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I’ve always had a soft spot for the Roussanne grape. In its northern Rhône homeland, it’s traditionally blended with the much heavier Marsanne, with which our co-author of Wine Grapes José Vouillamoz has established the strong likelihood of a parent–offspring relationship. What I like about it is its powerful herbal nose and, in contrast to many Marsannes, refreshing acidity. (Some Viognier imported into California was infamously mistaken for Roussanne, presumably because it was still an unfamiliar variety there at the end of the last century; read my 2001 account of the saga.)
Even by 2011 when Julia was researching who actually grew various varieties for our massive grape book, there were already 40 growers of Roussanne in Australia. The most prominent Australian example of a Roussanne-based wine was Aeolia, made by Rick Kinzbrunner of the famous Giaconda of Beechworth in Victoria from vines planted in 1998 in the nearby Warner Vineyard pictured here.
As I reported in Giaconda – a most unusual Aussie last year, Kinzbrunner gave up making his varietal Roussanne (that used to retail for nearly £60 a bottle in the UK) in 2008 but the fruit from those vines is now vinified by Gary Mills of Jamsheed, who is also winemaker for Warner Vineyard’s own wines, made from 2012.
Mills (above) is originally from Western Australia and studied literature before teaching English in Japan. His wine epiphany rather unexpectedly came in Queensland when he was working as a Japanese-speaking tour guide there. This led him to work in Margaret River vineyards, and then a five-week stint at Ridge Vineyards in California tuned into two years’ work there, soaking up the admirable winemaking philosophy of Paul Draper (who has just announced that, at the age of 80, he is retiring from active involvement in the winery). In 2003 Mills set up Jamsheed, named after a Persian king so ancient that he was allowed to have a fondness for wine, and is today based in Yarra Glen in the Yarra Valley outside Melbourne. As you can read in Off-piste Australians – tasting notes, Gary was one of the first of the new-wave Australian winemakers.
Beechworth is a three-hour drive up towards ski country from Melbourne, an old mining town profiled in 2002 and 2016. The Warner Vineyard is at 490 m (1,600 ft) on shale and schist over deep granite. Mills reports about the 2014 vintage that it was shaped by ‘a cool wet spring with some disease pressure early but then a fine cool summer with no heat spikes and lovely even, late-ish picking'.
The grapes were hand-picked, whole-bunch pressed and racked with all solids to large old 800-litre and 500-litre barrels. Ambient yeasts governed the fermentation and some of the wine went through spontaneous malolactic conversion. No additions were made other than a small amount of sulphur dioxide at bottling, which took place, with no fining or filtration, after about eight months in barrel. There's nothing extreme about the character of this wine but it is certainly as natural as you would want.
I have given Jamsheed Roussanne 2014 and 2013 a score of 17/20 and tasted this 2014 vintage on two separate occasions earlier this year. Both times I admired its combination of a rich cocktail of herbal aromas with nerve and refreshment (it’s only 13.3% alcohol). When enjoying it at Quay in Sydney, I noted this aromatic richness, and how well it stood up to XO-sauced crayfish. Here’s my other note:
‘Deep gold. Very rich on the nose – much richer than most Roussannes. Edge of gingerbread – even the merest hint of Viognier spice. Lightly astringent on the end – in a good way. Masses of character. Really delicate texture despite all the intense flavour. Great stuff! Excellent balance – no excess of alcohol. Throbs with vitality.’
Wine-searcher.com cites quite a few stockists of the 2014 in both the UK and Australia, and quite a few UK stockists including Berry Bros (at £24.50) for the 2013, which I also gave 17/20 and felt it would still be going strong in 2018. The vintages cited for US retailers are 2012 and 2011 to which I gave a score of 16.5/20 – still quite high, although I suspect the 2011 may be a bit long in the tooth by now.
The following are Jamsheed’s importers, although not all of them take the Roussanne and some may already be on to the 2015 vintage, which I have not yet tasted.
UK – Indigo Wine
Ireland – La Rousse
Poland – Vive le Vin
USA – Vine St Imports, New Jersey
Ontario, Canada – Living Vine
Dubai – MMI
Hong Kong – Continental Wines HK
Japan – Wine Diamonds
Thailand – Wine Garage
New Zealand – Wine Diamonds NZ