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.
“I was actually planning on blending this with my Roussanne to make a more traditional Northern Rhone,” say Larry. However, after tasting the wine after aging in barrels for 12 months, the wine began to develop in a way that made him know it was going to be something special — something worthy of bottling on its own.
Larry was somewhat inspired to conduct this “experiment” by a 22 year-old Marsanne from Qupé he had a few years ago. “I can still smell and taste that wine 4 years later,” he says.
Indeed, Marsanne is a white wine with aging potential. Because it often has a longer hang time, sugar, and thus alcohol, is a bit higher, skins a bit more developed, resulting wines a bit richer — all good starting points for age-ability.
But, as Larry says, “The biggest challenge with Marsanne is allowing it to develop ‘richness’ without the potential alcohol levels getting too high.” And, of course, longer hang time also means a loss in acidity. So Larry’s “trick?” Pick a little earlier than later, keeping alcohol at a “normal” level and ensuring acidity is still present.
About the Wine: The Tercero Wines 2014 Marsanne is made from 100% Marsanne grapes harvested from the Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. The grapes were pressed whole cluster then fermented and aged sur lies in French oak barrels (100% seasoned) for 18 months.
Flavor Profile: Open the bottle and just take a whiff above the opening — is it possible there’s a bit of a soy-umami scent sprinkled with a bit of ginger that just gently wafts up into you?
On the pour the Tercero Wines 2014 Marsanne is a lighter straw yellow, but it settles into the glass as a more concentrated, apple-juice shade of gold. Initial aromas are deliciously filled with nut butter, baked bread, fresh apples, and — yes — that bit of Asian-inspired spice still lingers in the background. Swirl, and the Marsanne releases a bit more apple and a bit more green herbs (like lemon grass), and just a hint of raw honey.
The palate is soft, but not round because this white wine is textural. There’s a solid line of acidity and a little spice toward the finish that lingers on the tongue. Dominant flavors are of crusty bread or bread crumbs, apple skins, honey essence, raw cashews, burnt butter, and — with a deep inhale and exhale through the nose while the wine sits inside the mouth, lips closed — you’ll find that lemongrass, ginger, and even a bit of dried ground nutmeg.
The finish is almost smokey, like embers touching the tongue and fizzing out just as quickly — like a bunch of little fireworks exploding on each individual tastebud.
NOTE: I served this white wine at room temperature. Chilling this voluptuous white wine will bring forward more fruit elements, but will result in the loss of the savory notes as well as the wine’s unique soft and almost meaty texture.
Food Pairing: I paired the Tercero Wines 2014 Marsanne with grilled chicken, roasted potatoes and broccolini that were sprinkled with a bit of truffled gouda cheese and raw pine nuts. Loved this pairing. The chicken, which was grilled with some fresh rosemary and thyme called out more of the apple flavors as well as the almost meaty nut flavor and texture in the Marsanne. Meanwhile, the potatoes with their fluffy, buttery-like interior, softened and almost rounded the mouthfeel of the wine.
This was a great pairing. But at the end of the day, this Marsanne is such a delicious, enjoyable wine — it almost doesn’t matter. As in, choose a dish like this — one that’s easy to cook, on the lighter side with no dominant flavors, that will let the wine truly shine. You’ll find that you’ll eat and drink and not even think about “is this the perfect pairing.” The perfect pairing is you with a bottle of Tercero Wines 2014 Marsanne.
More Info: I received the Tercero Wines 2014 Marsanne as a sample for review. (Cheers Larry!) Retail: $30 For more information about Tercero Wines, Larry, and to purchase his wines directly, please visit the Tercero Wines website.
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