Marselan is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache created by Paul Truel in 1961. It is named for the town of Marseillan, near the INRA vineyard collection at Domaine de Vassal, where Truel worked from 1952 until his retirement in 1985.
The hope for Marselan was to blend the attractive qualities, including the structure, of the “king of grapes” Cabernet Sauvignon, with the higher yields and heat resistance of Grenache. There were further hopes that such a grape would resist disease.
Marselan did not initially catch on, due to its berry size and lower-than-expected yields, coming at a time when quantity was more desirable versus quality than it often is today. But as the wine world shifted more to quality, this grape began to find a place and is now planted in more than two dozen nations.
How to describe Marselan and the wine it produces? Read on.
At its best, Marselan is said to combine the finesse and quality of Cabernet Sauvignon with the heat tolerance and high yield of Grenache. According to Jancis Robinson’s book “Wine Grapes,” varietal Marselan “tends to produce deeply colored and highly aromatic wines that have supple tannins and the potential to age.”
Marselan from Marseillan, The Bubbly Professor
Marselan is a late ripening grape variety. The shoots of the plant grow vigorously. The leaves of Marselan are green with bronze patches. The leaves are orbicular in shape and have eight to nine lobes.
The berries of Marselan are round and very small. Dry soil is best suited for growing Marselan grapes. Marselan is resistant to mold, oidium, and mites which make it a very advantageous grape variety.
Marselan grapes, Michael Bredahl
“It has an aroma that’s both darkly fruity and earthy—one friend I tasted the wine with detected a note of barnyard in the nose, and another remarked, ‘It reminds me of Asian preserved plum, oh, but don’t write that down—no one will know what it means.’ Maybe not, but it certainly sounds enticing to me.”
“On the palate, the wine has ample fruit tempered by earthy undertones. It tasted meaty, hearty and spicy, with an aromatic finish of cherry pie. Some in the group thought the wine’s earthy character dominated, but I found the earth and fruit to be very well-balanced.”
Devil Wine Of Yes Country, Old Bacchus, 22 June 2013
Marselan was bred by French ampelographer Paul Truel in 1961 at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) as part of a collaboration with the École nationale supérieure agronomique de Montpellier (ENSAM) to produce high yielding varieties with large berries of moderate quality. As Marselan could only produce small berries, the vine variety was shelved and considered not likely to be commercially released.
But viticulture trends in the late 20th century that begun to value lower yielding varieties with good disease resistance to hazards like powdery mildew encouraged the INRA to revisit Marselan. The vine was submitted for approval for commercial release and was entered in the official register of grape varieties in 1990.
In 2007, the name “Marselan” was approved by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for use on wine labels imported to the United States, meaning that varietal version of the wine that are labeled as such can be sold on the US market.
“It’s not often that a new grape varietal comes along. When one does, it’s worth paying at least a little attention….
‘The Marselan has got a little of everything. It’s a wine that’s very showy, easy to understand. It has some tannins, but they are pretty soft and well integrated. It’s got a lot of flavors.’
Miracle Marselan: A Marvelous New Varietal, Nick Passmore, Bloomberg
Humans and beavers are the only two mammals that alter their environment to suit their needs. Humans are the only ones that do it, on a large or small scale, out of curiosity AND necessity. Marselan, a hybrid-crossing of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of those environmental tweaks that hasn’t had much impact on the world, but it looks like it may actually be catching on.
Identity Crisis: Marselan, Burke Morton
“[Pierre Hebting] is not surprised that no one has asked for cuttings from his Marselan vines. But he is a little disappointed. “The year I gave some grapes to Gary Mission, I made some wine too. I still have about 3,000 litres sitting in barrels from that year. It is absolutely amazing. It is the top of the top variety, better than Syrah.””
Marselan: orphan grape variety in the Okanagan”, John Schreiner
“Marselan is a newcomer and it’s well worth keeping an eye out for. It produces deeply coloured, very fragrant wines with rich ripe fruit flavours and soft, supple tannins–you can almost taste the sun kissed grapes in the glass
“The aim of crossing these two well known grapes was to get a grape variety with the structure and elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon and the colour, robust depth and heat tolerance of Grenache. Marselan’s stand out characteristics in wines are fine, supple tannins and soft mouthfeel; deep colour and medium body. Marselan wines have the potential to age beautifully too.”
Marselan from the Med reaches our shores at last!, Nick Stephens, Bordeaux Undiscovered, 01 June 2016
“I fell in love with Marselan, one of my favorite grapes, in Brazil…. Marselan has the creamy, fleshy texture of Grenache along with the peacock’s-tail complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon, which also imparts a trace of tannin to the mix. It has a little of everything: tasty red-cherry fruit, a somewhat flashy mouthfeel, and soft but discernible tannins. Two producers in Brazil–Perini and Pizzato–make lovely examples.”
Wines of South America: The Essential Guide, Evan Goldstein, 2014
Here is some technical date on Marselan, including from INRA/ IFV Montpellier (English / Francais), Anivin de France (English), UC Davis (English) and the Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants / Bundesforschungsinstitut fur Kulturpflanzen (English).
Have more info? Let me know! Email Jim Boyce via jimboyce (at) marselanday.com