How to Read a Wine Label - Northern Rhone

Land of Grand Syrah


The Northern Rhône valley stretches along the sun-baked banks of the Rhône river. This is Syrah country; as a group, the appellations of the Northern Rhône produce the finest range of Syrah-based wines on earth. In general, they are well-labelled and easy to understand, with just a few rules to remember.

Produit Francais

Country of Origin - This means that the wine is a product of France.

Marketing Language

This is an engaging quote from Pliny the Younger, who noted that the wines of the region around Vienne (home to the famous vineyards of the Northern Rhône) smelled of violets. It remains true to this day!

The Region

This wine comes from the Côte-Rôtie, or "roasted slope." There is in fact more than a single slope in Côte-Rôtie, as the vineyards follow the contours of the east/southeast-facing edge of the Rhône river for some three miles.

The Vineyard Designation

The Côte-Rôtie is roughly broken down into two halves: the Côte Brune and the Côte Blonde. There are well-known vineyards that lie within each half; the most famous of these plots are La Mouline in the Côte Blonde and La Turque in the Côte Brune.

A wine that is labelled as Côte Brune or Côte Blonde can be comprised of wines that were produced from various plots within each Côte and don't necessarily refer to a single, contiguous vineyard.

The Sub-Region or Appellation

The appellation, in this case Côte-Rôtie, is a region where many aspects of a wine are regulated. The purpose of attaining Appellation d'origine contrôlée status is to assure the consumer that certain benchmarks have been met. 

In the case of Côte-Rôtie, the wine must be made with a minimum of 80% Syrah grown within the Côte-Rôtie boundries. Up to 20% of the wine may be comprised of the white grape Viognier, but only when the two are co-fermented. Co-fermentation means that the grapes are fermented together, at the same time, so the blending of finished wines is forbidden.

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  • Does only 20% of the syrah have to be from the Cote-Rotie to get the designation? Does that mean that the other 60-80% (depending upon whether or not it is blended with viognier) can be from elsewhere? Or is it a misprint in part 5 of the the Northern Rhone label-reading article?

    Oct 19, 2010 at 1:22 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    An unfortunate typo! I was going back and forth with the wording and failed to catch it. All the Syrah must come from within the boundaries of the Cote Rotie. Thanks very much for pointing this out.

    Oct 19, 2010 at 1:32 PM

  • Except that according to Kermit Lynch, producers may put 'mis en bouteille au domaine' on wines that are bottled by a mobile bottling truck at their domain, because it is "at" their domain. Obviously this sacrifices quality.

    Oct 20, 2010 at 6:01 AM

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