Not familiar with Roussanne? No surprise –it’s really rare!
According to the California Grape Acreage Report 2019 Summary only 323 acres of Roussanne are grown in all of California. In contrast, over 92,000 acres of Chardonnay are found in the Golden State, the most of any white wine grape.
Unlike Albarino which has increased from 255 acres to 456 acres in the past decade, the report says the number of Roussanne acres in California is only up by 25. There’s not a whole lot of Roussanne grown in France either; in the 60s it was down to 54 hectares! Mostly it’s in the Rhône where it originated and it’s famous as the only grape in the coveted Château de Beaucastel’s Roussanne Vieilles Vignes. (Side note: not knowing this, I asked for a sample for our Chateauneuf-du-Pape article at my birthday. That was a definite sorry and no!)
The joys of Roussanne are plentiful. Typically a lovely yellow gold, the intense aromatics entice you further, and then you are rewarded with a generous, lively mouthfeel, with various floral, fruit, herbal, and spice notes including chamomile, pear, citrus, and stone fruit.
While the joys may be plentiful, so are the challenges: Roussanne is finicky, it ripens late, and those clusters ripen unevenly.
However, several areas of California are finding success. Tablas Creek pioneered this and other Rhône grapes on the west side of Paso Robles in Central California. They devote eighteen acres of their vineyards to Roussanne, which represents about 5% of the Roussanne planted in California; it’s so particular they call it “the princess.” In Lodi, Sue Tipton at Acquiesce exclusively makes white (and pink!) wines from grapes originally from the Rhône including Roussanne.
Rhône grapes that roamed from the Rhône is a theme we’ve been exploring this September, and since it is also California Wine Month, we’ve looked at Rhône grapes that have roamed
- to El Dorado County in the Sierra Nevada AVA
- to Ventura County for Grenache Day 2020
- and now today we have three Roussanne from three regions in the state: Santa Barbara County, El Dorado County, and Sonoma County.
- 2018 Sierra Vista Barrel Aged Roussanne, El Dorado AVA
- 2018 The Ojai Vineyard Roussanne, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
- 2016 Sosie Roussanne Vivio Vineyard, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County
If you’re looking for a wow meal that you can prepare in advance that’s also pescatarian and pairs well with Roussanne, or maybe for a small gathering of guests who don’t eat meat, we’ve got you covered!
- Cheese board:
Delice, blue, Marconi almond, organic baguette
- Grassy Bar Oysters (shuck your own!)
- Grilled pear salad with pomegranate and blue cheese
- Baked Coquilles St. Jacques
(so easy: slice large scallops or use small ones; place in ramekins or on cookie sheet; drizzle with butter; sprinkle with bread crumbs, grated parmesan, chopped parsley, salt and pepper; can be made in advance and cooked when guests arrive)
- Crab and Shrimp Risotto Cakes on Tomato Coulis (can be made in advance and cooked briefly just before eating; recipe follows)
2018 Sierra Vista Barrel Aged Roussanne, El Dorado AVA
ABV 13.7%; SRP $24; sample
Color: Very pale yellow, lemon flesh
Nose: Beautiful florals, citrus, white peach, grass, I like this nose, there is nice minerality going on. Clean mountain streams, fresh water, snow melt.
Palate: Lots of acidity, bright fruit across the palate, with a viscous lovely mouth feel. Very rich. Tart ripe nectarine, fresh pomelo, we did not pick up on much oak, there is a bit of toast, and spice on the finish. Without the oak this would probably be a pretty spunky wine. This is a very pleasing easy to drink wine. Great body. Great with the Delice cheese, but not so great with the pate, they fought together and it wasn’t very nice. Add a nice ripe pear with the delice cheese and it takes the flavor profile to a whole new level.
Pairing: Great holiday, fall wine. Great with our oysters, bringing out a peachy quality in the wine, and a rich creamy mouth feel. Likes the rosemary in our marconna almonds. Absoultly fantastic with the coquilles St Jaques loving the rich creaminess of the dish. Really nice with the rich complex flavors of the risotto crab cakes as well. I liked it best with the scallops. Sue felt that this was a perfect pair for both.
This wine loves the roasted pear in the salad. Grilled unsweetened fruit works with the wine, but the roasted pear works best.
2018 The Ojai Vineyard Roussanne, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
ABV 13.5%; SRP $32
90 cases made
In our conversation, they discussed how climate change is impacting vineyards in Santa Barbara County. As the climate warms and fog less dependable, they are sourcing more grapes from cooler coastal areas. Here’s hoping finicky rare Roussanne will continue to be made by this masterful winemaker!
Neutral oak barrel fermented for nine months.
Color: Pale yellow, very golden, like jewelry
Nose: Fresh, exotic, fruit and flowers, like a perfume that Sue would want to wear. Garam Masala, Cardomon, Grapefruit, carnation, rose, rose geranium, amber
Palate: Very tart bright, and alive, lemony citrus at the back of the palate with a lingering mineral finish. To me it was almost like a not quite ripe apricot off the tree. Mouthwatering salinity, it is almost grainy in texture, very fine grain.
Pairing: Yum, yum yum, yum, yum with an oyster. Melon, and creaminess, there is a briney, heavenly pairing. Oysters have such a long lingering finish,.
Both the wine and the oyster are in harmony for the finish and continue to dance and sing on the palate together for a great long pleasing time.
Fabulous with the delice topped with a ripe pear. Like a perfect threesome. It tackles not only the creaminess of the cheese, but also the salty creamy quality of the pate. What a great companion to this wine. This wine was so incredibly fantastic with the crab cake. Loving the rich creaminess of the seafood and rice, and the balance between cream, acidity, and a mouthwatering experience. The roasted pear in the salad is a perfect match for the wine. Marsh, sprinkled a bit of brown sugar on the fruit before he grilled it, and it was perfect.
2016 Sosie Roussanne – Vivio Vineyard, Bennett Valley Sonoma County
ABV 13.5%; SRP $38; sample
Definitely worth seeking out! We loved both vintages we’ve tasted.
Color: Light buttercup
Nose: Fresh honeysuckle, toast and spice, croissant, almonds, marzipan. There is also such a stoniness on the nose. It is not sulphuric, just wet stone. There is also the essence of a hot apple pie coming out of the oven with nutmeg and cinnamon.
Palate: This is such a smooth wine, smooth without being dull. Rich without being heavy. Very clean lingering finish. Yellow peach, plus oxalis for Sue which she loved sucking on as a kid.
Pairing: This would make such a fantastic holiday wine going great with a Thanksgiving meal.
With pate on the palate, I want to pate all the time.
I did not want to even try the oyster because I was so happy here with the pate. Once I got there I realize what Sue was saying. It was really interesting with the oysters. It is so lovely how the flavors of the oyster integrate with the wine. Sue found it brings out a cucumber quality when the two are matched. I just could not get beyond how well this wine went with the pate, and the rich delice cheese.
We wrote about this wine about a year ago, and Sue remembered how well this wine went with blue cheese. We experienced this again. What a great combination. With the Coquilles St, Jaques, it is so much about how well this wine does fantastically with the creamy butter of the dish. The acidity in the wine meets the creaminess in the dish and. becomes quick best friends. The rouille balances the richness of the dish with its bright tartness. They go to bat. When they go to bat your palate is clean and pure and ready for the next bite. The grilled element in the dish also makes the dish pop.
Sue: “This is the best wine I have ever had with blue cheese, ever in my life hands down, for the second time.”
This wine loves the richness in foods while keeping its own characteristic and vitality. With our salad, the wine was fantastic. It was like having a nectarine compote with a vingagerette and the salad that works so well.
The butter richness of the Coquilles St Jaques, and the butter richness of the crab cakes is hands down a perfect pairing for the rich acidic wine.
I was inspired to suggest these dishes to Sue from the recipes off the Tablas Creek website. I linked to the Coquilles St Jaques recipe above; this is fairly simple, and Sue did not follow a recipe.
But the CRISPY CRAB and Shrimp RISOTTO WITH TOMATO AND TARRAGON COULIS? If I had followed the recipe we could have been in big trouble with the risotto because his recipe only called for one cup stock. AND I went to 4 stores and a nursery trying to find Tarragon; Sue looked, and my spouse went to 2 more stores with no luck AND THEN his recipe never actually calls for it! Here’s how we did it.
- 1 lb. fresh tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup seafood stock
- 2 ozs onion, chopped
- 4 ozs butter
- 10 ozs Arborio rice
- 2 ozs onion, chopped
- 3.5 cups seafood stock
- 6 ozs dry white wine (we used Viognier)
- 1 lb. cooked crab meat
- 1 pound raw shrimp in the shells
- 3 ozs butter
- 2 tbsps parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 T chopped garlic
- Cook the shrimp in garlic, 3 oz white wine, 2 oz butter.
- Remove shells and lightly roast for 10 minutes. Set aside meat.
- Combine shells and pan liquid with 4 cups seafood stock plus 1 cup water.
- Maybe add some tarragon here?
- You can also just use a standard stock but the shrimp adds richness and flavor.
- Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato and drop in boiling water. Boil 1-2 minutes and begin removing tomatoes; place in cold water. Skins will slip right off. Chop tomatoes.
- Combine chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and 14 oz. of the fish stock in a sauce pan; cook slowly for 1 hour.
- Blend cooked mixture; add 3 oz. of butter.
- Sue added some dried tarragon.
- Saute onion in butter over medium heat until golden brown.
- Add rice and stir, coating rice in butter.
- Add white wine and cook 2 or 3 minutes, until liquid is reduced by half.
- Add 3.5 C fish stock (remainder) and cook 15 minutes stirring constantly until liquid is gone.
- Add crab meat, shrimp, butter, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
- Shape risotto into a disc about 1.5 inches thick and place on cookie sheet.
- Refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Before serving, fry the risotto cake with butter, approximately 2-3 minutes per side, until crispy.
- Drizzle generous amount of Tomato Coulis on serving plate, and place risotto cakes.
- Put extra coulis in a pitcher for additional coulis as desired.
So while we can’t roam to the Rhône right now, our palates can!