AUSTRALIA’S TAKE ON A FRENCH CLASSIC IS BEST FOUND IN THE SOUTH
It may seem counter-intuitive to many of us, but the famous French red blend Chateauneuf-du-pape from the Northern Rhône region is not made entirely from red fruits; it, in fact, has six white varietals which may be used by winemakers to craft their wares.
One of those whites is a grape called roussanne, which is also permitted to be used in Hermitage AOC wines, along with one other white grape, marsanne.
The roussanne grape is difficult to grow, but when done well it can make a stunning wine.
Roussanne is thought to have originated in the Rhône district where it does quite well. In other regions it doesn’t always put its best foot forward, as it can be vulnerable to mildew and doesn’t cope well with being windblown or exposed to extended dry spells. But when it works, the results are sublime.
On the vine the roussanne grapes are an unusual rust colour with splotches or red and pink.
Once vinified the style is typically aromatic and rich but can be acidic if picked
too early, but it can get away if picked too late.
To add to the winemaker’s woes it can also easily oxidise, so it’s probably unsurprising that winemakers have eschewed the grape in favour of its “roommate”, marsanne, which produces higher yields and is far more forgiving in the vineyard.
When made as a white wine, roussanne is often blended with marsanne, although the pair are able to compose up to 15 per cent of Hermitage wines under ‘appellation d’origine controlee’ (AOC) regulations.
Sadly, we don’t see a lot of the varietals in Australia even though we have some of the oldest marsanne vines in the world.
As phylloxera wiped out most of the European vines, the vines at Tahbilk in Victoria, which were planted in 1927 are now among the oldest in the world.
If you’re interested in trying the varietals, there’s no better place to start than the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. At Meerea Park, Garth and Rhys Eather have made both a straight roussanne and a marsanne roussanne blend under the “indie” banner, which are terrific examples of the style but also very affordable.
Both marsanne and roussanne flourish in the Hunter Valley climate and as a result, the Meerea Park wines are aromatic, voluptuous and thoroughly delicious.
The vineyard has only three acres of roussanne, which was grafted on to semillon rootstock back in 2012, but it is enough to make both a single-varietal roussanne and a marsanne-roussanne blend. I’ve tried both, but the blend is without question, a standout.
It’s a blend in which the marsanne dominates (70 per cent) but is aromatic and fruit forward. There are lovely nashi pear and quince flavours up front and lashings of cinnamon and nutmeg through the middle.
A honeyed edge appears on the conclusion alongside a spicy and acidic nuttiness. It’s hard to imagine a better partner for spicy Asian dishes, and at the sub $25 price point, value is assured.
To read more Travis Schultz wine reviews go to travisschultz.com.au