Tahbilk Marsanne 2012
Marsanne is a troublesome white wine varietal that originated in the Northern Rhone region of France and has challenged winemakers and their viticultural practices for centuries. Notoriously difficult to grow, it struggles in heat or freezing conditions and it is susceptible to a wide range of vineyard diseases. Depending on the conditions and terroir, it can be a complete and unmitigated disaster, or simply delicious. It could be said that Marsanne is a bit like my 10-year-old son -delightful when at its best but capable of being quite unpalatable when the cards don’t fall the right way!
The style is not one which we see much of in Australia, but ironically, Australia is home to some of the oldest Marsanne vines in the world. The Tahbilk Vineyards at Nagambie Lakes in Victoria, is believed to have what might be the world’s oldest Marsanne vines, dating back to about 1927.
As a grape, Marsanne is quite exotic – it’s rare and although it has been trialled in many regions, it’s still not grown in more than a handful of countries. Outside of France and Australia, it is really only seen in any volume in places like America and Switzerland. In our own country, the style is rarely made as a single varietal and is routinely used for blending – just as it is in its French ancestral homeland.
History has it that Marsanne first arrived in Australia in Victoria’s Yarra Valley where cuttings were planted in the St Huberts Vineyards. The vines were first planted in the 1860’s and although they took well to their new home, none of the original rootstock survives.
The Tahbilk 2012 Marsanne is currently on the shelves and whilst I haven’t had a lot of other Marsanne that I can compare it to, it is certainly an enchanting and aromatic style of white wine. In the glass, the Tahbilk is an unusually deep yellow and honey colour with a depth that borders on opacity. Warm the wine in your hands for a few minutes and some delightful floral characters enliven their scent as you give the glass a swirl, but once on the lips nashi pears, cashew nuts and honeydew melon make their debut and waltz their way across the ballroom of your mouth. There is a surprising viscosity on the palate that leaves an oily and butter-laden trail as the Marsanne crosses the back palate but leaves its honeysuckle calling card to entice you into taking another sip.
I’ve never tried to cellar a Marsanne, but it gives a strong indication that it would develop into a brooding style of white Chateauneuf-du-Pape if it was given a few years laying on its side.
In many ways, the Marsanne reminds me of a Viognier but a far more aromatic and palate-pleasing style of white – without the aniseed edges. I am guessing that with a bit of time, the Tahbilk Marsanne will develop those gorgeous toasty characters and palate-pleasing depth that we see in an aged Hunter Valley Semillon – though with a bit more nuttiness around the edges. There’s obviously a trade-off made in the vineyard between letting the fruit ripen more to increase its alcohol content and lengthen its cellaring potential, which is balanced against the benefits of picking it early to maintain a high level of acidity which gives crispness to the finish.
The Tahbilk Marsanne is almost one of a kind in Australia and at the $22 price point, won’t break the budget. With its voluptuous mouthfeel it probably won’t work with delicate seafood dishes, but I reckon it’s a perfect partner for a Lobster Mornay or even a pork roast. Pork belly and applesauce anyone?