When I arrived at the domaine, I went in an opened door and came upon René Rostaing, who was putting labels on bottles for shipment to the United States. I told him I had an appointment and he said, “Let me get the boss.”
We went across the street to the winery building, where he handed me off to his son Pierre, who is fully in charge of the winemaking now. He cranked the ventilation fan up to high so we could taste in the cellars, despite ongoing
fermentations above. Following up on his exciting 2015s, both the 2016s and 2017s look similarly outstanding. He’s releasing two additional single-vineyard wines (Côte Brune and La Viallière) from the 2016 vintage as an homage
to his ancestors, with label designs from the past (Gentaz-Dervieux and Dervieux-Thaize). Of course, quantities are tiny, but not only are the labels retro-cool but the wines are damn good also. Joe Czerwinski
About René Rostaing
Legal academic, property dealer and vigneron, René Rostaing crafts some of the finest Côte Rôties on the market today. He has owned 2 hectares in the Côte Blonde and La Landone since the 1970s but fortune has blessed him through his inheritance of four hectares of superbly sited vineyards from his father in law Albert Dervieux and another 1.4 hectares of particularly old vines from his uncle Marius Gentaz. He now has 7.4 hectares which in Côte Rôtie terms is a significant holding.
René Rostaing has made a life’s work of defending the idea that Côte Rôtie should taste like Côte Rôtie, not like Hermitage, and certainly not like new world Syrah.
In fact, he is nothing less than a beacon for those we’ve called the region’s “Classicists”—vignerons whose philosophies incorporate some new ideas while capturing the best of the region’s traditions—to make wines of purity and expression that are the essence of their region, village and vineyard.
A grower since 1971, his first vineyard purchases were a microscopic half acre each in Côte Blonde and in La Landonne on the Côte Brune. The real breakthrough came when his father-in-law, Albert Dervieux-Thaize, retired in 1990, followed by his uncle Marius Gentaz three years later. Between these two legendary growers, Rostaing acquired over ten acres of very old vines in some of the appellation’s top sites.
Good, Better, Best
Today, Rostaing can boast 20+ acres of the finest vineyards in and around Côte Rôtie. The wealth of vineyard holdings results in an astonishing array of wines. From several parcels of old vines immediately adjoining Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, Rostaing produces a gorgeous non-appellation white and red called Les Lezardes.
In Condrieu, he holds a tiny parcel in Côte Bonnette that yields some of the region’s most refined Viognier. Most of his Côte Rôtie parcels are blended to produce the Cuvée Ampodium (formerly known as Classique), a superb expression of the appellation. And, of course, there are his two prized Côte Rôtie special cuvées, La Landonne and Côte Blonde.
Rostaing’s winemaking is deeply rooted in tradition while incorporating new thinking, always with a view to making wine of expression—in other words, wines that could come from nowhere else but Côte Rôtie.
In the cellar, he employs roto fermenters, but only so he can break up the must himself, not to shorten macerations. He uses 15–25% new wood on his Côte Rôties, but detests obviously oaky wines. He prizes mature fruit, but rails against some of his neighbour’s much riper wines. In other words, this is the best of classic Côte Rôtie—brought into the modern age, but true to its origins.
And, as fine as Rostaing’s Côte Rôties have always been, the last half dozen vintages have seen them become even better. Where in the past they were stubbornly backward upon release, needing several years to open, today they are gloriously expressive early while sacrificing none of their long ageing potential.
What happens when you blend Shiraz & Viognier
The blending of Shiraz and the white grape Viognier originated in Côte-Rôtie. The interplay between the two varieties is truly something special.
Co-fermenting rather than blending finished wines simply results in greater harmony and expression.
The colour of the wine becomes darker as a scientific phenomenon known as co-pigmentation occurs, small compounds from the Viognier stabilises the large colour compounds from the Shiraz.
Perfume, flowers, and, spice from the Viognier adding intrigue to the aroma. Making it so much more inviting!
Those aromas carry through to the palate where the last bit of magic happens. The tannins develop differently to 100% Shiraz wines, beautifully refined, and, silky they offer a wonderful feeling in your mouth. mouthfeel.
Tim Kirk from Clonkilla was kindly sent me a mixed case, including some experimental wines not for release. In it, 3 wines, 100% Viognier, 100% Shiraz, the components of his Shiraz Viognier, and, the Shiraz Viognier itself. A fascinating tasting, you could see how each of the component wines contributed to the blend. The blend just had something extra. This is the result of fermenting the red grapes of Shiraz with the white Viognier. The chemical soup that exists during fermentation ends up coming together to be greater than the sum of its parts.
In Côte-Rôtie the vineyards are mixed plantings with Viognier vines next to Shiraz, all picked at the same time. The proportion of Viognier ranging from none up to 10-12%.
Shiraz or Syrah
You’d think that Shiraz would be easy to explain. The relatively recent expansion of cool climate vineyards throughout Australia, and, experimentation with a wide array of making techniques has seen an increase in the diversity of styles produced. Think Canberra, the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, and, Mornington.
At the same time, the warmer, established regions like the Barossa and McLaren Vale are rapidly evolving the styles of Shiraz they produce. A new wave of producers are making wines of restraint, and, elegance, through earlier picking and careful handling of fruit.
In the Rhône Valley, particularly around Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas, we see some extreme vineyards that climb into the skies from the Rhône River at calf breaking angles. Some, terraced, others taking rocks that have made their way to the bottom of the slopes, on a anual pilgrimage back to the top.
When you have exceptional Shiraz the opportunity to experiment with whole berries, whole bunches, stalk use, cold maceration, extended maceration, fermentation vessel, maturation vessel, cap management, and, any of 1,000’s of other variables is possible.
In Australia, we are seeing increasing use of whole bunch ferments for at least a portion of the fruit. The perfume, stalk tannin-rich wines, layering extra dimensions into the aromas and textures of the typically more restrained wines.
Where in the World is Côte-Rôtie?
Today’s wines all hail from the Northern part of the Rhône Valley between Vienne and Valence.
Côte-Rôtie itself is split into to main sub-regions, the Côte Blonde and the Côte Brune. Hermitage is some 50km further South down the Rhône River.
If you face the hill from the Château d’Ampuis itself to the South you find the Côte Blonde, where soils are heavy with granite and produce elegance feminine wines.
To the North lies the Côte Brune, here the soils comprise mica schists and clay, yielding more masculine, structured wines.
Like Burgundy, individual vineyards in Côte-Rôtie have been identified, named, and, clear boundaries established.
Where Hermitage is dominated by 4 main producers, including Guigal, Côte-Rôtie, now has around 100 producers making wine from it’s 550acres of plantings. It’s much more like Burgundy in this way.
What’s the Difference between the Côte Blonde & the Côte Brune?
In a nutshell, the soils of the two.
The Granite heavy soils of the Côte Blonde offering feminine, floral wines with fine tannins.
The mica schist and clay of the Côte Brune yielding more powerful wines with greater structure.
In reality, this is far too simple an explanation with individual sites having their own unique characteristics whether on the Côte Blonde or Côte Brune just as we see in the great sites of Burgundy.
René Rostaing tells me he thinks of 2016 as “the definition of Côte-Rôtie. The vintage personality is made of finesse, freshness and detail, with power but not weight.” He finds the wines to be “fine but not delicate, or fragile at all” and thinks they will age gracefully “but be attractive throughout their lives, without ever really closing up.” While Rostaing respects 2015 for its “depth, power and structure” he believes “2016 to be a truer Côte-Rôtie vintage” because of the aforementioned freshness and elegance, attributes that “make the appellation unique in the northern Rhône.” Rostaing adds “ripe vintages may make impressive wines but too often they obscure terroir and finesse.” Note that because of the quality of the 2016 vintage Rostaing made the La Viallière bottling for the first time since 1986. Up until now all of the fruit went into the Ampodium. There is also a ’16 Côte-Brune, which had only been bottled by itself in 2013.
From Josh Raynolds of Vinous
“Following the huge success of the 2015 vintage, which produced deeply concentrated, structured and age-worthy wines, 2016 pivoted almost 180 degrees by issuing an abundance of graceful, elegant reds that showcase balance and freshness over mass and power.
Northern Rhône wine lovers with purist leanings will be head over heels with the soon-to-be-released 2016 vintage, which offers an abundance of energetic, well-balanced and generally graceful wines. As impressive as the 2015s are, I’ve encountered a not-insignificant number of collectors who view many of the wines as too much of a good thing: too ripe, too rich, too heavy, too tannic…you get the picture. Most of the producers I visit on my annual trips sympathize with that view to an extent, but are also quick to point out that 2015 is a vintage for the ages and what’s in the glass now will mostly bear little resemblance to how the wines will turn out down the road, maybe even way down the road.
There are no such qualms when it comes to the 2016s, though. A number of producers call it a “dream vintage” for the wines’ collective balance, freshness and expression of terroir. Based on the performance of the wines I tasted from barrel in late March and early June, and the handful of finished wines that I was able to try when I returned home (the barrel samples in this article are scored in a range, as usual, while the finished wines in a single numerical score), 2016 is a vintage that’s a must-buy for readers who prize Syrah built along pure, graceful, dare I say feminine, lines. Even so, the wines are in no way lacking depth of flavor or structure, which leads me to think that many of the wines will hit their 20th birthday in fine form.”
Tips for Drinking these Wines
🌡Temp: 16-18°C. We tend to drink reds an edge warm. There’s nothing wrong with chucking the bottles in the fridge for 15minutes to drop a few degrees off them. If they end up too cold they’ll warm up quickly in the glass.
🍷Decanting: Definitely. A heavy decant for the 2016’s if drinking them young.
⏳Time: I love trying good wines stand alone, with food, and, often the next day. It gives them the chance to shine and ensures you don’t miss a good wine through impatience or fail to bring out it’s best by not marrying them to food.
🕯Cellaring: Over 3-7 years they harmonise and secondary development starts. The real magic happens from 8+ years NOW for the 2010’s, they hit a phase where they appear almost transparent to taste, yet retain incredible depth of flavour, the complexity levels lift another notch, keeping you entranced by the wine’s scent alone.
🥩Food Match: Just think red meats, braises, roasts cow on the BBQ, pork, rabbit. As they reach the third phase go with the lighter meats.
The Best 2 Options for Preserving your Wine:
- Grab a Coravin wine preserver.
- Watch this video, “Stop the Wine-ocide” Kaani 2012 – My Deep Dark Secret, one of my first, about saving open bottles of wine from the drain, sorry about the quality, but, the message is still there.