Thanks to The Rare Co. for its contribution to the following:
The story of the resurgence of the Northern Rhone has parallels to other now iconic wine regions - perhaps Piedmont most notably - that for many years languished in semi-obscurity among wine's cogniescenti. Like Barolo, the Northern Rhone was barely a blip in the greater wine world’s consciousness by the post-WWII era. During that time, historic vineyards were abandoned, or only worked on weekends while their owners made their living in nearby factories, or in other agriculture. It was only in the 1980s, as Guigal’s single-vineyard wines began to gain attention, that money began to return to this fabled region.
Of course, many growers returning to full-time winemaking brought with them modern winemaking tools and techniques. And, in rejecting the often-flawed wines of their poorer elders, they also lost much of the singular identity that classical heritage could tease from their “roasted slopes.” Inspired by the so-called fashions of the day, wines became cleaner, darker, oakier – and less uniquely Côte Rôtie (or Cornas, or Hermitage, for that matter).
Yet a few estates flatly rejected modernism and held true to Côte Rôtie’s historic character and techniques. So today, as collectors rediscover the glories of Marius Gentaz and his contemporaries, just a handful of estates - including Domaine Jamet and Domaine Rostaing – are making wines that evoke that earlier era.
Just as Barolo’s traditional icons have been re-discovered in the 2000s, the great classicists of the Northern Rhone, and especially Côte Rôtie, have today grabbed the world’s imagination.
The Rostaing estate dates to 1971 when René Rostaing– a Notary by trade – began tending a few plots of family vineyards. He had the perfect role model to guide him into a career of classical winemaking: Marius Gentaz, his uncle. Over the next few years, René took advantage not only of his uncle’s mentoring, but of historically low vineyard prices, to acquire a prized half acre each in the Côte Blonde and La Landonne lieux-dits.
And when he married, he acquired a second traditional role model, his father-in-law, Albert Dervieux. Dervieux retired in 1989 and Gentaz followed four years later, giving René a further ten acres of very old vines in some of the appellation’s top sites. This treasury of vineyards launched René’s estate into the stratosphere. The vineyard expansion also enabled René to quit his day job and to devote himself full time to winemaking. Over the next 25+ years, he crafted a sequence of masterful wines that honored the legacy of his illustrious forebearers.
In 2015, René’s son, Pierre, took the reins at an estate that boasts 20+ acres of some the finest vineyards in and around Côte Rôtie. Having grown up with tutelege of classical wines from this revered appellation, he has maintained his father’s deep reverence for Côte Rôtie’s traditions. Pierre was also able to experiment further through stages in Washington, California and in France.
In the vineyards, obviously all the work has to be done painstakingly by hand, given the steepness of the slopes. At harvest, the Rostaings endeavor to obtain mature fruit, but never to a degree of over-ripeness. For example, if you’re looking for 2003 or 2009 Northern Rhônes with no hint of sur-maturité, there are no better choices than Rostaing Côte Rôties.
In the cellar, René was never afraid to use technology if it would help him make even more authentic Côte Rôtie. So, in the late 1990s, René acquired horizontal, rotary fermentation tanks, though not for the same purpose as virtually everyone else. While modernists—most famously in Barolo—adopted these tanks to speed fermentations and capture more color and fruit, René adopted them to mimic the long, gentle macerations of his ancestors. The process has much the same effect as the cappello sommerso employed by many of Piedmont’s staunchest traditionalists, with the tanks often making just a single rotation per day, and total macerations lasting often 3-4 weeks
The Rostaings use up to 100% of the stems - believing they contribute to Côte Rôtie’s ineffable perfume as well as they texture and complexity that they provide. The wines enjoy a fairly long élevage in a mix of barrels and demi-muids so that no more than 10-15% of a given vintage sees new wood.
In sum, the Rostaing wines are among the very best of classic Côte Rôtie. They are wines of consistency and sophistication that are true to their origins. And with Pierre Rostaing now in day-to-day control, the future for this estate has never looked brighter.
The Rostaing Line-Up:
- Les Lézardes: From several parcels of old vines immediately adjoining Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, the domaine produces a gorgeous Vins de Pays white and red called Les Lézardes.
- Condrieu: a tiny parcel in Côte Bonnette yields some of the region’s most refined Viognier.
- Côte Rôtie Ampodium: The flagship red, Ampodium (formerly known as “Classique”), is assembled from parcels throughout Côte Rôtie. It is a terrific expression of the appellation, and by itself can rival some of the appellation’s best.
- Côte Rôtie La Landonne and Côte Blonde. These are extraordinary expressions of two very different terroirs. Landonne is dark and powerful, while Côte Blonde is lithe and explosive; yet both are imbued with the finesse for which Rostaing is famed.
- Côte Rôtie Côte Brune: With the 2013 vintage, René began to produce a separate bottling from the famed Côte Brune lieu-dit. This site was once the source of Marius Gentaz’s legendary Côte Rôtie Côte Brune but was replanted in the late 1990s because the vines had fallen into poor condition, and the younger vines used in the Côte Rôtie “Ampodium.” It is now released only in top years as an homage to Marius Gentaz (with the original Gentaz label design).
- Côte Rôtie La Viallière: This idea extended to Albert Dervieux’s famed La Viallière parcel, from which Pierre intends to release a scant few bottles when the year and these ancient vines allow. Also with a throwback label of Dervieux-Thaize.
- Puech Noble: In the late 1990s, René and his wife purchased a property in the Côteaux du Languedoc near Nîmes. The estate, originally named Puech Chaud, is now known as Puech Noble. Located on a small plateau, the ground is covered with galets roulés – rounded stones – very similar to those found in parts of nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At 150m higher than most of Châteauneuf, however, Puech Noble is significantly cooler and offers a fresher character in its wines. The estate gave the Rostaings a chance to produce Syrah on the limestone soils so beloved by many French growers. Bolstered with small amounts of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Rolle, Puech Noble is today producing some of the South’s most beautiful wines.