Roussanne, the white grape variety that takes its name from “roux”, the French word for “russet” (a description of the grapes’ reddish-gold skin color at harvest) is a predominant feature in wine from the Rhone region and Isere Valley in Eastern France.
Traditionally, it is still used as a blending grape throughout the Rhône where it is said to have originated from but as a single varietal wine, it is a sole component of Château de Beaucastel’s Roussanne Vieilles Vignes.
Besides being one of the only two grapes allowed in the classical Northern Rhône white wines of Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Roussanne is one of the four grape varieties used in the making of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where Marsanne is not permitted. It is also used to make other notable wines throughout the south of France, California, and Australia. It is also a regular player in white wines from the Côtes du Rhône appellation.
It is known for its balanced acidity levels and fresh aromas of pear honeyed richness, apricot, and tea. It is also said to gain even more complex and evident nutty flavors if aged.
While the oak barrels usually provide a structured richness to the grape texture, the stainless-steel tanks bring out the rich minerality in the wine while enhancing the floral scents in the wine.
It is known to be a difficult varietal to grow. Its grapes are quite susceptible to powdery mildew and rot. Even under ideal conditions, their vines are shy, with unreliable production. Roussanne ripens late besides being prone to always shut down toward the end of a harvest. It is a low-yielding grape variety but to the south where it is commonly found, Roussanne grapes benefit from the warm temperatures and long sunlight hours that are essential for its peak maturity.
Notably, grape bunches on the western side of the vine have a tendency of ripening more quickly than bunches on the eastern side. To curb this, growers have discovered the art of aggressively thinning the leaves to expose more bunches to sunlight and harvest the grapes in multiple passes.
Roussanne in the Cellar
Even with its difficulty in the vineyard, Roussanne is different in the cellar. At the winery, it is said to be quite flexible. It can easily be manipulated and blended to form complex and signature wines. Unlike other grapes varieties, it can be left to attain its peak ripeness without losing its acidity and this right here is a desirable trait in the wine-making process.
The beauty is, once it has been harvested and ready to be used in wine (either as a blend or as a sole component), Roussanne is not particular and therefore can be fermented successfully in either oak barrels (large or small) or in stainless steel tanks.
It can be enjoyed up to fifteen years or more after bottling and this is because, according to winemakers, it ages well. This is attributed to its unique combination of richness, minerality, and balanced acids.
The acidity however can be high if the grapes are picked under-ripe. Again, if left on the vine for too long, alcohol levels can go down. With such a character, Roussanne never goes to waste at the winery. It serves as a great blend. For instance, when blended with Marsanne, it brings forth an aromatic intensity that perfectly complements Marsanne’s body and structure.
The Roussanne grape variety can produce both the red and white wine styles. Other than their full bodies, rich floral aromatics, and distinct honeyed characteristic, its wines have an oily texture that is quite obvious in the red wines compared to the white counterparts.
Over the years, Marsanne has been a dominant blending partner of Roussanne and together they perfectly complement each other to produce the prestigious white wines of Hermitage, St-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage St-Péray. While Marsanne contributes to color, rich scented fruit aromas, weight, and body, Roussanne contributes the fat, richness, oily textures, sweetness bouquet, delicacy, and finesse. The resulting wines are among the best known in the market.
Some of the common Roussanne wine varieties include:
• Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes Roussanne 2017
• Ben Haines Roussanne 2017
• Stolpman Vineyards L’Avion Roussanne 2016
• Truchard Estate Roussanne 2018
• Consilience Roussanne 2013
• Parker Winery Camp 4 Vineyard Rousanne 2015
Because of its unique yet complex structure, Roussanne can be combined and paired with several dish varieties to create such a great mealtime. It goes well with buttery meats like lobster, for, crab, foie gras, crab omelet, pâté, poached egg, smoked fish terrine, chicken liver, and bacon salad.
The physical structure of vines makes it susceptible to rot. It is characterized by small-sized grapes normally in compact bunches that are responsible for this mishap. Because of the tight clusters, enough air does not circulate between the grapes. This has seen it overlooked in favor of the more cooperative Marsanne grape.
Roussanne-based wines cab be enjoyed either while young (within the first few years of bottling) or after they have been bottled to reach their peak age, which can be fifteen to twenty years after bottling.
Though it is can be used as a sole component of some wines, it is mostly used as a blend in most appellations.