By Gregory D. McCluney, Editor
“Wine on the Road”
For the Atlanta Wine School
Recently, I got into trouble. It was a big night in and I was preparing dinner for someone special and pairing some special occasion wines with each course. Well into prep time, having toured the city for ingredients in no less than four different markets, I realized I had failed to buy a special white wine for my fish course. I had in mind (if I could find it) a lightly oaked Chardonnay to pair with my Sea Bass and vegetables baked in a parchment bag.
Well, that’s why we have wine cellars. I ran downstairs only to find that I didn’t like the looks of the Chardonnays on hand – they all had way too much oak for the delicate fish preparation. Then, in a corner where I have labeled “Other Whites,” a label from Monterrey County called out to me. An alarm went off. A few years back, on a media trip through Monterrey wine country, I was so impressed with a tasting of this 2007 Monterrey County (CA) Roussanne from the loma Pacific vineyard of tiny Marilyn Remark winery, I had bought two to cellar. Crisis averted?
Of course, betting on a five-year old white wine has its risks. The color looked fine; I knew the storage had been good, but not the best. I had a good feeling, so upstairs it went for a cooling down. Besides, I personally love Rhone wine and drink far too few of them. ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), at least for tonight.
As things turned out, the fish course served with the Remark Roussanne was the hit of the evening, hands down. After dessert, we wondered why we are not enjoying this variety more often? Well, it’s not an easy wine to find and buy.
As a retail wine consultant for several years, I can’t think of even one customer who walked in the store and asked to buy a Roussanne. For many years, the store did not even stock a Roussanne at all. On a few occasions, we did pour the wine at a customer tasting when a visiting winemaker, who made a Roussanne, came by to meet and greet.
The exact origin of this grape is unknown, although it’s probably from the northern Rhone area of France. Grape researchers generally agree the name came from the russet color of the mature fruit. Although my bottle was an exception, it is usually blended with Marsanne (another Rhone white), sometimes Chardonnay, and is one of the permitted white grapes to be blended with red ones in the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines from the southern Rhone. In fact, its typical pairing partner, Marsanne, is much more widely grown and bottled. One reason is, like Pinot Noir, Roussanne is a pain to grow and harvest. It is not highly resistant to mold and disease, ripens late and is not very drought resistant. Also like Pinot Noir, its yields can be quite low. Any and all of the above send winemakers and grape growers running for the exits.
But for those willing to contend with the difficulties associated with this variety, Roussanne in the bottle can reward with some beautiful, complex and unique white wines. It has sexy aromas of flowers, herbs and green tea, plus tastes of tree fruits, stoniness and bright acidity with tremendous mouth feel and viscosity. And this white wine can age. It takes to the barrel well and likes it there. My wine was five years old and had seen time in French and American oak, but it wasn’t overpowering at all. It was vibrant and enhanced the Sea Bass, not overwhelming it.
Next time, especially with food, when you are planning a meal and wine pairing, I urge you to Remember Roussanne. Ask your wine merchant for suggestions and get beyond Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, especially for summer meals. You won’t be disappointed.