Sting & The Police crooned eloquently in 1978 about falling in love with Roxanne, a lady working in the red light district of Paris. I confess that I skipped that neighbourhood on my last vacation in France, but I did fall in love with Roussanne, a magical white grape can be cellared for up to 20 years.
The Roussanne grape is native to the Rhône Valley wine region of France, and is most commonly used as a blending varietal with other white wines, most often Viognier and Marsanne.
Roussanne is a challenging grape to grow, producing low yields and easily susceptible to mildew and rot, but experienced vintners know that the grape is worth the effort, as it produces a highly aromatic and complex wine.
A particularly unique feature of the Roussanne grape is that it produces a wine that is best consumed young or old, but not anywhere in between. For reasons that the wine gurus of the world still struggle to understand, Roussanne wines that are younger than 3-ish years are highly aromatic, but enter an awkward phase in the bottle from 4 to 8-ish years old with closed or dulled aromas, but from 8-ish to 20 years of age, develop more elegant and complex aromas.
For this reason, most of the Roussanne wines you will see at your well stocked booze merchant are reasonably priced wines less than 3-4 years old, or very pricey options that are 8-20 years old, but nothing in the awkward stage of 4-8 years.
Fans of Roussanne wines can usually pick it out in a blind tasting due to its unique aromas of chamomile herbal tea, with a rich and oily finish with notes of spices and dried apricots.
Most plantings are still found in the Rhône Valley of France, but the acres under vine have been slowly increasing in California, and even in the Okanagan Valley of BC.
On my most recent wine touring trip to Kelowna, I visited a few different wineries that had been growing Roussanne in small quantities for many years, but are slowly increasing their plantings as they found the optimal terroir for the grapes to thrive.
Lake Breeze Vineyards is located on the Naramata Bench just outside of Penticton, and I enjoyed a delightful dinner in the restaurant attached to the winery last year. Unlike most winemakers that blend Roussanne with other white grapes, Lake Breeze bottles Roussanne as a single varietal, with complex aromas of apricot and chamomile, followed by a rich and elegant finish of honeyed pears and other stone fruits.
My personal favourite Roussanne wine comes from Moon Curser Vineyards, located near the southern tip of the Okanagan Valley, just outside of Osoyoos. I recall visiting this winery many times in its early years, when all their wine sales were straight from the winery door. Fortunately, they have been shipping to Alberta for the better part of a decade now, so their wines can be found at your friendly neighbourhood wine shop.
Moon Curser’s claim to fame is their focus on old-world grape varietals that are not commonly planted elsewhere in the Okanagan Valley. Roussanne is just one of several noble varietals that are rarely seen in the New World, so each time I visit the winery, it makes me feel like I am stepping from BC into an ancient winery in Italy, Portugal, Spain, or France.
Fortunately, their vineyard location in the unique desertlike microclimate around Osoyoos is famed for producing excellent wines, and their Roussanne / Marsanne blend is no exception.
This was a gold medal winner in the 2020 All Canadian Wine Championships, which has made it hard to find due to the added popularity given to award winners, so I feel very lucky that I picked up a few bottles at the winery last year before it was famous. There are notes of chamomile and apple blossoms on the nose, followed by a creamy mouthfeel bursting with peach and pear, with hints of minerality on the finish, thanks to the unique soils in the area.
Whether your tastes skew to the old-world wines of France, or you enjoy supporting our domestic wine industry here in Canada, there is a Roussanne waiting for you at your favourite well stocked booze merchant. Give one a try today!