If you’re one who visits the occasional winery tasting room, you may have noticed some varietals in the lineup that you don’t see every day. The Northwest has a growing trend of vineyards daring to grow unexpected grape varieties and winemakers eager to experiment with them. Vintners are taking chances on varietals like marsanne, siegerrebe and aligoté. Vintners and winemakers have had success with a particular Rhône-style grape varietal, roussanne, and wine lovers have discovered its virtues.
In Washington, only about 70 acres of roussanne have been planted, and much fewer in other Northwest states, according to the USDA, no comparison to other more widely planted whites like riesling and chardonnay. That’s even more reason to seek it out and stock your wine stash with this novel varietal, whether in its pure form or blended.
Among the list of vintners and winemakers dabbling in roussanne is award-winning Gård Vintners. Gård winemaker Aryn Morell has produced an exceptional single-varietal roussanne, released as 2015 Roussanne Grand Klasse Reserve, a big, intense white. In addition, Morell created a beautifully balanced roussanne/ viognier blend called Freyja. Gård Vintners produces 100-percent estate grown wines at Lawrence Vineyards on the Royal Slope of the Columbia Valley AVA. The Royal Slope is known for outstanding Rhône varietals; Lawrence Vineyards (the Lawrence family owns Gård Vintners) had great success early on with the Washingtonwine-darling syrah, which led them to take the leap and plant the roussanne grape.
For those looking for a delightfully uncommon bubbly, winemaker Brett Isenhower of Isenhower Cellars delivers with roussanne grown at Olsen Ranch Vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley. With just the right balance of acidity and tropical fruit, Isenhower’s 2017 Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Roussanne Extra Brut proves that chardonnay isn’t the only bubbly game in town.
Rob Griffin of Barnard Griffin has crafted a fine 2016 Roussanne for the winery’s reserve collection with grapes sourced from the Columbia Valley AVA. Crisp and cleansing with a subtle mineral presence, it’s an excellent accompaniment for foods made with creamy sauces, like alfredo or croquettes. As winery owner, vintner and winemaker, Griffin has never shied away from experimentation with more unusual varietals, such as roussanne.
Roussanne also cozies up well to her sister Rhône whites: viognier and marsanne. This trio blends well as found in 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards’ dry blend, 2014 Vivacious, a floral yet crisp expression of the three varietals. Yes, this wine is 75 percent viognier, but the roussanne lends its characteristic melon-honeysuckle notes to the blend.
Cowhorn Winery in Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA specializes in Rhône varietals. Using biodynamic practices, founders and winemakers Bill and Barbara Steele showcase a classic duo in their 2016 Marsanne Roussanne. Each of the two varietals bring something different to the bottle. Roussanne is more aromatic than marsanne with gentle, floral notes, especially when grown in cooler climates. Marsanne carries notes of nuts, apple, pear and a subtle spice. Together they make a complex and balanced blend.