More Mighty Marselan Please!
Diana Lyalle BA (Oxon) DipWSET
My inner wine geek is in a happy place this week.
Not only have I added Turkish grape varieties to my Wine Century Club list (see previous piece). But also I have made another new grape find, courtesy of Kelli at The Wine Shop Winscombe. It is a crossing of two of my favourite red wine varieties: the legend that is Cabernet Sauvignon with the red fruit high alcohol powerhouse that is Grenache Noir. It is called Marselan.
Marselan was created by the French INRA (L’Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), or agronomical research institute, in 1961. Its name comes from the nearby commune of Marseillan. The scientist credited with creating it is Paul Truel.
The Oxford Companion to Wine calls Marselan a “particularly successful” crossing. It was created specifically for the Languedoc. It has small berries (like Cabernet Sauvignon) and very good levels of colour and flavour. Despite its large bunches and high yields, its small berries initially meant it was shelved for decades in the belief that it would not succeed commercially. However, it was resurrected due to its disease resistance and high quality, and officially registered as a variety in 1990.
Marselan is now on the march, although like many new grape varieties, it has not made huge inroads in France due to the established limits on which grapes may be grown. It is, nevertheless, made into varietal wine in Languedoc as an IGP wine. It has also spread into the southern Rhone, where it is permitted in Côte du Rhone AOC, although it may be no more than 10% of the blend.
The march of Marselan seems to be more rapid beyond France, where the flexibility of New World winemaking and its ability to withstand heat and disease combine to enable experimentation. Marselan now grows in Spain, California, Arizona, Brazil, Argentina, and China. Although only a small percentage of China’s huge vineyard area is devoted to Marselan, several Chinese wines made from it have won awards, including Tasya’s Reserve Marselan 2015 made by Grace Vineyard of Shanxi province. This wine won Platinum Best in Show in Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2017. Marselan is increasingly referred to with optimism as China’s potential signature grape (like Malbec has become for Argentina). So watch this space. As China improves its wines and starts to ramp up its export effort, we may see much more Marselan.
Marselan is blended with Merlot, which in view of its structure and ancestry is no surprise. This too might be something we see more of in future years – though Merlot is usually relatively high in alcohol, so as my example below is a heady 14.5% abv, that could be a formidable combination.
Calmel & Joseph’s Villa Blanche IGP Pays d’Oc example is 100% Marselan. Their approach is take grapes from different plots with different maturity levels at harvest, vinify them, and thereby create different varietal profiles which are then blended.
Calmel & Joseph have been going since 1995, and have embraced environmentally friendly chemical free grape growing as well as wine tourism – you can stay on the estate in one of four gîtes, which are handy for nearby Carcassonne.
So back to the wine….here we have a lovely example of a deep ruby core. No chance of reading anything through this! When I had almost finished my tasting sample, there was still loads of colour.
My small tasting glass (smaller than an ISO), revealed defined and enticing aromas ranging from fresh ripe black cherry, very ripe blackberry, dark chocolate, marzipan, clove, cardamom, vanilla, pencil shavings, and a herbal element mostly akin to thyme. An aromatic wine.
Nosing with my oversized glass (we are greedy in my house!!) the same aromas were there but seemed less focused, and more inky and dusty. Alcohol was more noticeable. It is certainly “deep” when viewed through this glass!
Tasting from my small glass, the wine had juicy acidity. Very high dusty tannins gradually soften, and balance out with the high alcohol and powerful black fruit flavours which are much more of cooked fruit (I call to mind my father cooking blackberries to make bramble jelly) than they were on sniffing. The marzipan is still there and there is a tar element going on. This is a full bodied wine with a medium length finish of vanilla, chocolate and cherry. Very tasty!
My oversized glass produced a different tasting experience. There was an initial sweetness, and the wine seemed even more balanced. The flavours evolved into a smoky spicy savoury food friendly profile which was very appetising.
So I got the cheese out (within seconds Arthur was at my side…). Forget parmesan with this wine (the wine decimated the cheese). The better pairing was a strong cheddar, which tasted sweeter and creamier with the wine, and when the wine was sipped again, I enjoyed a lingering fruit and nut chocolate/ coffee finish. Not Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut – think instead top grade high cocoa solid chocolate. So: wine, cheese, chocolate and coffee but without the calories of chocolate or the caffeine of coffee!
But what about the Tannin Haters?
I would expect anyone with a sensitive “super taster” palate to spit this wine out in disgust. But my sensitive husband (a tannin hater) says this wine is “very nice”. I think this is because of its balance and fruitiness, despite the tannins in it.
I would still say this wine could be daunting for anyone who usually prefers sweet and/or light juicy wines. But for the wine explorer who likes a structured deep powerhouse of a wine, with plenty of juicy black fruit, the might of Marselan might be just what they need.
I suspect a rich venison stew would benefit from the fruit and backbone of Marselan. I wonder what a slow cooked beef rendang or lamb curry would be like with it. But beware – high alcohol and chilli only works if you like it very very hot!
Marselan is good stuff. The Villa Blanche example is a very good wine and a veritable bargain. I look forward to tasting more of it.
My husband has just shuffled in sniffing out more Marselan – and he has decided to have it with biscuits. Not savoury cheese ones, sweet ones!!!! Shortbread if you please. He said they are not sweet. I advised him that they contain sugar and plenty of it. He has been warned that the sugar will boost the tannins and take away the lovely fruit flavours, but he says he “knows his pairings”. He has shuffled out again, wine and shortbread in hand. Shake of head, sigh…..someone please book him on WSET Level 1, preferably when I am not teaching it……!
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