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Roussanne (aka Bergeron)

A white wine grape most used in the Rhone region of France. In the Northern Rhone, specifically Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph, it is used on its own or in blends with Marsanne to create still, and sometimes sparkling, wines. In some of those areas, it is also allowed to be added in small quantities to the red, Syrah-based wines. In recent years, Marsanne plantings have been increasingly replacing Roussanne because its low yields, susceptibility to damage from weather and mildew and unreliable ripening make it a risky bet.

Further south, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it is typically used as the primary grape in the white wines, but the blend is different. There, the complementary grapes are Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picardin. People are surprised to learn that Roussanne and all of these other white wine grapes are also allowed to be used without restriction in the red wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which are typically based primarily on Grenache (Noir) but can also include Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, Cinsault, Picpoul Noir, Muscardin, Terret Noir and Vaccarese.

Roussanne is also grown in other areas of southern France and in Italy as well as in New World regions where Rhone-style wines are made, such as Australia, California, southern Oregon and Washington.

Roussanne is robust enough to handle time in oak, but still tends to have subtle flavors and aromas that favor floral, herbal tea and light stone fruit. In cool growing areas, the wine can be light to medium in body with high acidity. In warmer regions, the body can be more viscous or oily and the acidity more moderate.

Roussanne-based wines can age well in bottle, though they seem to be a wine that you either want to drink fairly young or after several years. They go through a bit of an “awkward phase” in between.

Some vines in California that had been thought to be Roussanne actually turned out to be Viognier. With that cleared up, the amount of Roussanne planted in the state is just a couple of hundred acres with about 10% being at Tablas Creek near Paso Robles. However, the wines are definitely worth seeking out. They are delicious and excellent with food. Tablas Creek makes two versions of Roussanne whites. The one they call Roussanne is fairly traditional while the one they call Bergeron is based on grapes picked earlier and has higher acidity and more mineral notes. L’Aventure, also in Paso Robles, makes a nice Roussanne. Terre Rouge in the Sierra Foothills has a lot of fans as well.