Grape varieties with many faces in one bottle over time

Flagship wines 29.08.13

Flagship wines 29.08.13 - Credit: Archant

I TRIED a bottle of the 2007 vintage of Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne from vineyards near the Goulburn River in Victoria recently, a glorious fruity wine with nutty tones amongst the pears and herb flavours and a long dry finish. It reminded me that there are certain grape varieties that make wines that develop well in the bottle and evolve additional stylish flavours as they do so. The Marsanne grape is definitely one of those!

Marsanne is one of the rarest grape varieties in the world and is most widely grown in the Northern Rhone Valley in the South of France where it is most often blended with Roussanne in the Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage and St Joseph areas. It makes still and sparkling wines in St Peray also in the Rhone Valley near Cornas and in Chateauneuf du Pape, as in Hermitage a small percentage is permitted to be included in the blend for the red wines of the region.

Outside France it can be found in small pockets of vines in America and Switzerland but most notably in Australia in Victoria in the Goulburn Valley in the Ngambie Lakes area. The Purbrick family at Chateau Tahbilk are one of its greatest proponents with records showing it has been grown there since the early 20th Century. It has the largest vineyard area of Marsanne vines in the world.

Most white wines age gracefully with flavour profiles that show a softening of the acidity with age and a rounding out and gradual oxidation of the fruit. In contrast, Marsanne-based wines change in character over a period of time.

When very young the wine is light coloured, fresh, crisp and lemony with notes of melon and pears on the long clean finish. As it matures the wine becomes darker in colour gaining golden hues and on the nose and palate has a fuller rounded body and becomes more complex with a pleasant oily honeyed texture and aromas of nuts and quince.

Other grape varieties that have the same ability to age and gain additional notes of flavour thus changing their character and style almost completely include the Riesling.

This grape is renowned for its refreshing floral grapey aromas and light fruity taste when young in wines around the world. It is at its lightest in the wines from the Mosel and Rhine valleys in Germany gaining in weight and complexity in the sweeter versions such as Beerenauslese.

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In Rieslings from the New World the floral notes become more limey and pronounced with a refreshing crispness. In New Zealand especially the wine ages well in the bottle developing what is often noted as “kerosene” flavours, which are not immediately appreciated as adding to the quality of the wine.

However, in tandem with increasing richness of the wines that are a little more alcoholic than their German counterparts the petrol kerosene notes add a lovely zesty-honeyed richness to the wines – a good description of a great Riesling such as that from Allan Scott in Marlborough and the Pewsey Vale wines from the Eden Valley in Australia.

Keeping track of wines as they age can be fun as they develop along known paths but what is always a surprise is how far along the path they have travelled so the best part is in the tasting and enjoyment!