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Flirting with Roussanne

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Whitey checks what one Greenock winemaker’s doing with the much-misunderstood Roussanne grape – and discovers a couple of releases that would match up nicely with ginger chicken or rum’n’raisin chocolate.

Yelland & Papps Devote Barossa Valley Roussanne 2013
$35; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points

Among the many fascinating white varieties of Mediterranean France, Australia has for years pursued a fickle flirtation with only three of them: Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. We have made few notable Viogniers, which is a tricky, mostly misunderstood quirk of a grape, and even fewer good Marsannes, which as a variety seems notable only for its forgettable nature. Roussanne, however, is coming off a little better, despite it enjoying about the same general level of winemaker’s understanding as Viognier.

For its lowish alcohol, this is a biggish style of wine: quite viscous, almost oily, like the syrup from a jar of preserved quinces, with maybe a clove in there somewhere. Grown by the Materne family in the rolling country north-east of Greenock, the wine has been basket-pressed, barrel-fermented (mainly old oak), left on lees in barrel and stirred 12 times over six months.

Apart from that mish-mash of fruit syrups in its bouquet and flavour, the wine has an alluring tweak of gingerbread in its aroma, and a long taper of lemony acid in its tail. That texture seems custom-cut for ginger chicken or a casserole of chicken with pickled lemon. Don’t over-chill it.

Yelland & Papps Devote Barossa Valley Shiraz Roussanne 2012
$35; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points

Putting aside the question of why you’d put Roussanne in Barossa Shiraz, let’s see what the wine’s like. That mish-mash of fruit syrups is even louder: it’s like a big macerating compote of kirsch with all manner of red, blue and black berries, from maraschino cherries to bitter juniper. It’s very slick and silky, and, like the Roussanne, sports a heavy viscosity you’d expect in wine of much greater alcohol. Like the nether regions above 16.

I agree completely with the winemaker’s suggestion that it’s like rum’n’raisin chocolate, which reinforces my theory about expecting a higher alcohol. Kirsch and rum are highly aromatic flavours I don’t expect in Shiraz or Roussanne, especially at a modest 13.5 per cent alcohol. Dark chocolate often has a naturally bitter tinge; that’s here, too, in the long, lingering finish. Also from the Materne vineyard near Greenock, the wine is truly quirky, built for Old Jamaica chocolate addicts, or those who love the nature of big-alcohol jammy Barossa reds, but would prefer lower alcohol.

So what would I eat with it? Old Jamaica rum’n’raisin chocolate would do just trimmingly if you’re near a bed; if you want meats, go Park Lok or T-Chow twin pepper pork hotpot.

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