Côte-Rôtie is one of the most famous appellations for red wine in the world. The appellation is considered one of the three best of the Rhône along with Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The name loosely translates in English to "roasted slope"; the region is so named because of the high amount of sunlight that the vineyards are exposed to. Hot-climate flavors are absolutely mastered in this region, which practically defined the style. In addition, Côte-Rôtie is known for the slightly floral elements of its wines, often brought on by the addition of Viognier into the blends.
At around 550 acres, Côte-Rôtie is much smaller than Châteauneuf and about 1/3 larger than Hermitage. About 100,000 cases of wine are produced each year. The vineyards are located in only three villages, which makes these wines exceptionally consistent. Ampuis is the largest at six square miles, while Saint-Cyr and Tupin-et-Semons are smaller communes.
With production dating back to the early Roman era, Côte-Rôtie wines have a very long history. Records indicate that the current method of production began to make good wines in the Middle Ages, but the region was little-known for centuries. It took rail transport to bring the more obscure appellations of France into the public eye, and as soon as the Rhône became a major wine region Côte-Rôtie came to be considered one of the finest of its subregions. Still, up until recently Hermitage wines were considered much better; in the past 50 years or so Côte-Rôtie has closed the gap almost entirely. Côte-Rôtie received AOC status in 1940.
Climate and Viticulture
The northerly situated Côte-Rôtie has a more continental climate than the Rhône regions located on the Mediterranean. The climate is very similar to that of Hermitage. The soil also echoes Hermitage, mostly consisting of schist. This is the soil type that really gives northern Rhône wines their unique character.
Côte-Rôtie wines, unlike those of Hermitage, are not always pure Syrah. Although Syrah can legally make up 100% of the wine, up to 20% Viognier can be blended in to add an often intriguing floral component to the wine. Neither too heavy nor too light, the wines blend flavors of blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, and black cherry with deep nuances of smoked game, cooked meat, tobacco, coffee, and florality. The best wines of Côte-Rôtie seriously challenge those of Hermitage in terms of depth, structure, and layered complexity. The wines are decent after a few years but improve significantly as they age.
We list eight producers as the best of Côte-Rôtie. However, most wines from the region are quite good; due to the homogeneous nature of the climate, this is considered one of the most reliable appellations in the Rhône.
- Domaine Clusel-Roch: As well as the basic Côte-Rôtie, which in itself is quite good with perfumed black fruit and pepper flavors, a smooth finish, and balanced minerality, this domaine makes the remarkably floral, smoky, exotically flavored Les Grandes Places cuvée.
- Delas Frères: This domaine's Seigneur de Maugiron, a smoky, very floral, exotic, slightly mineral-tinted cuvée, is great. But it doesn't measure up to their wine from the prestigious La Landonne vineyard, which offers vibrant flavors of broad red and dark fruit, as well as Cabernet-like aromas of cassis, kirsch, and black peppers. This top cuvée is an amazing combination of richness and precision.
- Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin: Gerin has cuvées from both Les Grandes Places and La Landonne. The latter wine is vibrant, broad, and impressively pure, but the former is even more flavorful, offering up smoky flavors of fresh fruit, pepper, and florality.
- E. Guigal: Top Rhône producer E. Guigal got its start in this region and was able to expand due to the renown of these wines. The Brune et Blonde is a fantastic mixture of spice and fruit flavors; it is more ripe and silky than many of its competitors, but still impressively powerful. At $60 it is by far the cheapest wine in the lineup, with the Château d'Ampuis costing over $150. Vivid and concentrated, the Ampuis' fruit flavors are also pungent and smooth. With its multicolored decoration and an informal label for a wine of its price ($250-$350), the La Turque offers a feminine flavor bouquet of smoky vanilla, floral nuances, and rich dark berry. This richly sweet wine can be drunk young or aged. The La Mouline is closer to $400 on average, and is similarly vivid but is more spicy and minerally. Hard as it is to believe, the top-of-the-line La Landonne is yet more exclusive, with completely distinctive flavors of wild herbs and pastille plus a smooth, velvety texture.
- Domaine Jean-Luc et Jean-Paul Jamet: At only $100, this wine approaches Guigal's cuvées in quality and is not vineyard-specific, simply labeled "Côte-Rôtie." With sweet flavors of red fruit and herbs, rocky minerality, and a Burgundian velvet texture, this is one of the most complex wines made in the area.
- Domaine Michel et Stephane Ogier: This widespread producer makes by far its best wines in Côte-Rôtie. The basic wine is itself remarkable, with intense but vivid and broad flavors of black fruit and pepper, as well as bitter earth notes. The La Belle Helene is an exceptional cuvée, with dark flavors of pungent smoky fruit and terrific richness. The Lancement is more open-knit, with rich flavors of silky fruit, spice, and sweet florality.
- Domaine Rene Rostaing: Flavors of black fruit, earthy chocolate, and smoke prevail in this producer's rich but balanced basic cuvée. The Côte Blonde is deep and minerally but its flavors show surprising elegance. The La Landonne is much more intense, with big earthy flavors, but this will mellow out and become great with age.
- Tardieu-Laurent: Just the basic Côte-Rôtie here is good, with flavors of smoky red fruit, coffee, and chocolate, and surprisingly little heaviness. The Vieilles Vignes is more smoky and has thicker, almost jammy black fruit notions.
Côte-Rôtie can be divided into two sections: Côte Brune and Côte Blonde. These are informal names not required by law, and most wines don't utilize them on the label.
Here are four very well-known Côte-Rôtie vineyards:
- Les Grandes Places: Domaines Gerin and Clusel-Roch both make good wine in this very good vineyard.
- La Landonne: Definitely the most common and well-known vineyard of the Côte-Rôtie appellation. At the forefront of these wines is Guigal's cuvée, which is truly one of the best wines in France, known for its impossibly velvety texture and idiosyncratic flavors. Delas Frères, Gerin, and Rene Rostaing also produce good wines from here.
- La Mouline: Guigal's sharply made, amazingly complex wine from this appellation has few peers in the Rhône.
- La Turque: Labeled Côte Brune La Turque, the Guigal cuvée from this vineyard is known for its smooth, feminine fruit flavors and florality.