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by Staff Writer - R. Meoki | June 30, 2011

Roussanne is a white grape variety usually connected with the white wines produced in the Northern Rhône region of France, such as Hermitage and St-Joseph Blanc. Roussanne is aromatic, elegant and highly acidic. Roussanne is almost always blended with fuller-bodied Marsanne grapes to produce white wines. Roussanne and Marsanne are permitted in blends of the red wines of the same region. They are occasionally found in Australia, Italy and the United States as a varietal wine. These wines have smooth, rich flavors of almonds, apples and apricots. Roussanne grapes are also used in making Hermitage Blanc. The wine is floral, herbal with notes of honey and spice.

Roussanne wines and blends hold up well with cellaring and may be enjoyable a decade or more past the vintage. Roussanne will perform well using barrel fermentation and oak aging.

Roussanne Grapes

Roussanne is not grown widely outside of the Northern Rhone region because it is not an easy grape to cultivate. The yields are irregular, and because of the Roussanne grapes lack of hardiness and susceptibility to powdery mildew rot, wind and drought, quality of the grapes is always a concern. These issues combined with the lack of recognition of the grape in the marketplace, and it becomes clear why plantings of Roussanne are limited.

Wines made from the Roussanne grape have a distinctive aroma profile and are very acidic. Roussanne grapes are normally used as a blending grape because of its powerful characteristics. Warm weather helps create the intense and complex grapes. Roussanne grapes need to fully ripen or they will be too acidic, and they need a long, moderate growing season to reach their peak.

In the winery, Roussanne grapes are prone to oxidation (when wine comes into contact with air and loses its freshness). When Roussanne grapes are successfully grown and produced, complex and aromatic wines are a great result. Roussanne grapes are occasionally blended with Alban (Roman wine), Bonny Doon (California wine), Chardonnay and Sobon (California wine) and all make good versions in California’s wine country.

Roussanne’s first introduction to Northern California came during the 1870s. Roussanne grapes failed to grow well and those vines were all pulled out by 1927. Some producers along the Central Coast took new Roussanne vine cuttings and planted them in more southern soil. The results were outstanding and have continued to grow. By selecting and propagating only the least problematic clones, it is the vintners who have preserved Roussanne for two primary reasons; their unique aroma and brisk acidity.

Roussanne is the only other white wine variety, besides Marsanne, allowed in France's mostly red wine producing northern Rhone appellations of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and St. Joseph. There are limited plantings in a few other French regions and in Italy's Liguria and Tuscany and also in Australia.

Roussanne Food Pairings

Roussanne is a great white wine for the winter months, as its full body and intense flavor complements nicely with heavier comfort foods. Roussanne pairs well with seafood such as shellfish, oysters, lobster, and grilled fish. It also goes well with bacon, chicken, veal, salads, spicy foods or creamy sauces, and just about any dish containing rosemary.

The recommended serving temperature for Roussanne wines is 50º-55º F. Roussanne ages very well, and it is good to give it five or even ten years to age.

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