The Kelly Rowland of Forgotten Grapes

Roussanne, the Kelly Rowland of Forgotten GrapesY’all know my girl Kelly Rowland, right? Practically raised by the Knowles family from the age of eight, paired with Matthew Knowles’ aspiring diva daughter Beyonce and a couple of other local girls to form a Supremes-style R&B girl group that would go on to become Destiny’s Child, the only member of Destiny’s Child (other than Beyonce, of course) not to be know her, right? You may not know her name exactly, or you may not know her face, but you probably know one or the other, right? Right. So, now that Destiny’s Child is broken up, what’s she been doing with herself, you might ask? A lot, as it turns out. Remember that way back in 2002, (hey, it’s Destiny’s Child history we’re talking about; it doesn’t go that far back) she planted the seeds for her own solo career with her hit collaboration with Nelly (remember him?) on his track “Dilemma.” She’s dropped a couple of solo albums that have had a few hits on them (nothing to compare to Beyonce, though), and she’s been collaborating with a wide variety of acts – from rappers Eve and Trina to emo rockers Gym Class Heroes to French DJ David Guetta and Gallic crooner Nadiya to Italian singer Tiziano Ferro – hoping to expand her international presence and popularity and make a real name for herself. But she’s also not just about music these days. She got the acting bug guest-starring on television shows like “The Hughleys,” “Eve,” “Girlfriends,” and “American Dreams” and managed to turn those stints into lead roles in movies like Freddy vs. Jason and The Seat Filler. And of course, now she’s got her highest-profile gig and most bizarre collaboration yet, as co-host of Bravo’s Project Runway knock-off “The Fashion Show” with Isaac Mizrahi. But you know all this, right?

And of course, you already know Roussanne, right? White grape originally grown in the Rhone valley of France, got its name because “roux” is the French word for the reddish-brown russet color of the grapes, typically referred to only in the context of other Rhone white grapes, paired up with Marsanne in the white wines of several northern Rhone appellations while still being overshadowed by the far-more prized Viognier. Well, Roussanne is trying to do its own thing too, break out from the group its most known from and establish itself in its own right. A diva in its own right, it’s become a much more prolific single varietal wine in recent years, as wine-growing regions like California’s Central Coast and Washington state have taken notice of the grape and planted more and more of it. It’s thriving up in the mountains of eastern France’s Savoie region under the name Bergeron, where it is crafted into the crisp, fruity, and aromatic golden Chignan wine. It’s been around in Australia for over a century, where it was first brought in to blend with Shiraz but is now being made on its own. It’s collaborating all over the place: as one of the six permitted grapes – along with Grenache blanc, Picpoul, Clairette, Bourboulenc, and Picardan – used to make white Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines (where it often takes the lead to the tune of making up 80-100% of those wines); as a blending grape with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Bianco to form Tuscany’s rare Montecarlo bianco wines; and in Provence and the Languedoc regions of France with other white wines like Chardonnay and Vermentino. Roussanne is out there, doing its thing, getting its own, and working it as hard as it can to establish a name for itself on its own, not in the context of other grapes.

But therein lies the problem and the reason while Roussanne is still a Forgotten Grape and Ms. Kelly is still considered an “underrated” artist: if people can’t appreciate the grape (or the person) outside of the group that it is most commonly associated with – even if that grape (or person) was always the backbone of the group while the lead grape (or person) gets all the attention and acclaim – then there’s really no way for the grape (or the person) to establish any identity on its own. Which is why we’re urging you to take a fresh look at Kelly Rowland the recording artist, the actress, the television host, and the diva, and at Roussanne, the crisp, acidic, fragrant, complex white wine. Both may not be the divas that the leaders of their packs were, but they are divas in their own right, both will put on a good show for you, and both will definitely leave you wanting more when you finally see and appreciate the talent they have on their own.   

How Do You Pronounce Roussanne?

ROO-sahn or roo-SAHN

Roussanne Looks Like:

Rossanne shares the same bright, vibrant, soft golden yellow color that Viognier has, although slightly more pale and with a little less vibrancy. Hey, it’s not Roussanne’s fault it’s just fermented that way. The goldenness of the color will be enhanced if the Roussanne was aged in oak, as the tannins and vanillin in the wood will impart a deeper sheen of gold into the wine, but in most cases, your Roussanne is going to look very much like a Viognier, with just a slightly duller pigment to it.

Roussanne Smells Like:

As Viognier is known for its floral, perfumed fragrance, so too is Roussanne, only the scents come off as quite a bit different. Roussanne’s floral scents are a bit wilder than Viognier’s, evoking wildflowers rather than acacia, gardenia, and jasmine, and there is an herbaceous quality to the aroma that is likely to invoke the smells of herbal tea. You might also get the aroma of pear, honey and sometimes more tropical and exotic scents like lychee, macadamia nut, and apricot. Roussannes are well-known for their unique and powerful aromas and are blended to other wines specifically to add fragrance, so make sure to stick your nose in the glass and enjoy the scents deeply before you take your first sip of a Roussanne.

Roussanne Tastes Like: 

Okay, “dropping acid” may not be the best term to use when describing the flavor of a Roussanne, but it certainly is apt, as most Roussanne wines have a particular tart acidic kick to them that drops onto the palate at first sip. This acid punch can be a little too strong if the grapes were harvested too early, but its high acid is one of the reasons Roussanne is so favored as a blending grape – it gives thinner wines some much-needed backbone and structure and can extend the longevity of a wine dominated by other grapes (this is why Roussanne is such a perfect partner to shorter-lived Viognier and Marsanne, as well as other fleeting grapes). Apricot flavors similar to Viognier will be present in most Roussannes, as will a bit o’ honey-like sweetness (that’s a bit of sweetness like honey, not sweetness like a Bit O’ Honey; we would have put the picture up if it was the latter). You are also liable to get some pear flavors as well as more tropical citrus flavors such as mandarin orange and kiwi. 

Key Regions:

●        The Northern Rhone valley of France, particularly the Hermitage, Croze-Hermitage, Saint-Peray and Saint-Joseph appellations

●        Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone Valley

●        Paso Robles and Santa Barbara in California

●        Australia

Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:

Despite its kind of behind-the-scenes nature and being overshadowed by other grapes in its own home region, Roussanne certainly isn’t immune to some controversy of its own. It just had to go to California to generate the scandal, and of course Viognier had to be involved as well. So the story goes that sometime in the 1980’s, winemaker Randall Grahm (whom you might recognize as the owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyard and one of the founders of the “Rhone Rangers” society) smuggled what he thought were Roussanne vine cuttings from a vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape into the U.S. (normally any vine cuttings brought into the United States have to be quarantined for a lengthy period of time to ensure that no pests or diseases or unknown viruses are harbored inside). Grahm planted the cuttings in his Santa Cruz mountains vineyard, grew his own Roussanne to use in a Rhone-style white blend, and then in 1994 sold some of clippings from these new vines to one of the largest grapevine nurseries in California, who in turn sold them off to wineries looking to grow their own Roussanne. One of the buyers was Caymus winery, which was happy with their purchase until a fellow winemaker – John Alban of Alban Vineyards – stopped by and noticed that Caymus’ Roussanne vines looked an awful lot like Viognier vines. The vines were DNA-tested and sure enough, were discovered to be Viognier, meaning all the cuttings and all the grapes from Grahm’s original “Roussanne” plantings weren’t Roussanne at all.

Perfect Pairing:

Avocado tempura would go really, really well with a Roussanne. You need the fattiness in the avocado to cut through all the acid in the wine, but then because the avocado has such a mellow flavor that it is really going to let the apricot and tropical fruit flavors of the wine shine through. Plus, and let’s just be honest here, anything that is deep-fried can’t be bad.

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