It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but complain. First, I complained about a producer calling attention to replanting native trees on their property, which overlooked the fact that grape vines are not native. Next I complained that Biodynamic practices are at best pseudo-science, and at worst some sort of cult. Then finally I complained that any use of the term “natural” with regards to wine is a lie. The funny thing though, in all three cases I liked the wine in question. So even if I’ve been cranky, at least I’ve been drinking well. I intend to continue with the drinking bit, and the wine at hand this evening is the Tahbilk Marsanne 2010.
Within Australia, there is some level of identification of varieties with regions. While it’s nowhere near as strong (or codified in laws) as in the Old World, and the pairings are certainly not exclusive, Barossa Shiraz, Hunter Semillon, Coonawarra Cabernet and Clare Riesling all resonate. In the same way, there are some grapes, particularly less common white grapes, that are most strongly identified with a single producer, even if they are in fact widely produced. Chenin Blanc can bring to mind Coriole for some people, Viognier is strongly associated with Yalumba, and the first producer most people think of in Australia when you mention Colombard is Primo Estate. Tahbilk has that in spades with Marsanne. There are certainly other producers making excellent Marsannes, but Tahbilk really owns the space.
Tahbilk is one of Australia’s oldest wineries, having been established in 1860 as Chateau Tahbilk, only dropping the Chateau from the name in 2000. The Purbrick family, who run it, first became involved with Tahbilk during the excavation of a cellar in 1875, which itself is still in use, and purchased operation in 1925.
Across the 1200 HA of holdings, some 200 are under vine. While Tahbilk is best known for Marsanne, they also have plantings of the other two main Rhône white grapes, Roussanne and Viognier, and a similar trio of Rhône reds in the form of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre. They also have red and white Bourdeaux grapes, Chardonnay, Riesling, Verdelho, Tempranillo, and Savagnin vines.
They have some impressive claims in terms of vine ages, with the oldest Marsanne vines in the world, planted in 1927, and in the largest single acreage at just under 100 acres. They also have some Shiraz vines that date back to the original pre-phylloxera plantings of 1860, with tiny, but highly concentrated yields.
Tahbilk is based in the Nagambie Lakes region of Victoria, part of the Goulburn Valley, roughly 120km north of Melbourne. The climate is continental, with warm and dry summers but significant diurnal temperature variation. However, the region is one of very few where the climate is influenced by an inland body of water. As a result, the area is cooler than would be otherwise expected. (On the map, Lake Nagambie is actually quite small, though there are a number of other bodies of water nearby, such as the Goulburn Weir and Reedy Lake, so the impact may be cumulative.)
The soil is described as duplex 2.2, which I had to look up. It’s apparently a term from an influential 1979 work by Keith Northcote, A Factual Key for the Recognition of Australian Soils and duplex refers to a sandy or loamy surface, with a sharp boundary between the surface and a clay subsoil. In this instance, the sandy/loamy surface is red due to the oxidized iron content, which is generally thought to be good for grape production.
There was some Marsanne in the Robert Duval Plexus I had back in January, but I didn’t say much about it, other than that it’s a white grape associated with the Rhône and that it’s often found in the company of Roussanne and Viognier. I mentioned Marsanne again when I covered the Yangarra Roussanne, and described it as a better behaved partner to Roussanne, and that it is. Capable of full-bodied wine with no shortage of aromas or flavours, it’s relative productivity in the vineyard has made it more favoured than Roussanne of late, though it often needs extra pruning to prevent overcropping. It buds and ripens relatively late, and can ripen with fairly low sugars.
In addition to the fullness of the wines it can produce, one of the things I like best about Marsanne is that it can handle extended ageing. Tahbilk release several Marsannes, all unoaked, and while this is their entry level wine with two years of age, they also have the 2006 version of the same wine for sale as a Museum Release, and a premium version called 1927 Vines for which the 2002 vintage is the current release. Over the years, Marsanne will pick up more colour and complexity, with developed characters of nuts and honey coming to the fore.
In the glass, this wine is clear, bright and a pale lemon green colour. Upon swirling, there is a thin film/sheeting on the sides of the glass, but no legs develop. The nose is clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity. I got aromas of lemon, pear, lime, toast, and sandalwood. The palate was dry, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus flavour intensity, and notes of pear, lemon, white pepper, and honeycomb/wax. It had a long length.
This is a very good wine, with a very full flavour and body. I liked the complexity on the nose and palate, though I was surprised that it hasn’t seen any oak. and very affordable young. If you have space in your cellar, it’s a good value wine to put away and to enjoy over the next decade.