Australia's McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, enjoys a Mediterranean climate thanks to proximity to the ocean, with warm, dry summers and most of its precipitation concentrated in the winter months. With irrigation necessary but water scarce, the best wines come from low-yielding old vines with deep roots. McLaren Vale is best known for its fleshy, full-flavored Shirazes and Cabernets, but Grenache is on the upswing and there is also a good bit of mostly low-acid Chardonnay.
Two keys to Australian wine quality are the continent's mostly hot and dry climate and its great number of technically proficient winemakers. Australia's wine regions are spread across the southern rim of the country, generally close to the sea, from the Hunter Valley, just above Sydney on the east coast, across to the Margaret River, south of Perth on the west coast-a distance of roughly 2,000 miles. (The generic appellation South Eastern Australia is used to describe blended wines from virtually anywhere but Western Australia.) Making blanket statements about Australia's weather in a given growing season would be almost like saying that Southern California and North Carolina experienced the same climatic conditions.
Even within fairly small areas conditions can vary dramatically according to ocean influence, altitude and type of soil. The often scorching hot Barossa Valley in South Australia, for example, can produce red Australian wines that approach vintage port in their dried-fruit flavors and alcoholic heft. But parts of the Clare Valley, less than 50 miles away, are significantly cooler. At the same time, though, Barossa benefits from a high percentage of old vines with deep root systems, which are more likely to be able to get water than younger vines in other regions, which rely heavily on irrigation and scarce water resources.
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.