In the seventh century, in a part of France’s Ardèche called Cousignac, a small chapel was built and named Notre Dame. In the 18th century, the Pommier family bought the property and over the years turned the fields into vineyards. The chapel is still there, now in the middle of the Pommiers’ vineyards, and the winery’s name is, appropriately, Notre Dame de Cousignac.
Now run by Raphael, the seventh generation of the Pommier family, Notre Dame de Cousignac lies west of the Rhône River across from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Its vineyards are all certified organic and cover the appellations Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Vivarais. “All my wines are blends,” Raphael noted. And all his wines are without barrel aging, which is why their natural fruit flavors, untouched by oak, are so dominant.
Côtes du Vivarais, a small and generally unfamiliar appellation, is in the southern part of the Ardèche and a northern strip of the Gard and has only seven producers. Raphael’s Côtes du Vivarais Blanc 2011 ($14) combines Marsanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc. Its first pleasure is an aroma of intense and spicy fruit flavors; its second pleasure is the spiciness that follows through in the fresh, minerally taste, leaving a medium-long finish.
Ardèche 2011 ($14), a blend of equal amounts of Syrah and Grenache with 20 percent Carignane, has the suppleness of satin, is well balanced and easily approachable.
Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012 ($16), whose lead grape is the Clairette of 50-year-old vines, complemented with a 30 percent blend of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier, is fruity and fresh with a floral essence. It is relatively fullbodied, making it a wine that can graduate from an aperitif to a first-course dish.
Notre Dame de Cousignac’s Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge ($19) blends 70 percent Grenache with 30 percent Syrah to produce a deep-shaded wine whose aroma is reminiscent of dark cherries. Ample-bodied and round, its taste begins with a hint of earthiness followed by a whiff of anise. “That licorice flavor is a result of iron in the soil,” Raphael explained.
The Ardèche is a quiet place, but with their quality-to-price ratio, these are wines that shout their value.
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