Instead of another glass of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, try something completely different, such as marsanne.
Part of the trio of major white grapes that traces its origins to the Rhône region of France, marsanne often partners with grapes such as viognier and roussanne. Rhône typically is the home of blenders, but that’s only partially true. The rules — and there are rules the government enforces — don’t require blending in all cases.
Marsanne has caught on as a standalone, even in Rhône. From a practical standpoint, the grapevine itself is productive, so you can make more wine relative to the vines and acres planted. The other reason has to do with style and trends. Marsanne makes a big, rich wine. If you consider some of the white blends and popular chardonnays, they are big, rich wines that speak to the tendency of American consumers to enjoy wine by itself, in lieu of a cocktail. Wines that make an impression by themselves are in demand.
Outside of Rhône, you don’t see much marsanne at all. Australia probably has the most. You don’t see it a lot even in experimental areas of California, which is why the Qupé marsanne from that state was a surprise but its reasonable price was not. So few people know what to expect from marsanne that they aren’t going to jump on it. But it goes great with Middle Eastern food, so a good pairing may offer the opportunity to try the wine.
It’s hard to resist even an unknown wine at $10, though, such as Qupé 2018 Los Olivos Marsanne from the wine region made popular by the wine-drinking buddy flick “Sideways.” The wine shows smells of honeysuckle and citrus with elegant flavors of orange rind and spice on a rich texture. $10. ♦♦♦♦
Back in the homeland in Northern Rhône, you can often find Crozes-Hermitage that is 100% marsanne. As in other French wine regions, Crozes-Hermitage can be a red or white wine (most often red). While the back label usually makes the red or white clear, I more often than not impatiently hold the green bottle to the light. François Villard 2017 “Cour de Récré” Crozes-Hermitage has dense herbal flavors along with white tea and lemon drop plus a finish of minerality and tartness. $25. ♦♦♦♦
GRADE: Exceptional ♦♦♦♦♦, Above average ♦♦♦♦, Good ♦♦♦, Below average ♦♦, Poor ♦