more concentrated palate with subtle white pepper and liquorice flavours, dry coating of tannins to finish indicating could be pretty good 6-12 months down the line. €5.50 √(√)
2009 "Grand Aven" Vignerons Ardéchois (from same parcels as above but 100% Syrah with different winemaking and ageing) - closed up "vinous" nose, a bit clunky to start; develops into lush black cherry/berry with strawberry jam too vs very chunky tannins, concentrated and tight with "chalky" peppery tones vs riper liquorice flavours; could be good stuff. √ √

IGP Ardèche & Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l'Ardèche - tasted at Restaurant Les Cèdres (Joyeuse), Cave d'Alba La Romaine and Hostellerie La Mère Biquette (see below)

WHITE
2009 Chardonnay Vignerons Ardéchois - citrus and white peach notes; juicy vs rounded mouth-feel with again that nice natural crispness and mineral side, finishing with a bit of weight and oily texture too. €4.40 (√)
2009 Domaine de Peyrebrune Viognier - attractive floral, apricot and pineapple aromas; juicy rounded palate vs zesty and light bitter twist. Nice style. €5.20 √
2009 Domaine du Colombier "Réserve" Viognier - spicy toasty touches with rounded oily texture; spicy, zesty and crisp vs creamy punchy finish. €7.50 √(√)
2009 Domaine de Pecoulas Grenache blanc - floral honeyed nose with white peach undertones; rounder lees-y palate with crisp finish, light aniseed flavours too; fairly simple but good with the pork tagine dish and value too @ €3.50. √

ROSÉ
2009 Gris de Grenache Vignerons Ardéchois - crisp and lively with gentle red fruit flavours, refreshing mineral finish. €3.25 (√)
2009 "Terre de Figuier" Vignerons Ardéchois (Syrah) - full-on colour with ester-y cherry and strawberry fruit; juicy vs creamy vs crisp palate, long dry finish with a hint of grip even! €4.70 √
2009 Domaine de Cassagnole "Esprit" (Syrah, Cabernet) - floral with attractive yet tight, crisp and long mouth-feel; underlying/underlining red fruit cocktail and a bit of style too. €4.70 √
2009 Chatus Cave Coopérative La Cévenole - perfumed vs crisp red fruits with tight fresh finish; nice with the charcuterie although a bit tart on its own perhaps. €4.50 (√)

RED
2006 Chatus "Monnaie d'Or" Cave La Cévenole (including some very old vines) - rich colour for a 2006, smoky savoury edges on the nose; chunky vs grainy texture, quite spicy with still firm tannins vs dried cassis and black cherry flavours; develops a smoother finish with a little airing, intriguing little number. €6.80 √
2009 "Modestine" Vignerons Ardéchois (Gamay) - nice quaffer in a richer, riper, fuller Beaujolais way; black cherry fruit and a hint of chocolate even. €3.20 (√)
2009 Domaine du Grangeon "Mon Coeur" (Gamay with passerillage = letting the grapes shrivel and dry out) - odd yet good sweet red: complex volatile nose showing overripe blackcurrant and raspberry; attractive balance of sweet vs refreshing and crunchy vs a touch of wood texture. €10 √ √
2007 "Juliau" Cave Coopérative Alba La Romaine (Grenache) - enticing peppery vs liquorice nose; quite soft and "sweet" in the mouth vs fresh and juicy touches, meaty maturing finish vs more liquorice; drinking now and value @ €4.70. √
2007 "Terre de Frigoule" Vignerons Ardéchois (Syrah) - spicy wild herby nose plus lovely ripe black cherry notes; savoury edges with nice dry vs supple tannins, those spicy wild floral notes come back on its charming finish. €4.50 √
2009 "Basalte" Syrah Cave Alba La Romaine - rich pure spicy black fruit aromas; good concentration with delicious peppery flavours, nice grip and fine balance too. Style and price @ €5.40 √√
2009 "Orélie" Vignerons Ardéchois (Merlot, Grenache, Gamay) - appealing enough with fruity plum and cherry notes, soft spicy and easy-going; again nice with the charcuterie. €3.50 (√)

SWEETIE
2008 "Secret d'Automne" Vignerons Ardéchois (late-picked Viognier, Sauvignon; 40g/l residual sugar) - sweet and sour style layered with late-harvest flavoured dried fruits and honey; quite attractive although turned a little bitter with an intense apricot sorbet! €7.50 (√)

All rights © Richard Mark James August 2010

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