Domaine de Rosiers (Louis Drevon)
Côte Rôtie is a highly respected and increasingly prestigious red wine appellation in the northern Rhône valley in France. One of the reasons it is of particular interest to today’s wine consumer is that, while the land into which it can spread is extremely limited, the increase in demand for the wines has led to rises in quality rather than quantity. The modern Côte Rôtie wine producers have turned to experimentation and high quality to make the most of the space available to them.
Côte Rôtie is the northernmost of the Rhône appellations, and is situated just to the south of Vienne, the town at the very top of the Rhône valley and home to many successful wine producers. The parishes of Ampuis, Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rhône and Tupin-et-Semons are the only three that may claim the appellation, and only particular plots of land within those towns are legally approved as suitable for producing Côte Rôtie wines. The steep hillsides (côtes) of the area rise up sharply above Ampuis, which is located on an alluvial plateau by the Rhone river. There are about 10 ridges running north-south, each no more than 2000ft (600m) across and each with a corresponding tree-lined valley. The ridges reach heights of 1150 ft (330m) within a mile of the river banks, bringing the benefits of increased altitude as well as increased exposure to sunlight.
Côte Rôtie wines are renowned for being elegant and finely structured, with complex aromas typical of the local terroir and of the Syrah grape variety with which they are made. As is the case in Crozes-Hermitage, an addition of up to 20% of the white variety Viognier is permitted under the appellation law, and producers take full advantage of this to bring elegance and balance to their wines.
There is a recognized distinction between the two main wine styles of the appellation, manifested by the noticeably different wines from two of the title’s most prized vineyards. The wines from the Côte Blonde (just to the south of Ampuis) are lighter, fruitier, more sumptuous and approachable at an earlier age. Those from the Cote Brune (immediately north of Ampuis) are made in a more structured, tannic, ‘extracted’ style to capitalize on the effect of the iron soils, and often without an addition of Viognier. The Côte Blonde is, as its name suggests, a hillside covered with lighter-colored sandy soils and a limestone base. The Côte Brune is no less true to its name, being a slope covered with reddish-brown soils, enriched with iron. The soils of many Syrah/Shiraz-favored vineyards in Australia share this iron-rich soil type, and the temperatures to match. In fact, Cote Rotie means roasted slope in French, a highly appropriate name for many of the south-facing vineyards, which benefit from maximum exposure to the sun’s rays.
***This information is not producer specific, it is a description of the wine region.