Gilligan Roussanne Marsanne 2013

It’s interesting to watch Australian winemakers grapple with white Rhône varieties. Tahbilk’s prototypical, straightforward approach to its Marsanne is just one of many options, and it’s fun to see everything from predominantly textural styles right through to worked, voluptuous wines. This wine falls mostly into the latter camp.

I was most remiss in not writing up the 2012 vintage of this wine; it was a taut, linear expression of these varieties and one that was very much to my taste. This swings in a slightly different direction. Firstly, it’s packed with flavour. There’s an abundance of honeysuckle and beeswax, very ripe and plush in character. Pricklier edges pervade the aroma but never distort its fundamentally generous, round shape.

In the mouth, strikingly full and mouthfilling. It has good intensity of flavour and, despite its volume, is quite sprightly in the mouth. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and fruit-sweet, leading to a tauter after palate that shows some herbal influences. Texture transitions here to a lightly raspy phase before the wine finishes on a beautifully clean, floral note.

While I enjoyed the 2012’s uncompromising palate structure, this wine is rather more approachable and should win friends more easily. In any case, a delicious expression of these confounding varieties.

Note: the same disclaimers I mentioned in my review of the current Gilligan red apply here, too.

Gilligan Wines
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Gilligan Roussanne Marsanne 2010

Gilligan’s second release of this wine, and I note last year’s model was more Marsanne-heavy, at least judging by the order in which the varieties are listed on the label. I enjoyed the 2009, though felt it could have used an extra ounce of intensity, considering its fullness of body and luxe vibe. This wine, happily, has noticeably more fruit flavour, bringing the style’s elements into greater balance.

I thought this was a Viognier when I first smelled it, but the richness that presents is less apricot and more honeysuckle. Yes, this is a vulgar French perfume of a wine, and all the more glorious for it; I like wines that don’t try to be something they aren’t. And this is about as far from Riesling (on the one hand) and Chardonnay (on the other) as you can get. It’s redolent of white flowers, peach stones and fresh laundry with just a hint of something more challenging, savoury and feral underneath.

The palate has good impact due, at first, to a thickness of texture that smacks the mouth and winds its way onto the tongue. Flavour follows soon after, with surprisingly delicate accords of stonefruit and florals. There’s plenty of flavour on offer. The risk with richer wines styles such as this is that they become cloying, but I’m pleased to note there’s a nice thrust of phenolic texture (and decent acid) that underlines the entire palate, roughing up the mouthfeel and freshening the flavour profile. Good continuity through the after palate and a very long finish, hinting at some alcohol heat but never quite crossing over to the other side.

Not a bad wine after only two goes. Really good value for money.

Price: $A21
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Qupé Marsanne 2007

It looks like I have Jancis Robinson to thank for one more thing: the third edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine has turned out to be not only an invaluable reference but also heavy enough to serve as a flat surface to park my wine while lounging on the sofa, MacBook at hand, to blog.My first, fleeting impression was of dried sugared pineapple, but that quickly dissipated in favor of something not unlike popcorn flavored jellybeans. In short, it smells strangely buttery, salty, mineral, sweet, tropical, nutty, and flowery all at the same time – overwhelming, almost, but of course charming as well.The palate is much more restrained than the aromatics; it tastes much more French than Californian, with firm structure and a mouthfeel reminiscent of beeswax. The finish is lovely, with hints of wildflower and length to spare; acidity is present, not unsettling; color is elegantly pale (think Tilda Swinton, perhaps).If this wine were French, it’d cost a hundred bucks; this wine isn’t, and I’m thinking I should lay some down for a good, long time. Just as Tahbilk marsanne lasts decades, I suspect this one would as well.Qupé
Price: $14
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Tahbilk Marsanne 2009

Authenticity in the realm of luxury brands is one of those difficult-to-define qualities that, ironically, is terribly easy to spot. For example, Hermès has it, Louis Vuitton doesn’t. QED. It can also, once possessed, be lost; see Vacheron Constantin or RM Williams.  In the case of Australian wine, Tahbilk is one of those wineries that seems to effortlessly exude a sense of history and authenticity, which is laudable in itself, but doubly so considering its reputation rests in part on some wines that, let us say, aren’t exactly at the forefront of vinous fashion.

Take this Marsanne. It’s arguably Australia’s cheapest most undervalued icon wine, made from a variety that, until the recent elevation of interest in white Rhône varieties, was pretty much off the radar. Ask an Australian wine geek and, chances are, they will acknowledge this wine as a classic, certainly sui generis in the history of Australian wine and one that continues to stand with few peers today. 
Given this legacy, it’s lovely to sit down to a glass of the 2009 Marsanne this afternoon and find not only a nice wine, but a familiar friend too. This is the real deal, with aromas of preserved lemon, pineapple and other, similarly pungent, yellow things. It’s a very appealing, fresh aroma profile, really direct in the way it communicates its composition, even if it is necessarily straightforward as a very young wine.
The palate has a couple more tricks up its sleeve, relating to structure and mouthfeel. But first, the entry is solid and quite immediate, with lots of lemons and unripe nectarines filling the mouth, underlined by quite textural acidity. As a fuller white variety, this really swells towards the middle palate, intensity remaining measured and the whole delicate within the confines of the style. The after palate and finish are interesting in that they show a waxed lemon attitude that I would expect to appear further down the wine’s development line. A promising sign? 
You really can’t go wrong with this wine. Personally, having been inducted into the pleasures of this with a few years’ bottle age, I’d be drinking some now and stashing the rest in a cellar. Surely the cheapest way to get your aged white wine kicks?

Price: $A15
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Gilligan Marsanne Roussanne 2009

Why is Coke so popular? Why isn’t Passiona taking the world by storm? Personally, I adore Passiona and think it has a lot to offer the soft-drinking community. Yet Coke flies off the shelves. It all begs the question: are some soft drinks inherently better than others? Ditto grapes; do some varieties, barring easy targets like Trebbiano, simply make better wines than others? 

I don’t care to attempt an answer but, given the role fashion plays in wine appreciation and commerce, it seems dangerous to use market acceptance as an indicator of a variety’s potential. (Hunter) Semillon is a great example, and I wonder about the white Rhône varieties too. Viognier is, of course, enjoying an odd sort of resurgence, though I’m buggered if I can figure out what to eat with it. Marsanne and Roussanne are even more interesting. Tahbilk continues to make its iconic Marsanne at Nagambie Lakes, and a street price of about $A10 should tell you how scandalously little it is valued by the market (not that my wallet is complaining). Australian Roussanne is even thinner on the ground, yet my infallible fashion radar indicates a growing interest in these two varieties, even if the local industry’s collective expression suggests a degree of puzzlement rather than confidence. 
Enter McLaren Vale producer Gilligan with the first vintage of its Marsanne Rousanne blend (about half each). It’s a striking label, and I mean that literally; its bold typographic treatment on reflective silver should stand out on a shelf. It should also stand out when smelled, because it delivers a big hit of honeysuckle and bubblegum with the eagerness of an overweight teenager deciding what to order at McDonald’s (I speak from personal experience). If it had lingered too long on this note, it would have quickly become cloying, but the nice thing about this wine is that it keeps defying my expectations. From its Britney Spears start, it evolves to show subtle yet lively fruit flavours (in a sort of pineapple and orange spectrum) and, a little unexpectedly, savoury minerality too. The aroma profile never lives up to the impact of its first impression; whether this is good or bad is probably a matter of taste. 
The palate starts full and generous, as one might expect from these varieties, with a shapely flow into the mouth herded by fine, fresh acid. Again, intensity of fruit wanes a little towards the mid-palate, and it’s here more than on the nose that I was left wishing for just a bit extra. Compensation comes in the form of decent complexity and a pleasingly nuanced structure. That same savouriness as on the nose (is it sulphur-derived?) presents through the after palate and tastes very grown up. A fresh finish of unremarkable length.
You could throw this back as a simple quaffer if you chose but, like an unexpectedly smart movie, it prods and provokes more complex responses. This intelligence, combined with a still-unusual mix of grape varieties, is a lot of wine for $A21. Nice.

Price: $A21
Closure: Stelvin

Tahbilk Marsanne 2002

Amazingly, I managed to get the cork out of this bottle without breaking my corkscrew. Ouch! That sucker was really stuck in there, but I digress…If there was ever a wine that smelled of lanolin, this is it. One whiff and I’m back in Rotorua watching a tourist sheep-shearing show; afterwards, you can’t escape the gift shop without rubbing some of the local produce on your hands, and this is what it smells like. The aging here has also contributed a sort of butterscotch and must that’s not too bad: it’s kind of like your grandparents’ house, actually – imagine a dish of slightly moist hard candy that’s a souvenir of the Brussels World Fair, but again I digress…The color has wound up at a beautiful gold the color of fresh Oregon apple cider. Once you drink some, it doesn’t taste at all like you’d expect, I reckon: there’s a quick start of something like Granny Smith apples with an underlying steel; then, it’s on to quince and pears with an appealingly full mouthfeel. Supporting acidity is very good indeed, veering towards Clare riesling territory, but it all winds down on a lovely note of warm apple pie (or tarte tatin if you prefer a Francophone air to your wine tasting notes).With some time and air, notes of smoked salt and poire also surface.What was a relatively simple wine in its youth is, I think, better for having waited. It’s hard to imagine this being any better than it is right now, especially considering the price.

Price: around US $10; aged releases typically A$17 from the winery
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: August 2008