I first became acquainted with Rhône white varieties about four years ago, before I had taken any formal courses in wine. Not having had much experience beyond the basics, I found them to be more savoury and weighty than most white wines I had tasted, and took an instant liking to them. Today, it’s a Rhône white grape but from Australia, the Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Roussanne 2010.
So Roussanne, as I mentioned, is a white Rhône varietal, and frequently seen in the company of another of the same, Marsanne. The name of the grape is to do with the colour of the grapeskin, which can be a particular shade of reddish brown, russet, or roux in French. As with most grapes though, the juice is clear. Like Tibouren of yesterday’s rosé, it’s a difficult grape in the vineyard, with irregular yields and susceptibility to powdery mildew and rot. It ripens late, though it need not be fully ripe to express its varietal characteristics . Like many varieties, its expression can vary greatly depending on the growing conditions, with a delicate, acidic character being common in cooler climates and full bodied, honeyed notes coming out under warmer conditions.
Within the Rhône, Roussanne is made into a number of wines. In the Northern Rhône, it is used in the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and St-Joseph, as well as St-Péray where it is used in both sparkling and still wines. In all those appellations, it is typically blended with the more widely planted, more productive and better behaved Marsanne. In the Southern Rhône, Roussanne is one of the components in the white wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, along with Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Piquepoul Blanc, Picardan and Bourboulenc (but not Marsanne), and some producers have released successful varietal Roussanne with oak treatment.
Outside of the Rhône but still within France, Roussanne is also found in Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Savoie where it is known as Bergeron. Beyond France, it is found in parts of Italy, in particular Liguria and Tuscany. There are plantings throughout the New World, typically in areas with an interest in Rhône red varieties, such as California and South Australia.
I’ve written about McLaren Vale to some extent when I wrote about the Pertaringa Tannat but it’s worth perhaps another word or two in this specific context. While McLaren Vale has an Italian influence from the early days, the region to which it is most frequently compared (locally at least) is the Southern Rhône, which has had something to do with the Grenache and Shiraz plantings. Recently, there’s been a great deal of experimentation, and if you look hard enough you’d likely be able to find over a hundred different varieties planted from all over the world. However, two trends that seem to have some steam are Italian varieties and Rhône whites.
Wineries such as Coriole, Primo Estate and Oliver’s Taranga produce excellent varietal Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Sagrantino respectively, just to name a few from a growing field of Italian influenced producers. While Rhône whites are not as trendy, D’Arenberg, Penny’s Hill and Woop Woop Wines all produce Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, as part of a movement that I hope will continue.
Speaking of specific producers, our producer for today is Yangarra, which apparently means “from the earth” in an Aboriginal language. If I’m reading their website correctly, all their wines are produced from estate grown grapes, which constitute 250 acres of vines across 420 acres of property, with the remainder being native vegetation. The produce a range of eight wines, with Viognier, Chardonnay and this Roussanne making up the whites, and the reds being a variety of different Shiraz and Grenache based wines.
Their particular terroir is all about 100 million year old mountain ranges which are now sand dunes. That, combined with proclaiming that they’re replacing the imported European trees with native Australian species, to the delight of the local birds, does rub me the wrong way a bit.
Once upon a time, I read something in the early days of the Web that included a section “Words Which Will Make Me Leave the Party”. For me, with respect to wine, “Native” is on that list, along with “Natural”, but more about the latter for another post. I love Australia, and I appreciate a respect for things native, but really, those 250 acres of vines that make up the Yangarra vineyards are not native. Being proud of swapping some trees around when your entire business is based on an imported species strikes me as ever so slightly hypocritical. But what appears on a website only rarely has very much to do with winemaking, so let’s put that aside and have a look, sniff and taste at/of what’s in the glass.
The wine has a pale lemon green colour with slow thick legs. On the nose are notes of honey, pear, and sweet spice. It is developing and of medium intensity. Brown pear, white pepper, and sandalwood make up the palate, along with some of the herbal tea for which Roussanne is often known. It’s dry, with medium plus acid, medium plus body, medium plus length, and a slightly sour finish. I didn’t check the ABV on the bottle, but I felt the weight of some alcohol, even if not the heat.
This is a good wine. It certainly has varietal typicity for a warm climate Roussanne, and I could have enjoyed it purely on that basis. It’s a big white, and while that’s not to everyone’s taste, it hit the spot for me. There’s body, length, complexity, and just a lovely textured mouth feel which to me says that someone cared when they made this wine.