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Côte Rotie

Côte Rôtie is a prestigious red-wine appellation at the northern tip of France's Rhône Valley wine region. The Syrah vines on its steep, south-east-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 Côte Rôtie wines are now some of France's most sought-after and most expensive.

Situated immediately south of Vienne, the Côte Rôtie is the Rhône Valley's northernmost appellation, and one of its smallest. The parishes of Ampuis, Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rhone and Tupin-et-Semons are the only three that may produce Côte Rôtie wines, and even within the parishes, only certain plots qualify for the appellation.

The steep hillsides (côtes) here rise sharply from the banks of the River Rhône to heights of 1,150ft (330m). They form 10 narrow ridges no more than 2,000ft (600m) 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 Côte Brune, Côte Blonde, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque – are those immediately above Ampuis town.

Côte Rôtie 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% of the white variety Viognier is permitted under the appellation law, and producers take full advantage of this to bring elegance and balance to their wines.

There is a recognised distinction between the two main wine styles of the appellation, manifested by the noticeably different wines from two of the appellation's most prized vineyards. The wines from the Côte Blonde (immediately west of Ampuis) are lighter, fruitier, more sumptuous and approachable at an earlier age. Those from the Côte Brune (immediately above Ampuis) are made in a more structured, tannic, extracted style to capitalise on the effect of the iron soils, and often without an addition of Viognier.

The Côte Blonde is, as its name suggests, a hillside covered with lighter-coloured sandy soils and a limestone base. The Côte 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-favoured vineyards in Australia share this iron-rich soil type, and the temperatures to match. In fact, Côte Rôtie 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.

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