California Wine: Marsanne vs. Rousanne


Picture yourself sitting in a movie theatre. It is dark and surprisingly quiet. A deep resonant voice echoes throughout the theatre. "In a world ... Where Chardonnay is king ... One man dares to make a wine that breaks all boundaries. A wine that is both spicy and fruity, and is both voluptuous and nimble, possessing acidity that cuts like a diamond." Who is that man? What is that wine? How long will this absurd intro go on? The man is Bob Lindquist, owner and winemaker at Qupé. The wine is his 2010 Santa Ynez Valley Marsanne.

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Chardonnay may be the king of white grapes in the US and throughout most of the world but it is predominantly because of its adaptability to weather and terroir. Chardonnay gets around. It will grow almost anywhere and allow itself to be made into a decent wine. Marsanne is a bit more cautious about where it will hang out and who it will work with.

Marsanne is a grape that grew up in the France's northern Rhone Valley. It is used predominately in the white wines of St. Joseph and Crozes Hermitage, and plays the role of Abel to its brother Cain, Rousanne. Rousanne is difficult: it is prone to powdery mildew and so sensitive to sunlight that it ripens unevenly. When bottled it has a tendency to go through a dumb phase where the wine shuts down aromatically; this can last for years.


Marsanne, on the other hand, is a bit more affable and less difficult to grow. This is why some very famous producers of white wines from Hermitage have ripped up the more stubborn of the two brothers, Rousanne, to replace them with Marsanne. Too bad, considering what Rousanne has to offer. It may be the more temperamental of the two, but it certainly has its merits. It has rich honey and stone fruit notes with oily viscosity and acidity that ages brilliantly.


That being said, Marsanne easily holds its own when vinified solo as Lindquist has done in the past. But when the two dance together, it is a thing of beauty. The 2010 Marsanne from Qupé has a healthy 15% Rousanne added. (Bob also makes a 100% Rousanne that is, to say the least, life changing.) This blend combines the nuttiness and viscosity of Rousanne with the pear and mineral zing of Marsanne to make a beautifully complex wine.This wine is easily enjoyed on its own, and with some age can provoke serious contemplation. Pair this wonder with anything from oysters on the half to schnitzel to sushi.

Qupé; 2010 Marsanne, retails about $19.

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