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This grape is relatively new to the "varietal scene", as one of the white wine grapes that is helping, along with Viognier and Roussanne, to increase the visibility and popularity of "Rhône-style" wines in California in particular and the United States in general.

Its probable origin is the northern Rhône region and it is one of eight white grape varieties allowed in the Côtes du Rhône appellation.1 Offering greater productivity, earlier ripening, and similar but different aromas, it has gradually taken oven the role of blending that Roussanne traditionally held in many Rhône appellations, including Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, St.-Joseph and St.-Péray. Marsanne is also one of three grape varieties used to make the white wines of Cassis in Provence. Australia has less than 250 acres of vineyards planted to Marsanne, although some date back a century or more.

California plantings are fairly limited, but the grape does have some history there. Retired British Army Captain John H. Drummond established Dunfillan Vineyards near Glen Ellen in the 1870s. A fan of the Rhône, he blended Marsanne into Syrah to make his version of "Hermitage". In the 1970s, Marsanne, along with Roussanne and Viognier, attracted the attention of wine makers looking for alternative grape varieties. Although these Rhône Rangers developed the most interest in Viognier, all Rhône varieties have proliferated in California vineyards, especially in the Central Coast and South Coast AVAs.

While marsanne vines are relatively hardy and vigorous, the grapes hangs in winged, long, well-filled, and compact clusters. This leaves the fruit susceptible to powdery mildew (odium), bunch rot, berry cracking and excessive juicing at harvest. Marsanne grapes tend to be low in acidity, so both must and wine have tendencies to oxidation and browning. This grape's varietal character has little tolerance for weather that is either too cool or too warm and bland, simply vinous wine will result.

*Typical Marsanne Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Flavor: almond paste, nutty

Mouthfeel: fat, oily, waxy

Herbal: tea

Light Oak: vanilla, sweet oak

Floral: wildflowers (non-specific)

Heavy Oak: toast, oak, smoke

Fruity: citrus, melon (non-specific)


The round, medium-gold to amber Marsanne berries make deep-colored wine that is also fairly full-bodied, sometimes described as almost "waxy". Where growing conditions are right, Marsanne aroma can be somewhat heavy, suggesting almond paste, herbs, or citrus, maybe mixed with perfume or model airplane cement. Low aciditiy means Marsanne wine generally is best consumed young.

Jim LaMar

1 The eight white varieties permitted in Côtes du Rhône are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Muscat Blanc, Picardan, Roussanne, and Viognier. BACK

1. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

2. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

3. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

4. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996

5. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

6. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

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Page created January 10, 2004; last updated July 1, 2015
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