Grape school: Roussanne

Grape school: Roussanne

by Westgarth Wines June 20, 2024

Roussanne, a white grape variety known for its elegance and complexity, plays a crucial role in some of the world’s most renowned white wines. Originating from the Rhône Valley in France, Roussanne has made its mark in both traditional and New World wine regions. Its unique flavor profile, coupled with its ability to age gracefully, makes it a favorite among winemakers and wine aficionados alike.

Origins and history

Roussanne hails from the Rhône Valley, where it has been cultivated for centuries. Named after its russet-colored skin (from the French word roux, meaning russet), Roussanne is often blended with other Rhône varietals such as Marsanne. It is a key component in the white wines of the northern Rhône, including Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, as well as the southern Rhône’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The grape has also found a home in the New World, particularly in California and Australia, where winemakers have embraced its unique characteristics. Roussanne’s introduction to these regions has led to new and exciting expressions of the grape, showcasing its versatility and adaptability.

Appearance and growing conditions

Roussanne grapes are medium-sized with a distinctive reddish-brown hue as they ripen. The vine is known for its high environmental sensitivity, thriving in well-drained, rocky soils that mimic its Rhône origins. It requires a long growing season to develop its full range of flavors and can be prone to irregular ripening, making it a challenging but rewarding grape to cultivate.

Roussanne thrives in warm climates where it can achieve full ripeness while maintaining its natural acidity. The grape is susceptible to disease and can be difficult to grow, but when successful, it produces wines of remarkable complexity and depth.

Flavor profile

Roussanne is celebrated for its aromatic intensity and layered flavors. Typical tasting notes include ripe pear, honey, and apricot, often accompanied by floral aromas such as jasmine and herbal undertones like chamomile and tea. As the wine ages, it can develop additional complexity, with nutty and marzipan notes emerging over time.

The grape’s natural acidity and rich texture create a balanced and harmonious wine, capable of aging gracefully. Roussanne can be fermented and aged in oak, which can introduce additional flavors of vanilla, spice, and toast, enhancing its already complex profile.

Food pairings

Roussanne’s rich, aromatic profile makes it a versatile partner for a variety of dishes. Its acidity and texture complement creamy sauces, making it an excellent choice for dishes like chicken in a cream sauce, lobster bisque, or creamy pasta dishes. The wine’s herbal and floral notes also pair well with Mediterranean cuisine, including dishes seasoned with herbs like thyme, rosemary, and fennel.

For a classic pairing, consider Roussanne with roasted poultry or fish, where the wine’s complexity can enhance the flavors of the dish. Its ability to handle bold flavors and spices also makes it a good match for Asian cuisine, particularly dishes featuring ginger, lemongrass, and coconut milk.

Notable producers

France remains the benchmark for high-quality Roussanne, particularly in the Rhône Valley, with renowned producers such as Château de Beaucastel and Domaine Raymond Usseglio leading the way. In the New World, California’s Central Coast has gained acclaim for its Roussanne wines, where the terroir and winemaking tend towards richer, more rounded wines that draw similarities to Chardonnay. Australian Roussanne, particularly from regions like McLaren Vale, has also gained recognition, with warmer climates producing heartier and powerfully perfumed expressions.

Conclusion

Roussanne’s elegance, aromatic intensity, and ability to age gracefully have secured its place as one of the world’s most intriguing white grape varieties. From the rich, layered wines of the Rhône Valley to the vibrant, expressive examples from California and Australia, Roussanne offers a diverse array of styles that can appeal to any palate. Its adaptability and unique flavor profile ensure that Roussanne remains a cornerstone of the wine world.


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