There is no other wine region in the world that can produce Syrah the way Northern Rhone can. Many favor the world-renowned wines of Hermitage, but for me, I fell in love with the wines of Côte-Rôtie. The wines have a big space in my heart and my cellar.
2000 Year Old History
Côte-Rôtie has been growing wine for nearly 2000 years, yet in the early part of the twentieth century, its vineyards nearly vanished. In the mid 1800’s, the region had been ravaged by phylloxera. This followed by two world wars and economic depression, Côte-Rôtie vineyards were being abandoned. The steep slopes made it difficult to sustain the vineyards, the economics simply did not make sense. Many vineyard owners left the region for more lucrative jobs in the cities.
In the 19’40s, due to the persistent efforts of Etienne Guigal to promote the region, that others began to take notice. The situation started to turn in the ’70s, as a new generation of winemakers began reviving the region, with producers like Guigal, Gentaz, Dervieux, and Jamet planting more vines. More land was being cultivated and more wines were being produced. Today Côte-Rôtie is still a small cru with only 310 hectares of vines, but its popularity has been on a steady rise, especially with collectors, today more than 40% of their wines are exported. The wines of Côte-Rôtie are now highly sought after by wine lovers, and collectors. With its seductive elegance and finesse, the wines are considered to be some of the finest wines of the world.
Being the northernmost cru in the Rhône Valley, it is cooler in climate. Côte-Rôtie is the northernmost point where Syrah can ripen. The balance of fruit, acidity and tannins come from the steep slopes (60°)with southeastern facing slopes, giving them maximum sunlight. The temperatures are kept cool with the Mistral winds.
The vineyards are located on the right bank of the Rhone River. When talking about at Côte-Rôtie, you often hear of Côte Brune and Côte Blonde. There two areas divide the region in two, most notably it divides the soils of the region. Côte Brune in the north is made of schist soils and Côte Blonde is made of granite. The two soils deliver distinctly different styles of wine. Côte Brune with its schist soils deliver wines that are bold, dark, powerful and tannic while the wines of Côte Blonde produce wines that are more aromatic, more elegant and with more finesse.
If looking at the hills from a distance you can easily tell them apart, as Côte Brune’s soil is darker in color with deep brown and clay hues. Côte Blonde is much lighter due to the sand and limestone components of the soils.
Côte-Rôtie – Syrahs With A Twist
Côte-Rôtie vines were first planted by the Romans during the time of Caligula. It is a region where terroir, culture and history are an integral part of the winemaking today. Only red wine is allowed to be produced in Côte-Rôtie and Syrah is the only red variety permitted. What gives Côte-Rôtie an interesting twist versus other Northern Rhone crus is the addition of Viognier to the blend. Up to 20% of Viognier is allowed to be included in the blend. Other areas permit this too, like Hermitage, but it is rarely the case to find Viognier blended into Hermitage. Most of Northern Rhone focuses on Syrah as a single varietal, except for Côte-Rôtie. The blend of Viognier with the Syrah results in a wine with a deeper color, a silkier texture and help accentuate the aroma of red fruits and floral characters.
Côte-Rôtie is one of the best terroirs for Syrah and the wines are elegant and seductive. They typically have notes of black raspberry, black cherries, and violets. What makes Côte-Rôtie stand out from other Syrahs is its notes of olives, bacon fat, white pepper along with a hint of smokiness. The fruit is light but ripe, the acidity is fresh and the tannins are silky but firm.
Two Iconic Producers of Côte-Rôtie
The two most iconic producers of Côte-Rôtie are Rostaing and Jamet, crafting some of the most seductive wines of the region. I opened a bottle of 2016 from Rostaing and a bottle of 2014 from Jamet.
Rene Rostaing has 7.5 hectares of vines over 20 different parcels located in 14 lieux-dits. It is the blending of those various terroirs that creates his style. The most prized property of Rene Rostaing is La Landonne, where his vines are over 60 years old. The 2016 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne from Domaine Rostaing is an iconic wine from the famed La La La vineyards of Côte-Rôtie. The wine is simply superb. Though drinking it really young, I have several bottles that I hope to open and compare over the years. Still youthful, the wine has notes of white pepper, olives and violets. There is a hint of smokiness with a gamey quality. The tannins are smooth and silky.
Jean-Paul Jamet maybe one of the most beloved winemakers of Côte-Rôtie. What makes Jamet stand out is the diversity of his plots, they have spread across the region. Through careful selection they craft a wine that is highly sought after, a wine that is fragrant, silky, elegant and full of finesse. His philosophy is “classicist”, whereby he uses modern methods when necessary, but he passionately believes that Côte-Rôtie should taste like Côte-Rôtie, which means using whole cluster for fermentation in stainless steel. There are rich black raspberries, pepper, smoky meat qualities. A truly elegant wine with a nice balance of fruit, and smooth tannins. This wine will evolve beautifully over the next 10-15 years.
Wine and Food Pairing
There is no better food and wine pairing than a bottle of Côte-Rôtie and grilled lamb chops. The intense qualities of a Côte-Rôtie, make it the classic pairing for rich meats, especially lamb. The fattiness of the lamb softens the boldness of the Syrah and cuts the tannins. The wines ripe fruitiness is balanced with the lamb’s gaminess.
My favorite lamb chop recipe comes from Eric Ripert, Chef at the esteemed Le Bernardin in NYC. The recipe is simple, easy, delicious and comes out perfect each time.
Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Garlic
How to Make It
- In a large shallow dish, combine the rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Add the lamb chops and let marinate for 1 hour.
- Preheat a grill pan. Remove the lamb chops from the marinade and scrape off some of the rosemary and garlic. Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper and grill over moderate heat until medium-rare, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve at once.
We have a great crew lined up this month. Be sure to check out their experiences, their wines, and their food pairing suggestions. Here is a preview of some of the topics we will be discussing.
- Cindy from Grape Experience shares “Strength and Power Meet Balance and Elegance in Syrah from the Northern Rhone”
- Wendy from A Day In The Life On The Farm presents “To Syrah with Love”
- Lauren from Swirling Dervish explores “Old World Syrah from the Northern Rhone: 2016 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage”
- Jeff from Food Wine Click presents “A View of Northern Rhone’s Saint Joseph through Three Wines”
- Linda from My Full Wine Glass shares “Crozes-Hermitage: A gateway to Northern Rhône wine (#Winophiles)”
- Jill from L’Ocassion tells us “How France’s Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône Valleys Differ”
- Gwendolyn from Wine Predator writes about “In These Times, Drink from Deep in The Cellar: Two from Northern Rhone’s St Joseph’s #Winophiles“
- Robin from Crushed Grape Chronicles explores “Finding connections in the Northern Rhône #Winophiles”
- Susannah from Avvinare writes about “Virtually visiting Crozes-Hermitage through Chapoutier’s Wine”
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures With Camilla shares “Chicken Chasseur + Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2016”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table presents “A Simple Spring Lamb Feast with Maison Nicolas Perrin Crozes-Hermitage”
- Jane from Always Ravenous shares “A Taste of Hermitage Marsanne”
- Martin from Enoflyz shares writes about “Looking For Value in Northern Rhône? Look For Crozes-Hermitage!”
- Lynn from Savor The Harvest presents “Exploring Treasures of the Northern Rhone #Winophiles”
- Terri from Our Good Life shares “Hey Syrah, Syrah, whatever will be, will be”
- Here on Syrah Queen I share “Exploring Côte-Rôtie – Syrahs With A Twist”
Twitter Chat (#Winophiles)
Join us for a twitter chat #Winophiles on Saturday, April 18th 11:00 am EST. We will take a deep dive into the Northern Rhône.