A Bridge to the Past

René Rostaing & the Survival of Classic Côte Rôtie: Two Important Dinners at New York's Bar Boulud

Simply put, René Rostaing is one of the two or three greatest winemakers in Côte Rôtie today.

And along with Jean-Paul Jamet, he is also our most valued link to the ideals of traditional Côte Rôtie winemaking embodied by Marius Gentaz, Robert Jasmin, Emile Champet and Albert Dervieux.

On two magical nights in September, we will celebrate his 43-year career with perfectly parallel verticals of his two greatest wines, Côte Rôtie La Landonne and Côte Rôtie Côte Blonde. Each tasting will feature an identical sixteen vintages from 1985 to 2011, including every great vintage of this 27-year epoch.

A Classicist in Maverick’s Clothing

To us, René's pivotal role in guarding Côte Rôtie’s heritage is clear. But even as the modern v. traditional argument has raged, he has chosen to stay clear of the discussion. He never joined the syndicat of producers, and he avoids talking publicly about either his wines or those of his neighbors.

But in private conversation with him, you learn just how traditional he is today—disliking any taste or smell of new wood in his Côte Rôties and vinifying with 100% whole clusters whenever possible. (He resorts to de-stemming only in weaker years, when the stems are not fully ripe.)

In fact, in a visit to his cellar earlier this month, he was quite outspoken about the loss of the sense of terroir in Côte Rôtie—and that he and other winemakers have a responsibility to “respect and transmit it as clearly as possible.”

Evolving Wisdom

Having visited with him annually for more than a decade, we have observed his commitment to the values of Gentaz et al. being strengthened by long experience.

Like other winemakers of his generation—even Mauro Mascarello dabbled with barrique aging in the 1970s!—he has experimented with new technologies, finally arriving at the inescapable wisdom of traditional methods. Today, five out of every six small barrels in his cellar are used. And he expects to keep his larger demi-muids for a decade or more.

His Côte Rôties are quintessential. In other words, they are the farthest thing from the deeply colored, highly extracted wines that typify the modern wing of Côte Rôtie.

Roots

Delicately textured and intensely aromatic, René's Côte Rôties are purely expressive of Syrah grown in one of the world’s most difficult terroirs. His philosophy comes straight out of his ancestors and his mentors: his grandfather Jean-Marie Buffens, his uncle Marius Gentaz and his father-in-law Albert Dervieux.

He is also blessed with one of Côte Rôtie’s most incredible stable of vineyards, mostly inherited from Gentaz, Dervieux and Buffens. In fact some of René's earliest vines were those planted by his grandfather during the 1930s—a time when others were abandoning their Côte Rôtie vineyards.

(As an aside, in 2013 René made, for the first time, a Côte Rôtie from Marius Gentaz’s legendary Côte Brune parcel, which René replanted at the end of the 1990s due to vine disease. We tasted this inaugural 2013 in René’s cellar two weeks ago, and let’s just say it’s monumental. Look for its arrival in about 18 months.)

Tastings

René has long taken advantage of his wealth of vineyard holdings to make one of the best, and most transparent, blended Côte Rôties—its backbone provided by Albert Dervieux's famed parcels in Fontgent and Vialliére. Today that wine goes by the name Ampodium.

But it is his brilliant La Landonne and Côte Blonde bottlings that reap most of the praise.

Session One—Côte Rôtie La Landonne

1985   1988   1989   1990  1991
1995   1996   1998   1999   2001
2004  2005  2006  2009  2010   2011

Session Two—Côte Rôtie Côte Blonde

1985   1988    1989   1990   1991
1995   1996    1998   1999   2001
2004  2005   2006  2009  2010   2011


Both dinners took place at New York’s Bar Boulud, whose Wine Director Michael Madrigale shares our passion for Northern Rhône Syrah—and in particular Côte Rôtie. We always feel privileged to entrust our lovingly collected bottles to Michael’s care.

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