Driving south on the motorway from Vienne (30 km south of Lyon) you can see the first Côte-Rôtie vineyards on the right bank of the Rhône. This appellation (276 ha in 2013) produces only red wines based on at least 80% syrah (up to 100%), blended with no more than 20% viognier.
The 60 vineyards (and 73 registered plots) are spread over the municipalities of Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rhône (AOC since 1966), Ampuis en Tupin-et-Semons (both AOC since 1940). The steep slopes – some as much as 60 degrees – at an altitude of 180 to 325 metres require the support of the double canes that are so characteristic of the landscape. The maximum yield allowed is 40 hl/ha, the average yield in 2013 was 32 hl/ha.
Among the best terroirs are Grandes Places in the north, Côte-Brune and Côte-Blonde in the middle and Maison Rouge in the south. The farther south one travels, the softer the granite bedrock becomes. It also becomes less nutrient-rich and looser in structure, and as a result the ‘southern’ wines are showing more fruit and floral tones, as a opposed to the northern Côte-Rôtie wines, and the tannin too mild to allow for exceptionally good aging.
The aging potential of a Côte-Rôtie varies, depending on location and the vintage year, from 8 to ±15 years. Occasionally, a wine can be kept for 20 years. Côte-Rôtie has undertones of raspberry, spices (pepper), violets, coffee and woodland. The young wines are often already accessible, although their complexity increases with age. A well-developed Côte-Rôtie offers an enormous tasting sensation, and is in my opinion an attractive alternative to the expensive grand crus from the Bordeaux and the Bourgogne.