Côte-Rôtie

Côte Rôtie is in fact not just one but a series of 'roasted slopes' folded above the little town of Ampuis. Only those facing south or south east on the schists of this right bank of the river are worth the extreme discomfort of cultivating them and, especially, picking their produce. Those to the south are collectively known as the Côte Blonde and the wines they produce supposedly mature rather earlier than those produced on the Côte Brune to the north, although traditionally the wines from these areas have been blended. (There are vineyards on the flatter land above these slopes but they are entitled only to the generic Côtes du Rhône appellation, which very much more commonly applies to wines made in the southern Rhône.)

One man has made a name for himself and indeed the whole appellation by flying in the face of Côte Rôtie convention. Marcel Guigal's special bottlings of La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque, the so-called 'La-La wines', have become some of the most sought-after bottles in the world, thanks to their low yields and uniquely long maturation in new oak, which make them massively appealing in youth as well as promising an exciting old age. Guigal makes a fourth special bottling of Côte Rôtie above his regular bottling labelled Brune et Blonde named after the manor of his native town, the grand Château d'Ampuis, which he now owns.

Côte Rôtie is stereotypically distinguished from Hermitage by its perfume, which is in some cases due to the inclusion of a small proportion of white Viognier grapes (the same as those grown in the neighbouring appellation of Condrieu), but in practice most Côte Rôtie is 100 per cent Syrah. The appellation's vines are trained to help withstand the twin local dangers of wind damage and soil erosion, with pairs of vines staked to meet in a point, making the roasted slopes look as though they are covered in Christmas trees. Some other reliable producers of Côte Rôtie are Gilles Barge, Bernard Burgaud, Clusel-Roch, Levet, Jamet, Ogier, Rostaing, Jean-Michel Stéphan and Vidal-Fleury (the merchant house for which Marcel Guigal's father once worked as cellarmaster but which now belongs to Guigal).

The amount of Viognier grown in the northern Rhône is relatively tiny, and the peachy, full-bodied Condrieu it produces could generally be sold three times over by growers such as Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard, Georges Vernay and François Villard, so fashionable has this wine style become. The merchants try to buy as many Condrieu grapes as possible. Guigal's single-vineyard Doriane is setting a new standard, while Delas has a long history of getting Condrieu right. Château-Grillet, acquired in 2011 by French billionaire and owner of Ch Latour François Pinault, is a 3.8 ha (9.4 acre) single-property appellation slightly downriver of Condrieu whose wines are even more dramatically priced.