Weird Wine Grapes: A Tale of Two Trousseaus

Adventures with Weird Wine Grapes

There are 1,368 varieties covered in Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes. Bet you can't try them all.

Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's new book, Wine Grapes. Bet you can't try them all.


Trousseau grape cluster drawing shown in Wine Grapes, originally from Ampélographie, by Vitala and Vermorel (1901-10). [Photograph: Stevie Stacionis]

If you ask me where I'm from, I will tell you "all over the place." My family moved five times before I was eight, when we finally settled in Minnesota. I developed a love for "hot dishes" and spoke with long, drawn-out "OHHs," dontchaknow. At 18, I bolted cross-country to Los Angeles, where I dyed my hair blonde, ate sushi daily and dropped my OHs for a tendency to end? Each sentence? With, like, a question??

Next was London, mate, for pints and chips. And in New York City I ordered pies, wore black, and hurried, everywhere.

Who I am is as much owed to my DNA as to the environments where I lived, learned and developed.

Which is why, approximately 30 seconds into my Wine Grapes adventure, I realized there was a problem I needed to address. By choosing to focus on the grape, I wasn't considering the bigger picture: Wines aren't merely a product of the grape from which they're squeezed. Instead, their character depends on a whole confluence of factors including where the grapes were grown and what the winemaker decided to do with them.

With that in mind, I decided I'd better bust into not one, but two bottles of Trousseau. If I'm counting correctly, Wine Grapes notes that Trousseau is planted in at least 14 regions spread throughout four countries. The book calls out 19 principal synonyms for the grape; nine are proven by DNA analysis to be identical. Jancis notes that Trousseau makes "powerful, ageworthy" red wines...usually. But people also make sparkling wine with it, and in the Douro it's called Bastardo and goes into fortified Port. Then there's Trousseau Gris: the exact same grape, but with a genetic mutation that results in pinkish skins and white wines.

Perfect: Its background is as mixed up as mine. I picked one bottle from Trousseau's "home" in the Jura region in eastern France; the other from my current "home" in California. Wells Guthrie, winemaker at Copain in Sonoma, found some rare Trousseau vines his friends were working with in Clear Lake, and he grafted a cutting onto his own rootstock in the Russian River Valley. The wine, 2011 Copain Estate Trousseau, is a tiny baby—this is the very first vintage he's harvested fruit from his grafted vines.

Meanwhile, back in France, Evelyne and Pascal Clairet have been making wine in the village of Arbois since 1991. Their Domaine de la Tournelle 2010 Trousseau des Courvée comes from a little plot of vines there, which they farm biodynamically.

I like to think that if Wells, Evelyne, and Pascal got together, they'd all get along swimmingly. Both try to work gently and lovingly in the vineyards, then do as little as possible during the winemaking process, letting the grapes and the wines go their own way. Though they speak with different accents, both their Trousseaus turn out to be beautiful, pale in color but firm-structured and deep in flavor.

The Tournelle looks almost rusty, the color of maple leaves just before they lose their spirit and turn to brown. It smells similar, like a damp autumn day, though there's also a savory, comforting meatiness. With the first sip come flavors of cranberries, red raspberries and blood orange, and all I want to do is roast root vegetables and settle in by the fire with a good book.

The Copain is redder, bolder, brighter. Its smell is a little shy, coy at first, then opening slowly to give you a peek of really ripe strawberries—the tiny ones that pack triple the flavor despite being a third of the size of your regular supermarket berries. The wine is juicy, silky and seductive for a second before a black streak of damp soil and tannins move in for the sneak attack, making you crave a thick pork chop with a crispy edging of fat.

A faint resemblance becomes noticeable, now that you mention it—like brothers from a different mother. In fact, wines are a lot like people: We're products of our hard-wired nature, but we also bloom where we're planted, influenced equally by the people and places that nurture us.

2010 Domaine de la Tournelle Trousseau des Corvée (Jura, France)
The Grape: Trousseau
The Region: Arbois, Jura, France
Retail Price: $32
Importer: Joli Vin

2011 Copain Estate Trousseau (Sonoma, California)
The Grape: Trousseau
The Region: Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Retail Price: $45

About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in the new Wine Grapes tome. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis.

Wines provided as samples for review consideration.