November 12, 2015 3 Comments
I first heard of the grape variety Marselan while studying – for the first time – the wines of China. China, as you may have heard, recently became the world’s second-place country in terms of vineyard holdings – coming in on the list right after Spain, and before France. While many of China’s vineyards are dedicated to table grapes, wine grapes, including vinifera varieties, now account for at least 10% of the vines. Of the vinifera varieties grown, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, followed by Carmenère, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Gamay, Grenache, and Marselan.
There it was: Marselan – a grape variety I had never heard of before – so of course I had to investigate…
Marselan is a vinifera cross (Cabernet Sauvignon X Grenache) created in 1961 by French ampelographer Paul Truel. Truel was working in Montpellier, France at the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique (INRA). His goal was to create a high yielding grape with large berries of at least moderate quality. Marselan produces grape berries of small-to-medium size, so the variety was shelved and not expected to have a future in commercial wine production.
However…by the 1990’s viticultural priorities had shifted, and disease resistance, particularly to threats such as powdery mildew and coulure, brought Marselan out of cold storage. The grape was approved by the French as a commercial variety in 1990 and in 2007 was approved by the TTB (United States) as a varietal wine name.
At its best, Marselan is said to combine the finesse and quality of Cabernet Sauvignon with the heat tolerance and high yield of Grenache. According to Jancis Robinson’s book “Wine Grapes,” varietal Marselan “tends to produce deeply colored and highly aromatic wines that have supple tannins and the potential to age.”
In addition to its plantings in China, Marselan is planted – albeit in small amounts – throughout the south of France. It is allowed to be up to 10% of the blend in the wines of the Côtes du Rhône AOC, and is produced as a varietal wine in the Languedoc. Small plantings may also be found in California, Argentina, Arizona, Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil.
The grape was named “Marselan” by its creator, in homage to the town of Marseillan, France. Marseillan is the home of the phylloxera-free vine collection of Domaine de Vassal, operated by the INRA. Domaine de Vassal provided the parent Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache vines from which the original Marselan was bred.
- Robinson, Jancis (et al): Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
- Robinson, Jancis and Harding, Julia: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4rd Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press