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Lise Ciolino
 
May 1, 2014 | 3Divas, Blending, Marsanne, Rhône wines, Roussanne, Viognier, Winemaking | Lise Ciolino

Blending Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier into 3Divas

What are Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier? Who grows them? Where did they come from, and why does Montemaggiore make a white blend from them? If you are asking any of these questions, I'd like to explain.

Montemaggiore makes 3Divas because Vincent tricked me into it. I have (almost) always been a red wine lover, never having the desire to make a white wine—after all, I only make wine I like to drink! Vincent had been trying to convince me otherwise pointing out that many people prefer to start out their dinner with a lighter wine, or they enjoy a chilled wine during warmer weather—and there are even those few who prefer white wine over red. I relented enough to make a rosé starting in 2007. This kept Vincent happy for a few years, but he couldn't let go.

One day, Vincent had an inspiration: use reverse psychology on me, his ornery wife! He said, "You are right. You shouldn't make a white wine. You probably wouldn't make a good one anyway." Personally, I would have preferred that he stop with "You are right", but having at least a few ounces of pride in me, I countered, "Okay, but it's not going to be Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc—oceans of those wines are already being made." So I decided to make a Marsanne-Roussanne-Viognier blend, the perfect companion to my beloved Syrah given that all those varietals are native to the Rhône region in France. Thus in 2009, Montemaggiore's first 3Divas was born. How that name came to be is a story for another day.

The Rhône is home to many relatively unknown white winegrape varietals. Map of Rhone AppellationsNot just Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier but also Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanc, Picpoul, and Bourbelenc. The first three are most common in the northern Rhône, although not often blended together into a single wine. Marsanne and Roussane are commonly blended together in Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and St-Joseph (see map on right). On the other hand, Viognier stands alone (and is the only grape allowed) in the regions of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. Amazingly, in 1971 there were only 34 acres of Viognier total in the world, all found in Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. Currently, Viognier can be found on five continents with 2,500 acres in France and 2,000 in the United States. Interest in this once-underappreciated grape has certainly increased!

Outside of France, blends of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier are prevalent enough to have their own acronym: M-R-V. Blends as a whole are becoming more popular in the United States; although historically we bottle our wines as "pure" varietals (obscuring the fact that a wine labeled "Marsanne" could have up to 25% of something else). With a blend, a winemaker can create a more complete wine, drawing on the strengths of each varietal. I experiment with the proportions using a graduated cylinder in order to find the 3Divas blend that has the best balance, right mouthfeel, and perfect aromas. In Montemaggiore's MRV blend, each varietal makes an important contribution:

  • Marsanne underpins the blend with richness and a full body, while providing with deep honey and nut flavors
  • Roussanne imparts liveliness and elegance, along with lime and herbal flavors
  • Viognier tops everything off with its distinctive floral and tropical fruit aromas

Standing alone, each of the MRV varietals has strengths and weakness—in aroma, texture, and aging potential. If you are curious, look for a "pure" varietal so you can taste each on its own. I hope you are inspired to try our 3Divas MRV blend, along with any other "new" varietal or blend you may not be familiar with. After all, much of the fun in drinking wine is trying new varietals, grown in different regions around the world, from not-so-common producers.

 Marsanne

  • Honeysuckle and honey aromas alongside pear and nutty flavors, and has a rich and full bodied texture
  • Can be low in acid, thus a bit flabby in texture
  • Not difficult to grow
  • Look for Qupé Marsanne from California's Central Coast, Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Blanc from France, or Tahbilk from Australia

 

 Roussanne

  • Aromas of flowery herbal tea and lime, with a distinct minerality and good acidity
  • Owes it's name to the russet (or roux) color of it's skin
  • Difficult to grow, being prone to powdery mildew and ripening unevenly
  • Look for Qupé Roussanne, Chateau de Beaucastel from France, or Yalumba from Australia

 

Viognier

  • Powerful aromas of apricot, tropical fruits, and orange blossoms, rich and honeyed in mouthfeel
  • Pronounced "vee ohn YAY"
  • Signature grape of the state of Virginia
  • Look for Viognier around the world including California (Arrowood has a Viognier from Saralee's Vineyard), Washington (try Cowhorn, another biodynamic producer), or Virginia (Barboursville Vineyards receives good reviews)

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