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Mar 22, 2022

Although one of the most prestigious white grapes of the Rhône Valley, Roussanne is relatively unknown given its penchant for making aromatic, complex, full yet acidic wines. Often used as a blending partner with Marsanne or even with Syrah in its native northern Rhône, the grape shines alone in certain versions from Châteauneuf du Pape, California, Australia, and a handful of other places around the world. In this show we examine the majesty of this grape, which makes extraordinary wines that you should be drinking!

Photo credit: Roussanne - Geshem winery.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Here are the show notes

  • Roussanne was named for “roux”, the French word for “russet” – which describes the grapes’ reddish golden color when they are fully ripe
  • Likely native to the northern Rhône, Roussanne is related to Marsanne, its blending partner for the famed northern Rhône whites in Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph
  • Although it has verged on extinction a few times because it is so challenging in the vineyard, Roussanne continues to be an important part of whites (and reds) in the northern Rhône and elsewhere because few grapes can rival the combination of structure and aromatics

 

Roussanne Flavors

  • Roussanne has aromas and flavors of pear, honey, and herbal tea (Chamomile or lemon verbena). It can be like jasmine, iris, honeysuckle and other white flowers. The wine is distinctly minerally with green herb notes and some are more like apricot and peach
  • Roussanne is distinctive because it has a mouth-filling, oily, fuller body but always exhibits characteristic acidity. With age appears softer and shows nutty, marzipan, and creamy notes. The wine can age 15 or more years and still be excellent

Roussanne in the vineyard and cellar

  • Roussanne is a real challenge to grow – the people who make wine from it are often small producters who treat it as a passion project – demand for the wines isn’t high and growing it can be an exercise in frustration
  • Yields are irregular, ripening can be uneven, the grape is susceptible to mildew, rot and pests, and according to Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, California, who grows a large proportion of the grape in the United States, the grape can shut down as it is ripening, lose leaves and turn yellow, never to recover from this issue
  • The grape does well on poor, stony calcareous-clay soils that are well-drained but it can’t take wind or drought. Too much heat can cause the sugar to spike and make the resulting wine too alcoholic without balanced acidic. On the flip side, picking too early leads to excessively acidic wine that lacks balancing body
  • Roussanne needs a long, consistent season – it demands it to make the best wines
  • In the cellar, Roussanne is pretty easy going and versatile. It can make great wine when fermented in any type of vessel and with limited oak aging, its textures can be even smoother and the wines can be more complex

 

Roussanne regions...

France

Northern Rhône:

  • The native home of the grape, Roussanne is used as a blending partner with Marsanne in the whites of Hermtiage, Crozes Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph. It can also be blended into the reds (Syrah) of those areas but is usually a small percentage of those wines (no more than 10-15%), if used at all. Roussanne is also used in the still and sparkling wines of Saint-Péray. There is much more Marsanne than Roussanne planted in the northern Rhône because it is so much easier to grow, but Roussanne continues to play a big role in the wines because it is so high quality

Southern Rhône

  • Roussanne shines in Châteauneuf du Pape blanc. Marsanne is not permitted in the appellation, so Roussanne shines on its own or when blended with Grenache Blanc, Bourbolenc and other grapes. The most famous example of a pure Roussanne in the region is the white of Château de Beaucastel
  • Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages whites, Costières de Nîmes, Luberon, Ventoux and many other appellations use Roussanne in blends

Other French areas

  • Roussanne is used in blends in the Languedoc and Roussillon, the Loire, and in Provence

 

Savoie

  • In this Alpine region the grape is called Bergeron and its wines are from the appellation Chignin Bergeron. The wine is peppery with fresh aroma of green mountain herbs, and although it has higher acidity and lower alcohol than other French versions, the wine still has excellent aroma and a soft, cheek-coating texture

Outside of France

  • Italy: Liguria, Toscana
  • Portugal: Alentejo
  • Canada
  • Israel
  • South Africa
  • Australia: Came to the continent in 1882 and is used in blends in both whites and reds

The US

  • Growing in Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington state (shows great potential)
  • In California: Came in the 1870s but it was hard to grow so acreage declined, and it wasn’t revived until the 1990s when Tablas Creek (a partnership with Château de Beaucastel, so clippings were easy to come by) and Alban propagated new cuttings of Roussanne. Today there are over 300 acres planted in California, mainly in the Central Coast, with some in Napa, Lodi, and some other spots.
  • Wineries producing Roussanne in blends or alone are: Alban Vineyards, Anglim Winery, Acquiescece in Lodi, Bonny Doon Winery, Cass Winery, Halter Ranch Vineyard, , JC Cellars, McCrea Cellars, Qupe, Stolpman Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Truchard Vineyard, Zaca Mesa

 

Credit to Tablas Creek for providing so much information on their blog. Links from their blog:

1. Tablas Creek blog: Grapes/Roussanne

2. Tablas Creek blog: A Symposium on Roussanne

 

Other Sources:

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