The proliferation of new wineries in Washington State has slowed in the past couple of years, but the landscape today is radically different from even 15 years ago. As recently as the early 1990s the Washington wine scene was dominated by a few large players who also owned a high percentage of planted vineyard land. Today, most of the excitement is being generated by small, quality-minded wineries, and the industrial-scale producers are mostly competing at the low end of the market.
Cabernet and Merlot are Washington's most serious and successful varieties, with Syrah rapidly increasing in popularity thanks to the efforts of some talented newcomers. Red wine is generally growing as a percentage of total production of premium wines, even if Riesling still has considerable commercial importance.
Most of Washington's grapes are grown in the desert east of the Cascade mountains, in the Columbia and Yakima River Valleys, where annual rainfall is so low that the vineyards must be irrigated. The vines in Washington benefit from long daylight hours during the summer, and a longer growing season than California (grapes are usually picked well into October). Although daytime temperatures can be quite hot, frequently surpassing 100 degrees, generally cool September nights allow the grapes to retain healthy acidity, resulting in wines with noteworthy intensity of varietal character. The greatest threat to grape-growing in Washington is winter frost, which can sometimes be severe enough to kill vines, as it did during the winters of 1996 and 2004.
Rich and dry, with aromas of wild flowers
Seafood, mountain cheeses
Like its conventional blending partner Marsanne, Roussane is most frequently associated with the northern Rhone Valley. It joins Marsanne as the only white varieties grown in the appellations of St. Joseph, Hermitage, and Crozes-Hermitage. When blended, these two varieties produce rich, full-bodied white wines that reach their finest expression in the appellation of Hermitage.
Some Rhone producers are also making single-varietal Roussanne, generally under the vin de pays classification. While more stringent than the vin de table classification, this allows producers to grow grapes that don't necessarily correspond to appellation regulations. Choosing wines from this classification requires extra care, but some of the top producers make wines that are equivalent or even superior to AOC wines. Here, we recommend single-varietal Roussane from Domaine Cuilleron.
Roussanne is not grown widely outside of the northern Rhone, in part because it's not an easy grape to cultivate, especially for quality. Not only are yields irregular, but the grape is also especially sensitive to mildew, rot, wind, and drought. Combine these obstacles with the limited recognizability of the grape in the marketplace, and it becomes clear why plantings of Roussanne are limited.
Still, we're encouraged by some of the efforts to cultivate the variety in California, notably in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Here, winemakers like Alban Vineyards and Qupe Cellars are making dry, rich and aromatically complex Roussannes. Other California producers are using Roussane as a major blending wine, like Kongsgaard, who evenly mix Roussanne and Viognier to make one of the best Rhone-styled wines outside of the Rhone. We also sometimes stumble across single varietal Roussanne from Australia - one notable name is d'Arenberg.
Roussanne pairs well with seafoods and with mountain cheeses like cave-aged Comte and Gruyere.