What I love about Marsanne is it’s anti-white-wine attitude. Native to the Northern Rhône valley, it’s most commonly associated with its counterpart, Rousanne, creating the classically-styled white Rhône blend. Most often, the dominant varietal in the blend is, in fact, the Rousanne, which brings out a bit more fruit and floral flavors, along with a smooth, rounded texture. It’s Marsanne, however that highlights more of the “meatiness,” if you will — often with a bit of nuttiness, spices, and a textural mouthfeel. In other words, it gives the white blend its substance.
However, we don’t see a lot of Marsanne bottled on its own. Despite being a seemingly “strong” wine, the grape is a hard one to grow — one must not pick it too early, lest the grape is underdeveloped and lacking in flavor, nor can one pick it too late, lest it over-ripen, producing a funky-colored skin and a perceived sweetness with flavors like honey or even raisens. So how do you get this Goldilocks of a grape “just right” — with the proper ratio of flavor to texture — and produce a stand-alone, single-varietal wine? Let’s ask an expert, Larry Schaffer, of Tercero Wines who (spoiler alert to this review) definitely got it just right.
“This has been such a fun grape to work with and wine to make – so excited that I did,” says Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker of Tercero Wines. And, in fact, it’s a fun wine to drink, as Larry keeps this seemingly dark horse of a wine vibrant and indicative of the real fruit.
Once again, Larry’s chosen to work with a grape that’s often blended away amongst other varietals, and one that’s no longer easily found within California’s modern wine regions. That may be due, in part, to the fact that it’s not an easy grape to work with, often producing highly tannic and acidic wines. As a result, some vintners choose to let the buds hang a little longer; many will ferment the juice and age the wine in newer oak barrels, softening all of Carignane’s innate harshness. Not so with Larry…
It’s Tuesday and you want a glass of wine. It’s Friday night and you’ve just ordered a pizza and — want a glass of wine. It’s Sunday and you’re having a few guests over for brunch who may just, well, want a glass of wine. Casual, everyday situations call for a glass of wine, but you don’t want to necessarily open something “special.” You want to open, what I call, a reliable “daily drinker.” And here is where Hahn excels: While they produce some magnificently refined single-vineyard expressions of their flagship varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they also dedicate their simply stated Hahn line of wines to the daily drinker.
“I want to make wines that everybody enjoys,” says Hahn winemaker Paul Clifton. And, indeed, he does. From the elegantly balanced Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay under the Lucienne label, to the exclusive “tasting-room-only” Smith and Hook Cabernet — and this, supermarket staple Hahn Monterey County Chardonnay.
Hahn is a household name. And it should be, as the Hahn family were basically the founding vintners of Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highland AVA. Nicolaus (Nicky) and Gaby Hahn purchased their plot of SLH and planted their first vines in the 1970s, celebrating their first vintage in 1980, and in 1991 “Nicky led the charge to establish SLH as an American Viticultural Area.” Today the Hahn estate includes 650 acres of sustainably farmed vineyards.
Though you may find these wines at your local shops, you should know that Hahn is still a family owned and operated winery, with Nicky and Gaby’s son Philip at the helm. And it’s that personal, familial touch that makes these oh-so-accessible wines oh-so-special.
When I opened my friendly wine delivery from Hahn Family Wines, I was pleasantly surprised to find a GSM in the mix. I’m so used to their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, that I didn’t even notice the estate offers this classic Rhone-style blend. No Rhone Ranger, they don’t seem to have single-varietal Grenache, Syrah, or Mourvedre (that I could find). But using multiple vineyards from along the California Central Coast, Hahn indeed produces a beautiful expressions of all those grapes, blended in a most friendly, yet refined way… (more…)