Côte Rôtie

Côte Rôtie is, to put it mildly, an evocative appellation. Along with Hermitage, this region produces some of the world’s most stunning and compelling Syrah wines. Drinking Côte Rôtie is like listening to a private live performance of Rihanna while sprawled on a leather couch with the lights dimmed. Really. It’s that soft, yet as intense as distant thunder, or something equally intense, like a whole night of watching The Tudors. Less melodrama, but just as rambunctious and sensual.

To my delight, this month I stumbled upon an unexpected steal – and it came in the form of Côte Rôtie. Bumbling around the East Village earlier this month with my friend Nolan, I wandered into a wine shop looking for nothing in particular. Browsing the bins, I found something shocking: a bottle of the 2002 Domaine de Bonserine “La Sarrasine” Côte Rôtie, selling for $16. That’s right: $16. I walked up to one of the floor staff.

“Is something wrong with this?” I asked. “Tough year? Frost? Hail?”

“Nope: closeout sale to move product. Drinking beautifully now.”

So that was that. Nolan bought us a bottle and we scrambled. I recall back-slapping. High-fiving. I recall other gyrations and hoots of victory. I recall being asked to stop by an NYU security guard. We fled the scene, and saved the bottle in my wine storage unit, waiting for the perfect time to try it. That time was last night. I’d baked some European peasant bread, and Nolan brought along generous wedges of Gouda and Parmesan Reggiano cheese. We chose a martial arts movie (“Ip Man”) and, awash in the hokey sounds of cinematic battle, proceeded to carefully analyze the wine.

My simplest run down can be summed up in two words: holy shit. A 2002 vintage means nine years of bottle aging for a wine generally meant to age a decade; additionally, 2002 was an off year, and Côte Rôtie is lighter than its companion Syrah-based Rhône wine, Hermitage. Everything pointed to ideal timing, and right away we could see it. In the glass, “La Sarrasine” showed a crystal-clear ruby red, with a garnet hue at the rim. The nose opened up after 20 minutes in the glass, revealing amazing meaty notes (think cured bacon), other secondary aromas such as cedar and green olives, and a core of blackberry and plum fruit. It kept evolving, and evolving. Excellent complexity, and very well-integrated; nothing stood out except quality. This harmonious presentation continued in the mouth, with a silky-soft texture, exhibiting more dark fruit on a medium body. We also detected an herbal garrigue of thyme and lavender, and a nice minerality towards that beautiful, long finish. Holy shit.

I am sorry to say you are unlikely to find this vintage anywhere; it can be bought, though, and you should do so if you can. Once again, I’ll emphasize the price: $16. You won’t get many better wine experiences at less cost. So turn down the lights, turn on your favorite episode of Skins, or Tudors, or Mad Men, and enjoy this phenomenal value in wine with your favorite gamy meat: herb-encrusted leg of lamb, venison, or roasted hare.