Cote Rotie, the "Roasted Slope", is the only French appellation I know whose name neatly combines the values of both soil (Côte) and climate (Rôtie).
Cote Rotie, the "Roasted Slope", is the only French appellation I know whose name neatly combines the values of both soil (Côte) and climate (Rôtie). At Ampuis, south of Lyon, the hill of Côte Rôtie rises like a volcano with vines tethered to stakes on the vertiginous, terraced hill overlooking the snaking Rhône. This Club Med for the syrah provides a sun-splashed yet sheltered environment for the grape to express itself in enticingly aromatic smoky-spicy red wines suffused with tarry richness and peppery undertones. So much so that while Hermitage, made entirely from syrah, is often considered the Rolls-Royce of the Rhône, I generally find the Bentleys from neighbouring Côte Rôtie more exciting.
The great Côte Rôtie names are Marcel and Philippe Guigal's three indecently pricey single-vineyard reds, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque. My favourites, however, are Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc Jamet's gorgeous 1998 and 1999 reds. Unlike all-syrah Hermitage, Côte Rôtie has always permitted up to 20 per cent (around 5 per cent is more usual) of the ultra-fashionable, floral-scented viognier grape of Condrieu. Intermixed in the vineyard with peppery syrah, this softens the wine, adding distinctive floral, jasmine-like scents.
With growing awareness of Côte Rôtie's unique magic, it was only a matter of time before Australia did for the Côte Rôtie style what Japan has done for the luxury car market. Until recently, it lacked the viognier plantings - and the experience. Latterly, plantings of viognier have grown to a sufficient critical mass to spark off a host of Côte Rôtie wannabes. Viognier has to be carefully managed. As I've recently twigged, it can help bring aroma and character to the blend, but, if overdone, can overwhelm the syrah.
Sunshine in a cool climate suits the style, which puts the Adelaide Hills and Canberra district right in the frame. Drinking beautifully now, the 2001 Adelaide Hills Petaluma Shiraz (£19.99, from selected Oddbins) describes itself as "different from its traditional Australian counterparts". And it's perfectly true, showing intense liquorice spiciness and rich, dark, cherry and blackcurrant flavours in a more savoury mould than your common or garden Aussie shiraz. Also from the Hills, Beringer Blass has come up with a monster of a Côte Rôtie taste-alike in the 2002 Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier (£14.99, from Oddbins). Sealed with a screwcap, this is an intensely flavoured blend with aromatic mint and pepper undertones and a rich black-fruits spectrum of flavours, needing time to develop.
There may not be a Jacob's Creek yet (they must surely be working on it), but the most affordably delicious red in the style is the 2003 Zonte's Footstep Shiraz-Viognier (£7.99, from Sainsbury's and Unwins). In its maiden vintage, this Langhorne Creek red is infused with the floral lift of viognier intermingled with the spicy cinnamon and pepper aromas of shiraz. One of my favourites is the 2002 Clonakilla Canberra District Shiraz Viognier, (£21.50-£27.99, from Andrew Chapman, Abingdon, 01235 550707; Noel Young, Cambridge, 01223 844744; Wright Wine Company, Skipton, 01756 700886). This sublime shiraz-viognier blend has all the smoky-tarry undertones of the northern Rhône combining with the plump opulence of ripe blackberry fruit and an elegantly savoury, distinctly Côte Rôtie clove spice and pepper character that marks it out as capital stuff.Reuse content