Wed 08 May 2013

Tahbilk Marsanne: Beauty Before Age


How many wines cost £10 or less but can age for 10+ years?

A few well-known styles spring to mind (German riesling, some but by no means all Beaujolais..), but a ubiquitously happy hunting ground is seldom assured.

Indeed, for some wine lovers, part of the fun in drinking mature wine comes in the form of the happy accident: unearthing a forgotten-about bottle and finding it to be unexpectedly symphonic, as opposed to Sarson’s. Society buyer Jo Locke MW has written in this blog about her experiences of this on more than one occasion.

Tahbilk MarsanneThen there is Tahbilk Marsanne, that weird yet distinctly wonderful Australian white with which many Society members will be au fait, whose remarkable track record means that it requires no such wine-rack roulette.

Unlike many ageworthy wines that enter ‘dumb’ stages of unremarkable dormancy, I have yet to encounter a vintage of Tahbilk Marsanne that hasn’t been a joy to taste at any time of its life; but the chameleonic brilliance of an aged bottle is undoubtedly something special.

Last week, spurred by an unexpected sighting of sunshine over the south-east of England, a rummage in search for a nice white yielded a dusty bottle of the 2007 vintage. Its contents were anything but dusty, shimmering with lime and life with some subtle, nutty complexity and a gorgeous richness underpinning the fresh-fruit flavours.

A good time was had by all and I was reminded of Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW rightly describing Tahbilk Marsanne as ‘one of wine’s great gifts to the world’.

Although crisp, accessible and delicious, it is nonetheless a difficult wine to describe. For one, because it challenges many preconceptions surrounding the term ‘new world’. The marsanne vines here date back to 1927, making them older than any known in the grape’s traditional home, the Rhône Valley.

Its ‘old world’ attributes turned British heads as far back as 1953: served at a luncheon for the Commonwealth Heads of State in the House of Commons, it was described as ‘drier than Empire whites usually are….and could stand up to many Continental wines for flavour and genuineness.’ An antiquated but accurate summary, and however radically Australian wine has changed in the intervening years, today’s Tahbilk Marsannes are not dramatically different from the style that was served back then.

Whilst ‘new world’ is of course a useful term up to a point when discussing Australian wine, estates like Tahbilk, with a history stretching back to the 1860s, warn us that we take the phrase on board too literally, and with its accompanying baggage, at our peril. If only all warnings could be as pleasurable.

Tahbilk vineyard

Tahbilk vineyard

But what if you can’t be bothered to keep a bottle of wine for 5-10 years, or, like an elderly gentleman at a recent tasting claimed, ‘don’t even buy green bananas let alone wine to lay down’?

Help is at hand. Unsurprisingly, another fan of the wine is The Society’s buyer for Australia, Pierre Mansour, who has been keeping some back stock in our cellars. The current Australia regional selection, which closes on Sunday, includes a six-bottle mini-vertical case of Tahbilk Marsanne for £59, featuring two bottles each of the 2007, 2006 and 2002.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Australia


  1. iain mackenzie says:

    I agree that the Marsanne produced by Tahbilk (Chateau Tahbilk of old) is a delight. I drank a 1997 at home last week and was enthralled by its honeysuckle bouquet and long finish. I still have some 1994 too which continues to impress. A great opportunity to try these wines via the Society should not be missed.

  2. Peter Brennan says:

    I agree with Mr Mackenzie. I’d say that at only six years of age, you were close to committing infanticide. Tahbilk can take 20 years in its stride, even in my less than perfect ‘cellar’. (The same incidentally was true of the oakier Michelton Reserve Marsanne, which I think is, sadly, no longer made).
    It seems that the success of the wine trade’s campaign to persuade us to “drink wine in the freshness of its youth” has led many to ignore (or never discover?) the delights of well aged wine. (I would usually want to leave good white Burgundy, for instance, for about a decade, and I am still very happily drinking 20-year-old bottles of Jean Bourdy’s Cotes du Jura – bought for about £8, when the Society was not quite so in thrall to ‘modernity’).

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks very much for your comment. You’re right about the marsanne, of course: the 07 was only starting to show what it was capable of but show it did and as mentioned, I’ve yet to try a Tahbilk Marsanne that hasn’t been a joy at any age. I also admit freely that temptation is one of the reasons my own domestic ‘cellar’ is less than perfect!

      This post was written for precisely the reasons you describe – enjoying a good wine with the complexity of age is one of life’s great pleasures. I assure you it’s a view we at The Society share, whence our policy of holding certain wines in our cellars, our Members’ Reserves service and Vintage Cellar Plan scheme, for instance.

      • Peter Brennan says:

        Reassuring! – up to a point – though I struggle to find white wines on the Society’s list which offer drinking dates beyond four or five years. Even top Burgundies and wines such as Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc are given very short life spans.

        (For comparison, I remember in the late 90s the Society listed a very reasonably priced Bourgogne Blanc 1982 from Remoissenet – whereas last year I decided against buying an interesting looking St. Peray because the back label sported those doleful words: ‘Drink in the freshness of its youth’).

        In my experience, good chenin blanc is virtually indestructible, and Vouvray vintages were listed on the Society’s vintage charts. No longer. Why?

        • Martin Brown says:

          Glad to hear! Our drink dates do indeed err on the side of caution as we want members to enjoy their wines before potential spoiling. The way in which you have raised this issue is comparatively rare vs the number of complaints we’ve received historically about wines that members feel have passed their best, and in order to keep as many members as possible happy there is therefore a need for prudence. It’s a balancing act, but if you have any questions about the longevity of any of our wines (or how an older vintage you’ve purchased from us is drinking), we have a dedicated fine wine advice team in Member Services who would be more than happy to help you.

          Regrettably we did remove Vouvray from the vintage chart some years ago; partly, I’m told, due to their decline in sales vs other ageworthy wines and partly for precisely the reasons you state: even in lesser vintages, the better wines are virtually indestructible! The regions we include in the chart are up for review periodically though, and I have sent your query on to the buying team for consideration in future.

  3. Julian says:

    This wine is something of an anomaly in Australia. It is very reasonably priced and ages gracefully for years, but it is not that popular despite being widely available. However it is quite angular in it’s youth, not unlike Hunter semillon, and while a lovely drink it is not as fruit forward as the popular sauvignon blancs or semillon/sauvignon blanc blends that have the lions share of the market.

    I had a glass of the 1998 at a hotel in Sydney last week. The wine was in fantastic condition and tasted wonderful. It had flavours of honey, lime, pear, almonds and a long crisp finish. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t still drinking well for at least another three years.

Leave a comment