Last night, I was invited to a dinner party by my friend, Matt Rothman, TV and internet guru, who had taken a butchery class at the Ginger Pig, one of the best London butchers near Marylebone. He proudly announced to have prepared nearly two kilo’s of cote de boeuf for eight of us.
So I decided to sacrifice some bottles from my Cote Rôtie collection for the common good, to pay respect to the budding butcher and finally to match the meatiness of the dish.
My love affair with Cote Rôtie (the Roasted Hill) dates back 20 years for several reasons. This is where the oldest vineyards in France are based – possibly dating back to Phoenician or Greek settlers but certainly to the Romans in the first century AD and where the heat thirsty Syrah grape expresses its qualities best. This also the most perfect natural lay out to make wine: the aspect of the Cote Rôtie slopes are entirely South by Southwest at the foot of Rhone river, ensuring little shading. The sheer angle of the slopes are also magnificent – hitting as much as 60% at certain points, visiting the region I was awe struck: shelf upon shelf of man made terraces make their way up the hill.
Suffice to say that growing vine is labour intensive, everything is done by hand and on foot. The soil is also magical, it is iron rich mica schist which would make any winemaker green with envy. Then add a location where it rains as much as in Paris but where the grapes get dried out quickly thorough the warm southern winds, the vines are protected by the hills from the cold northern winds. The area is planted over only 200Ha (just think: Lafite Rothschild on its own is 100Ha!) and is cut in two sections the Cote Blonde (sandier soil) and the Cote Brune (iron rich soil).
In addition, this is the area where micro terroirs get the best prices, Etienne Guigal, the scion of Cote Rôtie owns a 2HA plot in La Landonne and 1 Ha plots called la Mouline and la Turque that could easily sit next to Latour, Lafite, and La Tâche (to name a few mythical ‘La’s’).
So what do we get in return for all the perfect wine making ingredients?
I had decided to bring a 1996 Cote Rôtie from Domaine Jamet. The Jamet brothers own 6 Ha only make around 2000 cases of the Cote Rôtie and around 100 or so cases of the Côte Brune where the vines are over 60 years old. I also like the fact that their label reflects the view from their chai overlooking the Rhone valley. The bottle was opened one hour before consumption as we patiently waited for the beef to be roasted and rested. It had the exotic Cote Rôtie earthy, pepper and spices (Cinnamon) nose. The palate was high in acid (the Schist) and savoury dried meat palate (the Iron) and sour cherry palate (the grape), I noticed little from the tannins having melted away after 15 years of cellaring. After 2 hours the nose turned to star anis – very vibrant. A lovely example for the region which matched the food perfectly and improved the conversation immensely.
I do have to issue a Cote Rôtie warning out to all budding wine collectors though. The vinous alchemists from Ampuis are a smart lot, they sit on the best patch of land and entice you with this mythical wine so be careful Cote Rôtie is highly addictive to get involved with and will bring the worst stamp collector out of you!