French v Australian Marsanne – what is the difference?

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Marsanne is a wonderful white wine grape that has a spiritual home in the Southern Rhone in France. Due to the onset of Phlorexia, Tahbilk winery in central Victoria now has the oldest Marsanne vines (1927). As regular readers will know, the Walkabout Crew absolutely LOVE Tahbilk Marsanne, so when we found a French Marsanne at a very reasonable price at our local wine merchant, we decided we had to compare.

The two wines being compared here will soon be the subject of another “diagonal debate” as we have been collecting a few Marsanne examples from our recent walkabouts… but for the moment, we tried a 2018 Tahbilk Marsanne against a 2018 Paul Mas (Southern France) Marsanne and debated the differences at length.

Let’s start with price since that is usually the first thing you notice in a bottle shop… Marsanne from Australian winemakers range in price from around $13 for the current Tahbilk release to $40 for the aged Warramunda wine. The median price for Australian Marsanne seems to be around $20 per bottle. The Paul Mas wine cost us $7.50 per bottle. When considering the transport costs and import duties, this makes the French wine very reasonably priced!

Colour (and sight more generally) are the next thing to get noticed. A 2018 Marsanne in Australia is normally light gold with a tinge of green. The French wine is much more yellow-gold and shows almost no green tinge. This colour is seen in Australian Marsanne after about 5-7 years of bottle age and may be explained by the use of oak barrels (Paul Mas uses a combination of oak and steel for maturation and then blends prior to bottling). In terms of viscosity (the “legs” you see after swirling the wine in the glass) the French wine doesn’t have much to report which may not mean much, but is evidence for what is to come.

Marsanne is not known as an aromatic wine. The French wine has a totally different bouquet to Australian Marsanne which is quite easy to pick by smell once you have tried a few… the French Marsanne has a bouquet more typical of Pinot Gris. This is not a bad thing as such, but it is interesting.

Flavour and aftertaste to some is all that matters. In terms of initial flavour, Marsanne from Australian growers tends to be crisp when young with some honeysuckle and jasmine and then matures into honey and toast-like flavours after 10 years or so. The French wine is a lot sweeter to begin with and a lot less acidic. There is not much length to speak of however which makes any comments on aftertaste largely irrelevant.

Our Verdict: For $90 for a DOZEN, French Marsanne is not going to break the bank and is quite pleasurable to drink. We are probably not going to rush out and buy cases of this wine however, as it lacks the length and complexity of some of the Australian Marsanne we have tried (and have patiently cellaring awaiting consumption). If price is the only consideration, Paul Mas Marsanne is a great wine.

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