There's a good reason why there aren't more appealing Viogniers and Roussannes. They are both wickedly difficult grapes to grow.
Of the two, I used to believe that Viognier was the troubled child, but apparently, both are tougher to rear than twin teenage daughters (or sons for that matter).
As Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non, the subject of Wine Spectator's June 15 cover story, explains in today's video, Viognier can be a headache from start to finish. It sets poorly, often with a dinky crop and then ripens unevenly. Picking uniformly ripe grapes is the ultimate challenge. No wonder there are so few acres planted worldwide. When it clicks, though, Viognier (best known as the grape of Condrieu, the Rhône Valley appellation where it is the only grape permitted) can be a gloriously spicy, aromatic and distinct white. It's commonly used in Rhône red blends, too, with a dollop (as in 1 or 2 percent) to give the wine's greater aromatics and a sweet edge to the tannins.
Then there's Roussanne, another Rhône Valley transplant, which is usually used in white Rhône blends, along with Marsanne and Viognier. I can't say there are any great Marsannes grown in California, and Roussanne is just as hit and miss. One stand out, though, was SQN's 2000 The Hussy (91, $87).
The trouble with Roussanne, as Krankl lays out so clearly, is that it's a bear to ripen and when it does, late in the season, any grape hanging on the vine into November is susceptible to botrytis.
Roussanne is very dark yellow gold in color and often very rich, heavy and ponderous, with honey, golden raisin and spicy floral scents.
At SQN, Krankl goes with his instincts. For The Hussy, he uses Viognier or Roussanne, often a blend of those two grapes, and a dash of Chardonnay, a technique he learned in the Rhône, even though the use of Chardonnay there is illegal.
Because the wine doesn't have a varietal identity, it's often difficult to size up. But in true Krankl form, it is distinctive and complex, and a conversation piece at the least.
Scott Oneil — Denver, CO — May 18, 2010 5:00pm ET
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — Wine World — May 18, 2010 5:44pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — May 19, 2010 6:57am ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — May 19, 2010 1:01pm ET
Lawrence Newcombe — bay city, mj — May 19, 2010 2:25pm ET
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