Roussanne is a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France, where it is often blended with Marsanne. It is the only other white variety, besides Marsanne, allowed in the northern Rhône appellations of Crozes-Hermitage AOC, Hermitage AOC and Saint-Joseph AOC. In the southern Rhône appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC it is one of six white grapes allowed, where it may be blended into red wines. Roussanne is also planted in various wine-growing regions of the New World, such as California, Washington, Texas, South Africa and Australia as well as European regions such as Crete, Tuscany and Spain.
The berries are distinguished by their russet color when ripe—roux is French for the reddish-brown color russet, and is probably the root for the variety’s name. The aroma of Roussanne is often reminiscent of a flowery herbal tea. In warm climates, it produces wines of richness, with flavors of honey and pear, and full body. In cooler climates it is more floral and more delicate, with higher acidity. In many regions, it is a difficult variety to grow, with vulnerability to mildew, poor resistance to drought and wind, late and/or uneven ripening, and irregular yields.
The Roussanne vine ripens late and is characterized by its irregular yields that can decrease further due to poor wind resistance. The vine is also susceptible to powdery mildew and rot which makes it a difficult vine to cultivate. In recent years, the development of better clones has alleviated some of these difficulties. The grape prefers a long growing season but should be harvested before the potential alcohol reaches 14% which would result in the finished wine being out of balance. If picked too soon, the grape can suffer from high acidity. During winemaking, Roussanne is prone to oxidation without care being taken by the winemaker. The wine can benefit from a controlled use of oak. In blends, Roussanne adds aromatics, elegance and acidity with the potential to age and further develop in the bottle.
It is likely that Roussanne originated in the northern Rhône where it is today an important component in the wines of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and the Saint-Péray AOC where it is used for both still and sparkling wine production. In recent years plantings of Roussanne have declined as Marsanne gains more of a foothold in the northern Rhône due to its high productivity and ease of cultivation. In the southern Rhône, Roussanne is a primary component in the white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where it can comprise as much as 80–100% of the wine. It can also be found in some white wines from the Côtes du Rhône AOC. Outside of the Rhône, the Roussanne is grown in Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon région where it is sometimes blended with Chardonnay, Marsanne and Vermentino in some vin de pays (IGPs). In Savoie, the grape is known as Bergeron where it produces highly aromatic wines in Chignin.
Outside France it is grown in the Italian wine regions of Liguria and Tuscany where it is a permitted grape in Montecarlo bianco. In Australia, it was believed to have been brought to the continent to be blended with Shiraz. Documents dating as far back as 1882 have noted the presence of Roussanne plantings in Victoria. Today it is used both as a blending grape and as a varietal wine. In California, it is widely planted in the Central Coast AVA and the northern region of Yuba County. It has also recently been grown in the northern Golan Heights and produced as a wine in Israel. Along with other Rhône varieties, it is increasingly grown in South Africa.
In Washington State, the first experimental plantings of Roussanne were planted by White Heron Cellars in 1990. In recent years, plantings have increased as more Washington winemakers experiment with Rhone varietals with grapes from Ciel du Cheval, Alder Ridge and Destiny Ridge. Washington Roussanne is often blended with Viognier and is characterized by its fruit salad profile of notes that range from apple, lime, peach and citrus to cream and honey. The Texas High Plains is proving to be well suited for growing high quality Roussanne. In New Jersey, Unionville Vineyards grows Roussanne, Marsanne, and other Rhone varieties.
One can identify this variety by the tip of its young shoots with a high density of prostate hairs and green internodes. Roussanne has very long shoots and, as a consequence, requires careful trellising.
Adult leaves have five or seven lobes, very deep lateral sinuses, a slightly open petiole sinus or with slightly overlapping lobes, very short teeth compared to their width at the base, no anthocyanin coloration of veins, a slightly revolute leaf blade, and on the lower side of the leaves, a very low or low density of erect prostate hairs. This variety can be pruned short or moderately long.
Roussanne is well suited to poor clay-limestone soils that are rather stony and well exposed. It is very sensitive to powdery mildew, grey rot, mites and thrips. The bunches are small to moderate, and the berries small in size, turning red when fully ripe.
Wines made from Roussanne are characterized by their intense aromatics which can include notes of herbal tea. In its youth it shows more floral, herbal and fruit notes, such as pear, which become more nutty as the wine ages. Roussanne from the Savoie region is marked by pepper and herbal notes. In general, it produces powerful wines of great finesse and complexity (floral and fruity notes of honey, hawthorn and apricot) with a good acidity balance. These wines are well suited for aging. When blended, this variety highlights and brings out the nuances of excellent terroirs.
Production area en 2018: 2 180 ha (5 387 acres)