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Tahbilk, Marsanne, 2002

Posted by Torsten 12 Nov 2010

Drinking aged wines can be a fun adventure, and it gets even better if the wine comes from an unusual vineyard and with a bit of history. This Marsanne, even though not yet terribly old, ticks all of these boxes, and so I am grateful for Karen who recently pointed me in its direction at Philglass and Swiggot's Clapham Junction branch. The Tahbilk Marsanne comes from one of the oldest wineries in Australia and from what may be the oldest planting of Marsanne in the world.

The Marsanne grape variety is most common in the Northern Rhône, but can also be found in Switzerland and a few other countries, including Spain. It seems to be a bit picky if planted in the wrong area: too cold and the wines can be bland, too hot and they turn out to be flabby.

The people who founded Tahilk seem to have picked a good spot when they planted the first Marsanne in the 1860s. Now the vines at this site date from 1927, making this one of the oldest plantings of Marsanne in the world, if not the oldest.

Tahbilk are located in the Nagambie Lakes region of central Victoria, north of Melbourne. In the 200 ha vineyard several 'Rhone' varieties are grown, including Marsanne, Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache and Mourvedre. Tahbilk also have plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho. Interestingly, they also have original pre-phylloxera Shiraz vines still surviving from 1860, some 60 year old Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1927 Marsanne. This should make for a spectacular tasting of old vines wines.

Now about to my Marsanne. The colour is honey-golden, clear and very shiny. The bouquet intriguingly starts with potato peel, earthy mineral and paraffin - almost smoky. Then come more perfumed notes of honeysuckle and pear, accompanied by fennel candy, nut and vanilla scented wood polish. On the second day the honeysuckle became more prominent, as did the fruit, for instance with aromas of overripe mango. A very intriguing mix of substantial and earthy (almost like a good Silvaner) with a more flowery and fruity touch, plus a hint of wisdom of age.

On the tongue the wine is a slightly more bitter than the fruit would make you think, with paraffin wax notes. There is something satisfyingly chewy to the texture, with a really good mouthfeel that ends with a shellfish-butter-minerality in the more juicy finish. Add to that vegetable notes, citrus and walnut oil for a charming mixture of tingle from the smooth acidity and more bitter notes.

Certainly an unusual wine that at moments reminded me of an old Riesling or a Silvaner, yet clearly something different, in its own right. A very interesting experience!