By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
After extensive tasting of the dominant white Rhone varietal in the American marketplace – Viognier, one is tempted to seek other regional varietals and blends. Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc are now available as varietal wines and as components of blends. Blended wines generally offer greater complexity and many are quite food friendly.
Today’s selections include both single varietal bottlings and blends of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Some wines were barrel fermented and aged sur lie, and others fermented in stainless steel with little wood contact.
South Stage Cellars
South Stage Cellars farms 300 acres of grapes in thirteen vineyards spread across Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Twenty-eight grape varieties are grown, presenting opportunities for an impressive selection of varietal wines and blends. Serendipity is a delicious blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc offering aromas and flavors of apple, flinty mineral, melon and herbs with a crisp acidity for pairing with your favorite lighter foods.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
This elegant blend of Roussanne and Marsanne (and a touch of Viognier) is a tempting limited-release offering for online purchase or through the winery’s Vintage Reserve Club. The wine opens with earthy mineral and sur lie notes from barrel fermentation; a little breathing reveals stone fruits, honeydew, citrus and spice. Crisp acidity invites the bottle to the dinner table to successfully pair with Asian cuisine and lighter fare of all types.
This soon-to-be-released blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier is Herb Quady’s “little gun,” a successful experiment now in its fourth release. Fresh aromas of spicy mineral, peach and lime zest lead to a juicy palate of citrus, herbs and nectarine – great with seafood.
Dobbes Family Estate
Some Grenache Blanc wines are light and simple and would be better off blended with other Rhone white varietals. Joe Dobbes has crafted this standout GB from grapes grown at Crater View Vineyard in the Rogue Valley. He gained complexity and depth from barrel fermentation and aging sur lie in neutral French oak. Aromas and flavors of pineapple, citrus and stone fruits mingle with earthy mineral notes from barrel aging. Ample acidity makes this a great food wine.
Mark Wysling started his winemaking career in 1987 as a “hobby that got out of hand” in the Yakima Valley. He now produces Spanish varietal wines under his Parejas Cellars label and other wines under the Wysling label. His blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc is called Band of Sisters and features exotic tropical fruit and floral flavors with a complex finish of citrus and pear – very tasty with Asian foods.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
This blend from the Destiny Ridge Vineyard includes 60% Roussanne, 30% Marsanne and 10% Viognier. The wine was fermented in stainless steel to preserve the fruity qualities of each varietal. The nose offers floral aromas of lavender and orchard blossom along with citrus and ginger notes. The palate offers rich pear and melon flavors with citrus kick and a hint of sweetness to balance. The wine is very nice as an aperitif, but is also a great pairing with lighter meals.
“Rotie Cellars was born out of a desire to pay homage to the wines of the Rhone Valley.” Indeed, winemaker/owner Sean Boyd created Rotie Cellars to craft only Rhone varietal wines from selected Washington vineyards with narrow focus and limited production. His Northern White Marsanne hails from Alder Ridge and Dutchman Vineyards and offers a backbone of mineral with ornaments of citrus, orchard blossom, melon and white peach.
Brian Carter Cellars
Master wine blender Brian Carter seems to have cracked the code of creating the quintessential Washington white wine featuring mostly Rhone white varietals. Starting with a base of flavorful Viognier, he added a healthy proportion of Roussanne and finished with a dollop of ripe Yakima Valley Riesling. Oriana offers aromas of apricot, citrus, white pepper and pear leading to a crisp palate with stone fruit, citrus and spicy apple flavors. Excellent with Asian foods and many others.
Executive Winemaker Chris Upchurch and his staff created this stylish Roussanne from grapes grown at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain. The exceptional 2012 vintage provided superior fruit, resulting in complex aromas of dried stone fruits, pear, spice and floral notes. The palate is complex with flavors of apricot, citrus and lingering notes of beeswax and hazelnut.
Winemaker Byron Dooley crafts a 100% Roussanne wine when he has enough of the varietal that doesn’t go into his Viognier – Roussanne blend. His small lot of Roussanne is fermented and aged in neutral French oak barrels. His description of the wine matched exactly with my tasters: “layers of body and texture…with stone fruits and a unique ginger spiciness.” It is delicious with Asian cuisine as well as traditional pork or chicken dishes.
Harbinger Winery owner/vintner Sara Gagnon lives in Port Angeles, Washington on land homesteaded by her great-grandparents at the turn of the last century. As the winery approaches its 10th anniversary in 2015, Sara enjoys crafting premium wines and sharing them with visitors at the winery and tasting room west of Port Angeles. Le Grand’Oor is a blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris and Roussanne offering aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, peach, vanilla and spice.
Agate Ridge Vineyard
This blend of Viognier (40%), Marsanne (30%) and Roussanne (30%) is named after winery owner Kim Kinderman’s daughters Alex and Ashley. The grapes all came from the winery vineyard in the Rogue Valley. Look for aromas of pineapple, anise and flinty mineral followed by tropical fruit flavors, roasted nut and peach.
South Stage Cellars
Here is another tempting Rhone blend (Marsanne and Roussanne) from South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville, Oregon. Look for aromas and flavors of stone fruits and honey with notes of flinty mineral and orchard blossom.
Bill Steele left a 17-year career as a Wall Street financial analyst in 2005 to build a business in Oregon’s Applegate Valley. He and his wife Barbara have developed Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden, a 117-acre Demeter-certified Biodynamic® farm. Specializing in Rhone varieties, they produce Spiral 36, a blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. The wine is alive with citrus and tropical aromas and flavors, with floral and earthy mineral notes.
Bergevin Lane Vineyards
The creative forces at Bergevin Lane Vineyards find ways to entice the taster through their wine names and through production techniques that give their wine added appeal. Grapes for the 2012 Dreamweaver were whole cluster pressed, then barrel fermented and aged on the lees. Aromas of toasty butterscotch and pear lead to notes of spicy orange and peach with corresponding flavors that pair well with Asian foods and other light cuisines.
Coyote Canyon Winery
The Andrews family farms its 1,100-acre Coyote Canyon Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Low rainfall dictates irrigation of the vineyard, giving the opportunity to control vine vigor and crop yield. The 2012 Roussanne offers aromas and flavors of spicy pear and citrus with floral and mineral notes.
Wines from other areas:
Kita Wines was founded in 2010 in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. The word “Kita” means “Our Valley Oak” in the Santa Ynez Chumash native language of Samala. Winemaker and manager Tara Gomez is a tribal member who was able to realize the creation of her winery when the Santa Ynez Band purchased the Camp 4 Vineyard in 2010. This flavorful Grenache Blanc offers aromas of citrus fruit, cucumber and wildflowers with flavors of grapefruit and melon.
Tablas Creek was founded by the Perrin family, proprietors of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Robert Haas, importer and founder of vineyard brands. Vineyards of Rhone varieties were planted west of Paso Robles in hillside areas that are similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The 2012 Roussanne was whole-cluster pressed and fermented on native yeasts, then aged on the lees for six months. The aromas and flavors of the wine include toasty bread, caramel, spicy vanilla and herbs; a flavorful aperitif or accompaniment to lighter foods from the grill.
This blend from the Middleton Family’s Paso Robles estate winery offers a great balance of fresh fruit aromas and flavors with complex notes of barrel aging (from the 15% portion that was barrel fermented). Look for a basketful of tropical mango, tangerine, lychee and honeysuckle that pair well with spicy Asian cuisine.
This blend of 33% Grenache Blanc, 25% Viognier, 25% Picpoul and 17% Roussanne was crafted from grapes grown on the calcareous limestone soils at the estate. The addition of the tart and citrusy Picpoul to the blend helped to offset the richness of this warm vintage. The nose of chalky mineral, peach and vanilla yields to a fruity palate of melon, apricot, spicy pear and citrus.
Tablas Creek Vineyards
This proprietary wine is always based on Grenache Blanc blended with Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. It is bright with tropical fruits, white flowers and citrus on the nose with a palate of peach and lemon including notes of grassy herbs.