"Buy my book about the Roussillon wine region (colour paperback or eBook) on Amazon UK HERE or Amazon USA HERE. Or order it direct from me (UK & EU only). Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap/click on the link over the cover photo (below right)." Richard Mark James

25 July 2010

Hot southern French winey summer, part 3: unknown Rhone

The southern Ardeche to be precise, or "Ardèche méridionale" in French which has a "sexier south" ring to it somehow. It's difficult not to be wowed by the stunningly varied and wild countryside in the southern chunk of this huge "département," which spans out from the Rhone river itself (the eastern flank stretches along almost the entire length of those more familiar northern to southern Rhone valley wine areas) way out west into the Cévennes hills on the edge of the Massif Central mountain range; marked by the winding Ardeche river and those spectacular gorges it's carved out over time and dotted with myriad hilltop villages teetering with history.
Wine producers, along with the tourist board, restaurant & hotel owners, museums & sites etc. have really got their act together in this neck of the woods. There's a comprehensive programme of winey and other things to do on this site: lesvinsdardeche.com. And a resumé below of my findings and feelings gleaned from a flying visit to the area last month.
Update: a full-monty wine travel feature on the Ardeche has been published here, packed with nice wineries to check out (40 reds, whites and rosés recommended) and places to go, eat & stay. A taster:
"One of a handful of emerging Rhone valley wine areas but still not well known outside of France, the southern Ardeche is nurturing some surprising good, and great value, fruity peppery Grenache and Syrah based reds and rosés, as well as tasty contemporary whites (made from Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache blanc in particular)." There are three distinct wine appellations:
Cotes du Rhone and CdR Villages around Bourg-Saint-Andéol in the southeast corner (northwest of Orange) - a few recommended estates here (generally, the southern Ardeche is dominated by sometimes well-run, now amalgamated co-op cellars) include Domaine de Couron, Mas de Libian, Domaine Nicolas Croze, Domaine du Chapitre (his sublime 1999 CdRV shows how well some of the reds can age), Domaine Coulange and the St-Just St-Marcel co-op.
Heading to the west and north: Cotes du Vivarais - names to look out for include Clos de L'Abbé Dubois, Vignerons Ardechois, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac, Mas de Bagnols and Cave d'Orgnac l'Aven. This region is also home to the fragrant Lavender Museum surrounded by rolling lavender fields, where they still produce their own addictive lavender oils and other products.
Keep going west and north: vins de pays des Coteaux de l'Ardeche and the new IGP ("indication géographique protégée") Ardeche zone - very good value varietals and blends from e.g. Domaine de Peyrebrune, Domaine du Colombier, Domaine de Cassagnole, Cave d'Alba La Romaine, Domaine de Pecoulas, Domaine du Grangeon. And not forgetting 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...
My full article on WW.com also features a couple of restaurant and hotel recommendations; and, in addition to the Ardeche gorges being canoeing heaven by the way, there are several well-organised "wine routes" and some of the producers mentioned above lay on tailor-made mini-tours and tastings for small groups, as well as offering holiday gite or B&B accommodation. Another wine event to pencil in in the meantime: Sunday 8th August, the Fête des Vignerons Ardéchois in Ruoms with entertainment, tastings and live music.
Picture = "Chèvre chaud rôti aux amandes et à la farine de châtaigne" (baked goats' cheese with almonds and chestnut flour (chestnuts, in many different guises, are a huge local speciality) with a nice white wine from www.lesvinsdardeche.com

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