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Roussanne cluster.This grape should be extinct for all practical purposes as far as concerns vineyardists, who'd prefer to manage more cooperative vines. Roussanne gives irregular yields and tends to uneven and late ripening, has little resistance to powdery mildew and rot and is easily damaged by wind and drought.

Roussanne probably gets its name from the light-brownish russet cast of its ripe berries. Although its origins are uncertain, France's Rhône Valley is likely the origin of Roussanne, since it didn't stray far for centuries and nearly didn't survive at all.

Roussanne teetered on the brink of extinction for decades. Experimental vineyards planted in the 1880's in Sonoma, California, were removed before Prohibition. A century later, the Rhône Ranger movement re-introduced it and more than 160 acres are now producing in the state. Italy also has a little, in Liguria and Tuscany.

It is the only other white variety, besides Marsanne, allowed in France's mostly-red-wine-producing northern Rhône appellations of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and St. Joseph.1 Roussanne is also one of only six white varieties permitted in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to the south.2

By selecting and propogating only the least problematic clones, vintners preserved Roussanne for two primary reasons: unique aroma and bracing acidity.Roussanne can be thin and tart and is not often bottled on its own in Europe, more often being blended with Marsanne in the Rhône and with Chardonnay in other areas. Roussanne performs well using barrel fermentation and oak aging and some California winemakers release varietal bottlings.

The aroma of Roussanne, not as overtly fruity as some types, can suggest stone fruits (nectarine, pear, peach), also wild flowers, herbs, or herbal tea. The flavor is sometimes described as nutty and some palates may detect a slight bitterness, giving an overall impression of perfume.

*Typical Roussanne Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Floral: honeysuckle, perfume (non-specific)

Terroir: (unknown)

Friuty: stone, peach, pear

Light Oak: vanilla, fennel

Herbal: honey, tea, nut (non-specific)

Heavy Oak: toast, oak, smoke

Mouthfeel: tart, bracing, racy

Bottle Age: yes

Roussanne wines and blends seem to hold up well with cellaring and may be enjoyable a decade or more past the vintage.

Jim LaMar

1 French regulations allow up to 15% total white grapes, any combination of Roussanne and Marsanne, to be used in Hermitage and in Côte-Rôtie, which may also include Viognier. In either case, the white and black grapes must be co-fermented. Some Australian and California vintners mimic this practice. BACK

2 Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Roussanne. BACK

1. Roussanne at Tablas Creek

2. Rhône Rangers

3. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

4. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

5. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

6. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

7. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983


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Page created January 19, 2004; last updated July 1, 2015
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