2007 Qupé Marsanne, $22 east coast price, out west it costs $18. I know, it's a California wine! You don't read about many of them on this site. This is a special wine, though, very much old-world in style. It is the antithesis of today's typical high alcohol, overripe, overblown California wine. I bought it on a hunch, knowing essentially nothing about the producer. I knew that Qupé wines are supposed to be good, but that's it. The blend caught my eye first - 88% Marsanne and 12% Roussanne, and I've lately been exploring white wines made with these and other traditional Rhône grapes. Then I saw "12.5% alcohol," and that sealed the deal for me.
Wine maker Bob Lindquist at Qupé is doing something that I think is extremely sensible. He grows hot climate grapes like Syrah, Marsanne, and Roussanne in the Santa Ynez Valley of California, where it is dry and hot, plain and simple. And he works in an old-world frame of mind, trying to make balanced and food-friendly wines, wines that improve with age. I emailed Bob to ask about this wine and the one of the first things he said is this:
Marsanne tends to lose it's acidity fairly quickly as it ripens. InAnd this sensibility really comes through in the 2007 Marsanne. The wine is perfectly balanced, with great acidity supporting the ripe fruit. It is completely dry, yet the alcohol is impossible to detect. The nose is very fresh with floral and tropical hints, bitter herbs, and a waxy mineral underbelly. There is good structure and length and the wine has great texture. It does not have the intensity of say, the 2007 Gonon St. Joseph Les Oliviers, but it's just delicious, really a pleasure to drink. And it's funny - I looked on CellarTracker and the comments are not particularly complimentary. People don't think the wine has any fruit. Those people must be used to jammy wines that are in the new world style. The fruit in this wine is ripe and sweet, but it doesn't take over or define the wine.
California, I think it's important to grow Marsanne in cool climate so it has better acidity and gets to physiological ripeness at lower sugars.
The bulk of the Marsanne for this wine is grown in the Ibarra-Young vineyard, which Lindquist has farmed organically since 1999. Marsanne fruit is also purchased from several sources, also organically farmed, including Demetria and Purisima Mountain. Qupé grows Roussanne in their portion of the Bien Nacido vineyard, but the Roussanne for this wine is purchased from Stolpman. Changes are coming, as one source lost their 2008 crop to frost, another decided to keep their fruit, and Qupé has new vines in Edna Valley. But Bob Lindquist says that the style of the Marsanne will stay the same going forward.
The grapes are whole-cluster pressed, the juice is fermented in neutral barrels and goes through complete malolactic fermentation. It is bottled after between 5 or 6 months in barrel. 1533 cases were made in 2007, as well as 200 cases of half-bottles. Lindquist says that although the 2007 is delicious young (and it is), it will age very well. He has been drinking his 1994 lately, and loving it with maturity - "it gets honied and nutty."
It's still not in my plans to buy a load of California wine right now, but I do plan on buying more of this wine. In fact, one bottle will go into my daughter's birth-year case. It is delicious wine that does well with food - we enjoyed ours with roast Blackfish with capers and tarragon. I wonder, for what is a big step up in price, are the other Qupé whites equally compelling? Maybe I'll find them in local stores next time I visit my in-laws in San Diego, as I haven't seen them here in New York.