Côte-Rôtie, Rhône Valley


map credit : covinum.com

One of the most impressive vineyards in the country is located in the northern Rhône Valley next to the town of Vienne : Côte-Rôtie.

Not only is the scenery impressive, but so is the quality of some of the wines from that appellation.

Côte-Rôtie is one of the oldest vineyards in the country. Greek and Latin writers already knew of it, but its reputation has only grown over the centuries.

Before the French Revolution, Côte-Rôtie wines were sent to princely banquets in England, Russia, Prussia and, of course, France. Thomas Jefferson himself, ambassador to France and third President of the USA in the early 19th century, bought Côte-Rôtie wines.

However, after the phylloxera crisis and the 2 world wars, this great vineyard almost disappeared with only 98 acres of cultivated vines remaining.

At the time, and mainly during the 60’s, men were not overly interested in making wine, as 2 pounds of apricot were more expensive than one liter of wine.

Fortunately, in the 1970s, a new generation of winegrowers brought the renewal of Côte-Rôtie, which led to more than 740 acres of vines today and wines of great reputation.

The appellation Côte-Rôtie regroups the villages of Ampuis, Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rhône and Tupin-et-Semons. Winemakers on that appellation only make red wine from a unique blend of Syrah (80% to 100%) and of the white grape Viognier (0 to 20%).

The different “terroirs” on those 3 villages give different personalities and identities to the grapes and therefore to the wines. There are two main zones with different soils : côte brune and côte blonde. Also, the vines of Côte-Rôtie (it’s generally the case for all northern Rhône vineyards) stand on granite sub-soils. That kind of base combined with the local climate seems perfect to grow the Syrah grape which, in my opinion, gives its best possible expression in that area.

I’m often surprised when people tell me that they know Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage and yet never heard of Côte-Rôtie. l appreciate all of those wines, however the best wines from Côte-Rôtie are usually, from my humble opinion, superior to the best Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with their refinement, subtle aromas and perfect balance.

These wines are not as fleshy as most wines from the region, which is why they’re usually called more feminine. During a recent tasting, I noticed that the Viognier varietal usually gives to those wines fine floral notes on the nose as well as finesse and complexity. On the palate, the Syrah is more dominant with its tannins and extraverted personality. However, the Viognier brings some more alcohol to the blend which makes for a great balance in the mouth. I was often pleased by that impressive balance, my main criteria of quality. Enough body, nice freshness, fine tannins, and very aromatic wines, what else can you possibly want?

The price is the only negative thing about Côte-Rôtie as it is quite difficult to find a good bottle under 30€. But every once in a while, it’s definitely worth it!