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Brune and blonde: how it all began

Updated: May 16, 2022

In 2019, after passing our certification exams with the Court of Master Sommeliers, we decided that the weird and wonderful world of wine was too much fun (and far too delicious) to share it only with the pros.

We found that the more you do learn about it––where it comes from, how it’s made, and why it’s been civilization’s most exalted beverage for thousands of years––the better it tastes, and the more rewarding the drinking experience becomes. It doesn’t require a ton of money. And it doesn’t need to eat up your time.

That’s why we started Côte Brune and Blonde: a sommelier service that teaches you the stuff you want to know––how to deconstruct a wine, how to pair it with food, how to read a wine list, and so on-–in a casual and conversational setting.

Wondering about the name? Glad you asked. The Côte Brune and Côte Blonde are two death-defyingly steep hillsides in France’s Northern Rhone planted primarily with Syrah (and a drop of Viognier). Even though they’re only stone’s throw away from one another, the complex and haunting beverages that come out of them have unique personalities, showing you how much things like sun exposure and soil type matter to a wine’s flavor.

The Côte Brune and Blonde ... steep AF

On a more personal level, brune and blonde also corresponded to our contrasting hair colors. (We were several tastings deep at the time.)

Now, two years later, we are offering our services to the world. And, to celebrate our unofficial site “launch,” we decided to taste two vintages of 'Brune and Blonde de Guigal,’ one of the iconic Rhone producer’s flagship blends. The best of both hillsides. A meeting of the minds.

We started with a youthful 2016, which took some time to open up. Believe it or not, when somms tell you wine is “tight,” they’re not bullshitting you. Younger, bigger reds can taste weirdly inexpressive without an ample decant; the rush of oxygen coaxes out the more reticent aromas and flavors. It took the 2016 about two hours, and then, wow! Yes, we noticed the flavors of ripe blackberries, currants, violets, and lavender ... as you might expect. But it was equally savory, herbaceous, and dense as a fist, with hints of kalamata olive and black pepper. It was even better the next day, actually, when India had some for lunch!

The 1999, 17 years its senior, was a different ball game entirely. As wine ages, it sloughs off some of the riper fruit notes while it develops characteristics derived from all that time in a bottle. In this case, a lot of dried meat, tobacco, and saddle leather. All this might sound, uh, less appetizing, but we’d beg to disagree. The textures soften, new flavors come out of the woodwork, and the story gets longer. The wine, very good to begin with, gets a little more interesting.

Which is just one of the things we love about it. It’s hard to think of another agricultural product that actually gets better as it ages.

What to eat with a Côte-Rôtie?

Drinking a Côte-Rôtie without any food is a small crime. Syrah, after all, is a thick skinned grape, known for its meaty and spicy qualities. So think of dishes that complement these things. We made a Greek olive tapenade slathered on sourdough crostini, braised some short ribs in wine sauce, and topped it off with a warm goat cheese salad with lentils du Puy.

How much should I pay for a Côte-Rôtie?

Wines from the Côte-Rôtie aren’t necessarily cheap, but there are good reasons for this. First, it’s a very tiny place; the entire appellation is only about 550 acres, the size of a large college campus. Second, it is far from flat, so you can’t harvest the grapes with machines, and labor costs add up. Third, these wines have a reputation: “the most fashionable and most demanded wines of the Rhone Valley,” taste maker Robert Parker once claimed. There are plenty of more expensive wines out there. But don’t expect to find a bottle in a store for less than $60.

Want to learn more about pairing wine and food?

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