Wine of the Week

Miracle Marselan: A Marvelous New Varietal


It’s not often that a new grape varietal comes along. When one does, it’s worth paying at least a little attention.

Not that Marselan, the grape in question, is exactly new in the sense that it appeared yesterday. A cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, it was developed in France in 1961 in an attempt to wean the country’s legions of peasant vignerons—especially those in the fertile, prolific, Languedoc—away from the high-yield, low-quality grapes to which they were addicted and for which the government was paying millions in subsidies, even in those days.

Unfortunately, its yields were too low for an environment in which quality was measured by the kilo, so Marselan sank into obscurity.

The thing is: It’s really an interesting varietal. In recent years a new breed of enterprising winemakers has began planting it again. One such effort is this week’s wine of the week, the Val de Salis Marselan 2008 ($10).

In style it falls, not surprisingly, between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, exhibiting the virtues of both. It’s not big, rich and oaky like a California Cab. Rather it shows Grenache’s cheerful vivacity while adding the structure one finds in Bordeaux-style Cabs. The result is a most satisfactory combination.

Sunny, With Poise and Elegance

In the mouth, it’s vibrant and fresh, reminding me of sweet, yet tart June cherries, with that fruit’s bright crispness showing through on the long finish. The southern French sunshine is typical of Grenache, but what makes the wine unusual—what makes it noteworthy—is the poise and elegance provided by the Cabernet Sauvignon.

As Gilles Despez, Val de Salis’s export director, explains: “The last 15, 20 years in the Languedoc, more and more high-energy people are trying to make much better wine … and a lot of independent growers like us … were looking for more interesting grape varieties, something to diversify from Merlot, Cabinet Sauvignon that everybody has.”

The new varietal also helps differentiate the wine in the marketplace.

As Despez puts it, “For me … I am happy to sell Cabernet and Merlot, but there’s so much on the market that when you try and come with something new, people are listening to you.

“Maybe this was a grape variety that 10 years ago, it would have been pretty impossible to sell in the U.S., but now it’s ‘the more different, the better.’ I can see that people are looking for something different, a different style. The American palate is definitely evolving in a good way.”

He goes on to say: “The Marselan has got a little of everything. It’s a wine that’s very showy, easy to understand. It has some tannins, but they are pretty soft and well integrated. It’s got a lot of flavors.”

Indeed, this is a wine packed with pleasing flavors.

There is also a growing interest in Marselan among American winemakers, so expect to see a lot more bottles bearing the name of this interesting and talented varietal in the near future.

To find this wine near you try Wine Searcher.

When to Drink: Now and for the next two or three years
Breathing/Decanting: An hour’s breathing is essential, decanting even better
Food Pairing: All red meats, stronger cheeses
Grapes: 100% Marselan
Appellation: Vin de Pays d’Oc
Region: SW France
Country: France
Price: $10
Availability: Moderate
Web Site: www.sallies.fr

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Nick_passmore
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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