Marsanne is a white wine grape - and is believed to have originated in the town of Marsanne, near Montélimar, in the Northern Rhône wine region of France. In Savoie the grape is known as Grosse Roussette. Outside France it is also grown in Switzerland (where it is known as ermitage blanc or just ermitage), Spain (where it is known as Marsana), and can also be found in Australia and the USA. Australia has proven to be a more suitable home than its native France - as 80% of the world’s Marsanne is now grown there.
It is a principal component of the white wines from the Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph AOCs. It is the most widely planted white wine grape in the Hermitage AOC, where it is often blended with Roussanne.
Along with Roussanne, up to 15% of Marsanne can be added to the red wine of Hermitage under Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) regulations. In the Saint-Péray AOC, it is used for both still and sparkling wine production. In the Southern Rhone, Marsanne is not one of the white grapes permitted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC.
It is, however, one of the eight white grape varietals permitted in the Côtes du Rhône appellation. Although Marsanne is mostly made into a dry wine, some producers in the Rhône have also experimented with making a dessert-style straw wine.
Marsanne is prone to underperform in less than ideal sites. In climates that are too hot, the grape can over ripen and produce wine that is very flabby. In places that are too cool, the grape cannot ripen fully and produces wine with a bland and neutral in flavour. In order to maintain a high level of acidity, winemakers try to harvest Marsanne just before it hits full ripeness.
Marsanne can produce deeply coloured wines that are rich and nutty, with hints of spice, pear and mineral notes, where Australian Marsanne has aromas of melon, and honeysuckle. The wines can be high in alcohol and can be oak aged to develop more body and as the Marsanne wine ages, aromas of nuts and quince can also develop.