Marsanne Marsanne; Continents Apart

Stagecoach Vinyards, California

A first hand account of two new-world renditions of a French classic - the Marsanne grape.

The Grape...

Although relatively out-of-light to many drinkers, Marsanne has a long and important history in France. It is the principle white varietal of the famed (Crozes-)Hermitage AOC in northern Rhône, where it is dominant in the white wines (often with Roussanne) as well as finding way into many reds (max 15%, the rest Syrah). It is also the focus of many (not all) Côtes du Rhône blancs, where it is most often blended with Roussanne and/or Viognier. Interestingly, Marsanne is not one of the 18 permitted grapes in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, however Roussanne is. Outside of France, it is grown in Valais of Switzerland, and increasingly in Australia and America. In less-than-ideal growing sites, Marsanne tends to underwhelm in quality and balance. It is reputed for difficulty in growing and critical ripening. Nevertheless, when produced with expertise, Marsanne can produce unique and magnificent results, including the two below, and the enormously expensive Hermitage labels. Typical notes include florals, honey, citrus and stone fruits, nutty and earthy minerals.

The Stagecoach...

The Stagecoach Vineyards of Napa Valley grows a variety of grapes, mostly Bordeaux reds, on 600 acres of heavily and dramatically excavated (over one billion pounds) land, levelled into platforms atop the high elevation topography of Soda Canyon. It's a fairly sizeable operation that produces no wine internally, but grows and sells the ripe grapes to exclusive buyers for premium wines. The sourcing vines for this bottle dwell in highly drained, rocky and volcanic terroir of reddish brown colour. See heading photo.

Miner 2008 La Diligence

Marsanne born and raised in the Stagecoach. This bold wine sees 7 months in French oak (40% new) and wields a healthy 14.4 %ABV. Co-produced by renowned Rhône winemaker Francois Villard, only 330 cases where made this vintage.

It smells big and sweet; with wild florals on the fore, followed by a barrage of sweet stone fruits and stoney mineral. White peach, smashed apricots, baby tangerine, and candied pineapple, by imagination. In the mouth it takes a slightly soft stance, with acids seemingly reserved. There's concentrated fruit to the taste, but it's the big earthy character that predominates. The rocky, mountainous terroir really shines through here. Coming on smooth, it expands and fills. The finish is litered with ultra dry secondaries.

Personally I adore it, but it is palate pending i'll admit. I recommend drinking straight out of the fridge, letting it warm as you drink, and just you watch it change tone; from a fresh, candy fruit sweetheart to a mature and coarsely-spoken uncle. Available at Bin905 on 4th St for the worth-the-splurge of $49.


When talking about Marsanne, as I've leant, it's hard not to mention the Tahbilk winery. Hailing from Victoria, the southern tip of Australia, Tahbilk setup Marsanne vines in 1860, a regional first, and to this day produce award winning juice from 1927 vines, claiming the oldest and largest single holding in the world. It's also a sizeable operation producing in total over 100'000 cases annually from 300 hectares (740 acres) with 10% exported. They produce a variety of French grapes including the major players from 
Rhône and Bordeaux, ChardonayRiesling, and Tempranillo.

Tahbilk 2009 Marsanne...

This bottle earns charisma for balance, full body, and complex fruit with a well integrated mineral back. It's produced without oak and designed to peak as a two or three year old. Flavours span and progress nicely from citrus to almost exotic to mineral. Fresh lemon, squeezed tangerine, yellow pear, and ripe mango. The mineral aspect is really smooth, mostly clean with a hint of petroleum maturity. It finishes both fresh and full, continuously inviting.

Contrary to the Miner La Diligence, which could be found bash, the Tahbilk is tremendously easy to like. It is this quaffability combined with depth that makes it a sure-fire winner. Available at WineInk on 17th for the oh-so-reasonable $19.95.

March 2012