Marsanne, The Michelle Williams (the Singer, not the Actress) of Forgotten Grapes

Do you know me? No, I’m not her; I’m the other one. No, I was never married to Heath Ledger. I wasn’t in Brokeback Mountain; I don’t have a daughter named Matilda; I wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. That’s the other Michelle Williams. The white girl. The one who always looks like a cinder block fell on top of her head and squished her face together.Her. Not me. She’s the actress. I’m a singer. Well, she’s the film actress anyway. I do Broadway. And I do it well. Unlike those other girls I used to sing with who are off doing their Sasha Fierce/marrying Jay-Z/booty shake thing or singing duets with anyone who can carry a tune, I went a different route: gospel, baby. And Broadway. Was the first Child of Destiny to drop something solo, back in ‘02. Hit number 1 on the Gospel charts with that album. Got some good reviews for playing Aida on Broadway. Only Child of Destiny who’s done Broadway, y’know. Album number 2 debuted at number 2 on the Gospel charts. Did more theater, including the lead role in Oprah’s The Color Purple musical in Chicago, in front of Oprah herself. Dropped album number 3 – no gospel this time, more pop and dance. Had a couple of number one dance singles with that one. Going back to Broadway this summer to play Roxie Hart in Chicago...and yet see? Everyone keeps ignoring me and forgets my name, but I got a real career too. I’m successful, making my money, winning awards and acclaim, but you never hear about me or what I’m up to. All you hear is Beyonce-this and Sasha Fierce-that and occasionally Kelly Rowland blah blah blah. But I’m the one out there grinding. Earning my chops. Getting my licks in. Getting mine while the gettin’ is good. And I’m the one you’re still going to be hearing from years from now. I’m setting myself up for greatness and longevity down the road. Mark my words, people. I’ll be the one you’ll be hearing from in the future. I’ll be there when you finally get there. That’s Michelle Williams. M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E. And not the white chick either. So don’t you forget it!

Hi there. Do you know me? Probably not. Not a lot of people do. But I’m a grape. A white Rhone grape. No, I’m not Viognier. And no, I’m not Roussanne either, though I sound like it and I’m usually found hanging around both of those two in the vineyard or blended with them in some combination to form harmonious white Rhone wines (we don’t do varietal wines here, since we all have our individual strengths and weaknesses and parts to play – I ain’t no hater!). And no, I’m not some Italian wine they use to make chicken and veal dishes either. That’s Marsala, people, Marsala! That’s not even a varietal wine; it’s fortified. They add spirits to it, like they do to Port. I’m 100% natural. Everything you see, smell, and taste in me is my own. Nothing artificial added. No plastic surgery here.

Yet, for some reason, you hardly ever find me out on my own, like you do with the two I’m always paired with. I have no idea why, though. I’m about a thousand times better than those two (still not hatin’, though. Still not hatin’). Much less of a diva than both of them, though I’m still susceptible to the same mildew and rot that they are and have got to be picked just before ripeness or else I can get too heavy in the alcohol department or else end up just flat-out tasteless. But here’s the real dirty little secret you need to know about me: I’m about a thousand times more popular than those other two. Oh sure, one may get entire appellations all to itself (no matter how tiny they are), and the other may get to play in the exclusive playground of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but I’m the one that most vintners in the Rhone are planting and growing and using in their wines. I’m the one that’s allowed to be added to Syrah in Hermitage AOC wines (up to 15% of me, too). I’m the one who makes up 90% of the Saint-Peray appellation, where they turn me into sparkling white wine. I’m the one that usually dominates the blends when they pair me with Roussanne. So why can’t I get any respect? Why is nobody calling me an “up and coming” grape or planting more of my for my own varietal wine? Why, why, why?

Here’s something else you should know about me: internationally, I’m vastly more popular than those other two. Well, okay, maybe just Roussanne. But I’m grown in a lot of the same places it is – the Central Coast of California, Washington State, Australia – and they grow me in Switzerland too. Sure it’s under a different name – either Ermitage or Ermitage blanc – but that’s all me, boy. They do the same thing in the Savoie region of France too and call me Grosse Roussette there. But it’s still me. All me. That’s how big I am. And that’s how I roll. Fat.

Why am I better than those others (still not hatin’, y’all. Just stating facts)? Because I’m the one who can age gracefully, baby. I’m the one that gives those other two their length and longevity. As I age, I get more experienced and more complex; those other two just get tired and played out. Not me, I get darker in color, nuttier and spicier in scent, and more robust and honeyed in my flavors. You can even put me in oak for a while to give me more body. Try doing that to those other wines. The only reason you’d oak them is to try to settle them down and tame them, control their wild side. Not me. I’m sophisticated. I can play just as hot as they can, but I will last and last and last. And that’s why you haven’t heard the last of me. Soon people all over the world will be screaming my name, asking for me from the wine lists, and going to special tastings just to drink me. Mark my words, people. I’ll be the one you’ll be hearing from in the future. I’ll be there when you finally get there. That’s Marsanne. M-A-R-S-A-N-N-E. And not those other Rhone white grapes either. So don’t you forget it! I ain’t no Forgotten Grape. I’m Marsanne, dammit!    

How Do You Pronounce Marsanne?


Marsanne Looks Like:

Though Marsanne wines typically start out with the same pale-to-medium golden hue as Viognier and Roussanne wines, Marsannes actually have enough backbone, acidity, and alcohol in them to allow the wine to age gracefully. It’s one of the chief components that Marsanne adds to white Rhone blends, and when properly aged, Marsanne can turn a rich amber color. Marsanne grapes, which have this same gold-to-amber color that the wines can achieve, have juice that provide quite a bit of depth to their pigment. So while younger Marsanne wine may have the same golden sheen as their white Rhone brethren, it’s the older, more mature Marsannes that have the deep, complex color of a well-aged wine.

Marsanne Smells Like:

Most Marsanne wines have aromas that are equal parts citrus and sweet nuttiness, almost like an almond paste. You will often get scents of pear, melon, and honeysuckle on Marsannes as well. But when you let a Marsanne age, a whole new bevy of aromas come into play. The nuttiness of the wine becomes more prominent, as does the spice. It can take on a more honeyed aroma, and in some cases, you get a scent that I have best and most entertainingly seen described as model airplane glue. You can’t make this stuff up. So yes, Marsanne, the only wine that can get you high both by drinking it, and by sniffing it. If that isn’t one of the best selling points I’ve ever seen for a wine, then I don’t know what is. Pick some up today.

Marsanne Tastes Like:   

Younger Marsanne wines normally have flavors of citrus, pear, melon – many of the same aromas you find on the young wines. But again, once the wines get older, deeper flavors of honey and nuts and spices emerge from the wine. But perhaps what makes Marsanne most intriguing is the viscous, waxy mouth feel that the wines can have. It is often described as oily sometimes as well. Marsannes are incredibly round wines, and provide a lot of depth and complexity of flavor, especially when compared to Viogniers and Roussannes. But beware, under-ripe Marsannes can be almost bland and tasteless in flavor, and Marsannes allowed to ripen too much will be heavy in alcohol and flabby from a lack of acidity. The general dearth of acidity in Marsanne is one of the reasons single varietal winemakers prefer the sharper and crisper Viogniers and Roussannes to Marsanne.

Key Regions:

●        The Saint-Peray appellation in France

●        Other parts of the Northern Rhone valley of France, particularly the Hermitage, Croze-Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph appellations

●        Paso Robles and Santa Barbara in California

●        Australia


Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:

Saint-Peray may be virtually unknown to most American wine drinkers, but it is one of the few Meccas for Marsanne in all of France – if not the world. If you’ve ever spent any time stumbling along or drinking your way up the Rhone, then you’ve at least heard about it and by chance have had the opportunity to have drink the wines. Saint-Peray is the southernmost appellation of the northern Rhone wine-growing region, located due west across the Rhone from the bustling town of Valance and immediately south of the rugged, Syrah-only appellation of Cornas. Though still white wines can be produced in the appellation (and more and more are every year), what Saint-Peray is best known for and produces the most of are sparkling white wines made predominantly from Marsanne with some Roussanne added. Almost 90% of all grapes grown in Saint-Peray are Marsanne, and this same balance goes into the sparkling wines, which are all crafted in the Methode Champenoise style.

Perfect Pairing:

Dried meats, salumis, pates – they’re all going to have that sticky, oily texture that will blend in well with a Marsanne wine, but the savoriness and robustness of the meat should set off the more intense fruit flavors and nuttiness in the wine. Or if you wanted to throw it into overdrive, serve your charcuterie with some sauerkraut and watch the flavors explode in your mouth. The sharp tang from the pickling of the kraut will substitute nicely for the lack of acid in the wine and really bring all three flavors into harmony.

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