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Posted by Burke Morton On May - 27 - 2011

Roussanne, one of the grapes at the heart of many a white wine from the southern Rhône Valley, remains among the more obscure grape varieties thanks to the lack of ubiquity of white wines from southern France. Its name is derived from the russet hue that its berries acquire when they reach maturity.

A first-rate variety with a beguiling, haunting aroma, Roussanne was once on the brink of extinction thanks to irregular yields of its fruit, which was not resistant to rot or mildew. With the advent of newer clones that provide more reliable grapes (though they are still not as steadfast as its frequent blending partner, Marsanne), its has found a more solid place at the table with other white varieties of the Rhône Valley, though it is still planted in smaller quantities than are Marsanne (with which it comprises the only varieties allowed in the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St.-Joseph, and St.-Péray).

The aromatic profile, while inspiring, is also rather reticent. The aromas are often reminiscent of an enchanting herb blend (occasionally it has openly bergamot and rosemary notions) steeped into tea using saltwater, though this aroma, which by this description sounds as though it should be grandly effusive, usually seems to be teasing the nose from a distance..."haunting" indeed.

It has a fine, often prickly acidity that allows it to age quite well, and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (where it is one of four permitted varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc), its wines can have ageing potential of twenty years or more. And speaking of ageing, the most notable exponent of this uncommon wine, Château de Beaucastel's palm-sweatingly expensive Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Roussanne Vieilles Vignes, illustrates how well top-quality Roussanne can benefit from oak ageing.

Planted throughout the Rhône Valley, it also is notable in Chignin (Savoie) and in Provence. The Italians have also taken to it, and significant plantings can be found in both Liguria and Tuscany. Small amounts of Roussanne are produced in Australia and the United States, but in every case, Roussanne is the least successful Rhône Valley export, as its yields cannot match the vigorous Marsanne, and its charms are not as dramatically proportioned as Viognier.

Roussanne with Food
Cheese, poultry, pork, smoked fish, vegetables (it even works with crisply-cooked asparagus), and pâtés.

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