Taste: Smooth and soft with aromas of bramble fruits, cassis and ripe cherry that can be accompanied by spicy notes of cinnamon and clove. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry and plum are followed by notes of toast and vanilla if the wine is fermented, or aged in oak.
Tannin: Medium (and soft)
Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years of release. There is some evidence to suggest that Marselan ages well, but it is still too early to say.
Can you imagine a grape that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache – the refined power and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon, combined with the spicy richness of Grenache? Well, this was what inspired Paul Truel of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) to develop such a grape for the Languedoc region by crossbreeding these varieties as far back as 1961.
The result of his efforts is Marselan, which was named after the French Mediterranean town of Marseillan close to where the first vines were cultivated. From the growers’ perspective he wanted to create a heat tolerant, disease resistant vine that displayed the best attributes of both parents. In many respects he achieved this, but there was one downside. Marselan produces small, thick-skinned grapes and its grape clusters, or bunches, are also small. Consequently Marselan is a relatively low yielding vine, which is not what the growers wanted.
At that time, the focus was more on quantity than quality and so, for the next thirty years, Marselan was forgotten. By the end of that period, wine markets were demanding better quality, which prompted a reappraisal of Marselan. Its low yielding characteristic, which also consistently produced high quality fruit, was now seen as an advantage. When coupled with its excellent disease resistant properties, especially to mildew, the rationale for planting it was very strong and in 1990 the INRA secured its official registration and approval for commercial release.
Despite the obvious potential of Marselan, plantings of the grape were slow to begin and the first varietal wines, produced by Domaine Devereux in the Languedoc, did not appear until 2002. Since then, plantings have increased considerably and it looks like we will see a lot more of Marselan in the future. Most plantings are still in Southern France, with the majority in the Languedoc, but there are also plantings in the Southern Rhône and Provence.
Although many winemakers prefer to use Marselan in blends with local varieties such as Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, there are quite a few varietal wines made. They are very smooth and soft with aromas of bramble fruits, cassis and ripe cherry, which can be accompanied by spicy notes of cinnamon and clove. On the palate flavors of raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and plum are followed by notes of toast and vanilla if the wine is fermented, or aged in oak (many are not). Acidity is good and the tannins are soft and generally well integrated.
Marselan is still at a relatively early stage of development, and it will take time for winemakers to understand the grape and work out what terroir is most suitable and how best to manage it in the vineyard and the winery. Many of the varietal wines made today are good quality, fruit forward wines that lack complexity, but it will take time before we know if Marselan can produce truly great wine.
As more winemakers and more regions adopt it, and existing producers become more familiar with it, we should see an increase in the number of interesting, and hopefully exciting, Marselan blends and varietals arriving on the market.
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