Monday, January 27, 2014

Aromatic White in a Red Body

It’s not every day that you stumble upon a characterful white grape variety not well known outside its provenance of the Rhône Valley in France, right in your own backyard. And yet, the little boutique winery Coterie Cellars, right here in Willow Glen, produces a single varietal wine from Roussanne.

About Roussanne
Roussanne is named after the French word “roux” for “russet” in a delightful way to commemorate the grape’s golden red skins at harvest. This French transplant found some footing in the US in the 1980s with the Rhone Rangers’ efforts to create critically acclaimed wines using Roussanne in California, only to discover years later that the grape was actually Viognier (ouch). Since then, actual Roussanne clones have been verified by DNA testing and it is once again on its way. 

In the Rhône Valley Roussanne is traditionally a blending grape, adding rich honeyed flavors to crisp, acidic varieties such as Grenache Blanc in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In the Northern Rhône, Roussanne is often blended with Marsanne to bring minerality, acidity, and richness to the wine. 

Roussanne is harder to find as a single varietal wine. It is known to be a difficult grape in the vineyard: it is susceptible to rot and powdery mildew, and ripening is often uneven within the same cluster. These characteristics contribute to fluctuating yields that are challenging to predict. 

The silver lining? When a reputable winemaker produces a 100% Roussanne wine, you know it’s going to be the product of very concentrated labor and perhaps some favorable conditions in the vineyard.

Coterie Cellars - Roussanne Russian River Valley, Saralee’s Vineyard 2009
Coterie Cellar’s single varietal Roussanne from 2009 is what convinced me of this labor of love. This was the first time Coterie created a completely Roussanne wine, and one can see why: Its aromas and flavors are rich and complex. Saralee’s Vineyard sits in the middle of the Russian River Valley, where Coterie sorts the grapes manually at harvest, cluster by cluster, selecting only those that meet their expectations of ripeness. 

This wine is aromatic without being overtly fruity. With aromas of succulent honey, light caramel, and honeysuckle blossoms, this Roussanne gently awakens the senses. In the mouth there is once again a rich honey tinged with toasted wood livened by a dash of white pepper, anchored by black tea and grapefruit rind. 

With nicely integrated alcohol and surprising acidity, this wine is lively and bright, yet balanced with a satisfying richness. It has the pleasing perfume of an aromatic white, underpinned by a pleasant earthiness and fullness of body reminiscent of a red wine. 

If this Roussanne were a woman, she would be vivacious yet grounded, a girl who gets out into the sun. 

Try Coterie's 2009 Roussanne with gruyere cheese and the wine's honey, caramel, and light toast flavors will be delightfully heightened. Pair it with a rich fish such as swordfish encrusted in almonds or hazelnuts, with grilled or roasted vegetables, shellfish, or chicken stir fry. Or, enjoy it simply on its own. Its flavors speak for themselves.

Sadly, the Saralee’s Vineyard 2009 vintage is sold out, but there is always the 2010 vintage. It also wouldn’t hurt to say hello to Kyle Loudon, Coterie co-founder and winemaker. Who knows, he and his wife and business partner, Shala, might just have a few more bottles of the 2009 left for the gracious wine enthusiast.