White roussanne (hold the vodka)

Tablas Creek 2002 Roussanne (Paso Robles) – Varietally restrained and hiding under its (fairly moderate) oak aromatics at the moment, with a weighty, thick texture (though there’s pleasant enough acidity) and a long, heavy finish that shows faint hints of crystallization. This wine has a better future than a present.

Of the well-known trio of white Rhône Valley grapes (I say “well-known” because others – grenache blanc, bourboulenc, etc. tend to get lost in the shuffle), roussanne is by far the least appreciated. It lacks the honeyed floral charm of viognier and the boisterous fruit of marsanne, instead showing an austere, fabric-like texture that’s rather forbidding. It does age, but even then it’s not exactly an easygoing, beginners’ wine. Here, Tablas Creek (the California venture of Beaucastel’s Perrin family and their American importer, Robert Haas) separates some roussanne from their white blends for a varietal wine; a useful and educational comparison can currently be done with the 2004 version of this wine (from the same site) that’s vinified by Steve Edmunds at Edmunds St. John. The ESJ, unsurprisingly, is crisper and uninfluenced by oak, while the Tablas shows less skin bitterness and more generosity (a relative term, in this case). Both, however, show raw materials worth aging and further examination, and both show that while Tablas Creek is doing admirable work in the cellar, it is perhaps in the vineyard that they are making their greatest strides. (Alcohol: 14.3%. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/)

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