“I find people are shying away from Chardonnay,” says sommelier Linda Gerin, co-owner of the restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, CT, “and asking for more unusual wines, such as viognier.”
Viognier is the wine of the moment. Yet the corkiest of the wine dorks and Gen XYZ are constantly looking to the future to seek out the more obscure wine grapes to pronounce the next big thing.
And what is the next big thing?
Depending on who you ask or which wine writer you read, it could be anything. So for the sake of bringing a somewhat obscure French grape to the limelight, let’s take a look at a grape called marsanne.
Marsanne is one of the classic Rhone varietals, producing a deeply colored, almost amber white wine with an aroma of saffron, almond, and marzipan. It is believed to have originated in the town of Marsanne, near Montelimar in the northern Rhone Valley and is one of the eight white grapes permitted in the Cotes du Rhone appellation.
Though some producers create a single varietal from this wine, it is most often blended with roussanne. The relationship between the two grapes in the blend is similar to the symbiotic relationship between merlot and cabernet sauvignon, or sauvignon blanc and semillion, in that the union of the two produces a more balanced wine.
Marsanne’s role in the blend is primarily textural, providing the full body, golden, almost amber color, oily character, higher alcohol content, and lower acidity. On its own as a varietal, marsanne has a chardonnay-like neutrality. Roussane provides the bright fruit flavor and pronounced almond aromatics.
This fragrant white wine was originally produced in the Northern Rhone, including the appellations of Côte Rôite, Condrieu, and Saint Joseph, which stretch over a length of 35 miles and rarely stray far from the snaking river. In the 1860′s, the marsanne grape arrived in Australia and has been successfully grown in the vineyards of Victoria ever since. Today, 80% of the world’s marsanne is grown there, with California vintners increasingly using the grape as a component in their rhone style blends.
The first marsanne blend to hook me was a 2003 Andre Perret from the AOC appellation of Saint Joseph. Very ripe grapes and some barrel aging is part of the secret for Perret’s marsanne/roussanne blend, with a buttery, savory, earthy aroma and rich, full mouthfeel that went well with poached lobster. I can see this wine paired well with foie gras, an alternative to the customary sauterne.
Estate bottled, this wine is imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections. According to Robert Parker, Chadderdon is “one of the mystery men” among top small importers in the U.S, representing a number of outstanding estates that can be counted on for impeccably high quality.
Robert Chadderdon Selections
New York, NY 212-757-8185