C?te R?tie is a prestigious red-wine appellation at the northern tip of France's Rh?ne Valley wine region. The Syrah vines on its steep, southeast-facing slopes produce wines which are both powerful and elegant. Improvements in quality have led to increases in demand for the wines – a cycle which turned so consistently that C?te R?tie wines are now some of France's most sought-after and most expensive.
Situated immediately south of Vienne and 35km (21 miles) from the center of Lyon, the C?te R?tie is the Rh?ne Valley's northernmost appellation, and one of its smallest. The parishes of Ampuis, Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rh?ne and Tupin-et-Semons are the only three that may produce C?te R?tie wines, and even within the parishes, only certain plots qualify for the appellation.
(© Christophe Grilhé)
The steep hillsides (c?tes) here rise sharply from the banks of the River Rhone to heights of 330m(1,150ft). They form 10 narrow ridges no more than 600m (2,000ft) wide, each separated from the next by a narrow, tree-lined gully.
The ridges run roughly north-east to south-west, providing the sun-baked aspects that help to make the appellation's wines so rich and ripe. The very finest sites – the C?te Brune, C?te Blonde, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque – are those immediately above Ampuis town.
C?te R?tie wines are renowned for being elegant and finely structured, with complex aromas typical of the local terroir and of the Syrah grape variety from which they are made. As is the case in Crozes-Hermitage, an addition of up to 20 percent of the white variety Viognier is permitted under the appellation law, and producers take advantage of this to bring elegance and balance to their wines.
There is a recognized distinction between the two main wine styles of the appellation, manifested by the noticeably different wines from two of the title's most prized vineyards.
The wines from the C?te Blonde (immediately west of Ampuis) are lighter, fruitier, more sumptuous and approachable at an earlier age. Those from the C?te Brune (immediately above Ampuis) are made in a more structured, tannic, extracted style to capitalize on the effect of the iron soils, and often without an addition of Viognier.
The C?te Blonde is, as its name suggests, a hillside covered with lighter-colored sandy soils and a limestone base. The C?te Brune is no less true to its name, being a slope covered with reddish-brown soils, enriched with iron.
The soils of many Syrah/Shiraz-favored vineyards in Australia share this iron-rich soil type, and the temperatures to match. In fact, C?te R?tie means "roasted slope" in French, a highly appropriate name for many of the south-facing vineyards, which benefit from maximum exposure to the sun's rays.
Etienne and Marcel Guigal, whose family name is connected with so much high-quality northern Rh?ne wine, have been given substantial credit for the recent renaissance of the C?te R?tie and its reputation. For much of the 20th Century, the area was rather neglected and under-developed, with few wine producers capitalizing on its excellent viticultural conditions.
The Guigal wines from the La Mouline (C?te Blonde), La Landonne and La Turque (C?te Brune) vineyards grabbed attention all over the world, particularly from consumers and critics in the US, and have helped to establish C?te R?tie as one of the most dynamic appellations in France.
Supplementary information about C?te R?tie wines can be obtained from the Rh?ne Valley's trade body, Inter Rhone.