Marsanne is a white wine grape variety that produces low yields of deeply coloured fruit. It reaches its zenith in France's northern Rhône. Here, on meager granitic soils, Marsanne manages to transcend its usual blowsiness to become a wine to titillate, as much as a wine to impress with power and weight. It is largely expressed as a straight varietal expression, although Marsanne may also be blended with a touch of the more acidic Roussanne, for poise.
The very best examples of Marsanne such as Jean-Louis Chave's white Hermitage and Chapoutier's Chante-Alouette, a single parcel also on the Hermitage hill, express aromas of apricot, peach and marzipan. They are capable of ageing gracefully for decades, built around a carapace of phenolics and mineral. Marsanne is also the major variety in surrounding Saint Péray and Crozes-Hermitage, although the wines are generally less complex.
While the top producers in the Rhône ferment Marsanne in large wooden ovals for controlled oxidation and texture, those looking to produce eminently approachable styles with fresher fruit, opt for cooler fermentation temperatures in stainless steel. This type of reductive handling allows for a tangy grip to help mitigate Marsanne's unctuousness.
The Rhône may be the variety's spiritual home, yet the world's oldest Marsanne vines are in Australia, at Chateau Tahnilk. Here, on their own rootstocks and planted on silty alluvial soils, old Marsanne vines produce one of Australia's most under-sung fine white wines. Produced as a regular bottling and as an old vine cuvée, Chateau Tahbilk's wines are perennial bargains and widely available.
Marsanne has also become a fashionable blending agent among California's Rhône Ranger producers, as well as the stable in Australian blends made with Viognier, Roussanne and other quintessential Rhône grape varieties.