A tiny appellation found on the west bank of the Rhône river in the northern part of the valley, Côte-Rôtie is the furtherst north of all of the Rhône vineyards. Wine has been an important product of this region for centuries, with documentation of the quality of these wines dating back to the first century A.D. The name means "roasted slope" an indication of both the warm summers and the steep grade of the vineyards that stretch up from the town of Ampuis. These are some of the steepest vineyards in France, with grades that can reach up to 55 degrees.
These Syrah based wines are intense, powerful, brooding and tannic, with a combination of rich black fruits, smokey earth and violets. Up to 20% of the wine can be the white varietal Viognier, which adds a pleasant floral and apricot note to the intensity of the Syrah. Côte-Rôtie often spends a very long time in barrel, up to three years in both barrique and foudre, and is generally not released until four years after vintage.
The best wines are produced from the Brune and Blonde vineyards located above the town of Ampuis. Local legend has it that the vineyards are named after the Seigneur Maugiron's daughters. One was an outgoing and vivacious blonde, the other a reserved yet passionate brunette. The wines produced from these vineyards exhibit these qualities as well. The wines from the Blonde vineyard with its higher content of limestone are lighter and more approachable when young, while the Brune vineyard with its darker clay-based soil creates wines that are tough and tannic when young, but can be rich and wonderful with age. Often times great Côte-Rôtie is made from a blend of the two. Either way, the best wines come from the old terraced vineyards located on the hillsides, though less impressive wine produced on the plateau above can also be labled Côte-Rôtie.
Côte-Rôtie was hit very hard by phylloxera, and it was more affordable for vignerons to replant with fruit trees than grapes, and by the 1950s Côte-Rôtie was producing very little wine. Inspired by the hard work and great success of Guigal, Côte-Rôtie is making a fantastic comeback.