Marselan Selection: ‘China’s grape’ gets a major contest

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Belgium-based Concours Mondial, which runs some of the most influential wine and spirits competitions, is partnering with the Huailai region just beyond Beijing for an event focused on Marselan, which some call “China’s grape” due to the tasty wines it is producing across the nation two decades after being introduced. The announcement of Marselan Selection was made on April 2 in Chengdu ahead of Tang Jiu Hui, China’s biggest and most important alcohol trade fair.

Marselan Selection is slated for September 9 to 11 in Huailai, which the promoters spell Hwailai, and is the most recent niche Concours Mondial contest, with others focused on topics such as sake, rose and Mexican wine. Marselan is now made in more than two dozen countries.

Concours Mondial’s flagship wine contest was also slated to be held in China this year, in May in the Ningxia region, but was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Chengdu launch party included speeches from Concours Mondial and China / Huailai wine reps, a tasting of over 20 wines and a delicious Sichuan-inspired tea break. It also featured a birthday cake to celebrate 20 years of Marselan in China–the first vines were planted a joint project between the governments of China and France. It is now privately owned and known as Domaine Franco-Chinois.

I’m still in catch up / recovery mode from a week spent in Chengdu for Tang Jiu Hui but will be posting more about Marselan and other wine adventures there.

(Note: The Marselan Selection Chengdu event organizers covered my expenses to attend and speak about my World Marselan Day project, but I am not involved in the contest beyond that.)

Marselan Selection: A New Concours Mondial Contest

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Belgium-based Concours Mondial, which runs some of the most influential wine and spirits competitions, is partnering with the Huailai region just beyond Beijing for an event focused on Marselan, which some call “China’s grape” due to the tasty wines it is producing across the nation two decades after being introduced. The announcement of Marselan Selection was made on April 2 in Chengdu ahead of Tang Jiu Hui, China’s biggest and most important alcohol trade fair

Marselan Selection is slated for September 9 to 11 in Huailai, which the promoters spell Hwailai, and is the most recent niche Concours Mondial contest, with others focused on topics such as sake, rose and Mexican wine. Marselan is now made in more than two dozen countries.

Concours Mondial’s flagship wine contest was also slated to be held in China this year, in May in the Ningxia region, but was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Chengdu launch party included speeches from Concours Mondial and China / Huailai wine reps, a birthday cake to celebrate 20 years of Marselan in China, a tasting of over 20 wines and a delicious Sichuan-inspired tea break. I’ll post more about all that soon.

(Note: The organizers covered my expenses to attend and speak on World Marselan Day in 2018, but I am not involved in the contest beyond that.)

Grape + Grain | First Marselan Beer Launched in Beijing

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The Marselan grape is gaining traction worldwide and now it has crossed to the beer world. A Maovember fundraising event last November doubled as the launch of a beer made with Marselan grapes, as Beijing-based craft brewers Jing-A popped the caps on a concoction that included fruit from Grace Vineyard in Shanxi with their wild yeast ale.

The event was headed by Jing-A brewers Kristian Li and Alex Acker plus winemakers Lee Yeanyean of Grace Vineyard and Tong Lili of Manzhouxiang, who both poured Marselans. Jim Boyce of the Grape Wall of China website brought five Marselan wines from across China, including Treaty Port in Shandong, which provided bottles specifically for the event. Some beer lovers got their first taste ever of quality local wines via these Marselan products.

Here’s the tasting note by Jing-A: “A special Marselan grape variant of our series of lambic-inspired wild ales! Brewed with a fresh, vine-to-tank harvest of crushed Marselan grapes from Grace Vineyard Shanxi, fermented with a mixed culture of Brett, Pedio, and Lacto, and then conditioned on oak for 6 weeks. Pleasing tartness is complemented by ripe stone fruit and wine notes, leading to a sparkling dry finish.”

Some of the Marselan beer has been put into used Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon barrels for up to a year of further aging, which means more interesting taste tests ahead!

‘Devil Wine of Yes Country’ | Six Takes on Marselan

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A half-dozen excerpts about Marselan from around the world.


Identity Crisis: Marselan

Burke Morton, WineThink, 2010

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.


Miracle Marselan: A Marvelous New Varietal

Nick Passmore, Bloomberg, 2011

“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.’


Devil Wine Of Yes Country

 Old Bacchus, 2013

“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.”


Wines of South America: The Essential Guide

Evan Goldstein, Wines of South America, 2014

“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.”


Marselan: Orphan grape variety in the Okanagan

John Schreiner, Wine Writer, 2016

“[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 from the Med reaches our shores at last

Nick Stephens, Bordeaux Undiscovered, 2016

“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.”


More excerpts coming soon!

China blend | Making Marselan with Tong Lili

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[First posted on Grape Wall of China on 30 April 2020.]

Last October, I was lucky enough to make my own Marselan-based wine. And also fortunate to finally taste that blend during our World Marselan Day (中文) events last week.

I didn’t go to a winery, or some blending facility, to make mine. I went to the Italian restaurant Tavola in Beijing. (Nice pizza.)

Tong Lili, owner of Marselan-focused Excelsis in Shandong, awaited a dozen-plus amateur winemakers at Tavola with beakers of wines from Huailai County, just outside Beijing — Marselans from the wineries Domaine Franco-Chinois and Amethyst plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Our task was to use the wines to make our own special blend and then see how it fared against everyone else.

Our event was just one of ten Tong held around China as market research, including Foshan, Nanning, Beijing (six tastings), Shanghai and Hangzhou. She gave us a primer at the start–talking about Marselan and her desire to create an “everyday wine”–with clarity, sincerity and enthusiasm.

After we submitted our wines, Tong shooed us out of the room to arrange the blind tasting contest. We enjoyed some snacks from Tavola and then headed back in to try everyone’s wines, one by one, and pick our three favorites. We wrote our three picks on our palms and then, on the count of three, everyone opened clenched fists to reveal the winners.

This event helped form the basis for a wine called 戊戌 — the names of Tong’s wines are linked to Chinese calendar cycles — with production of 1300 bottles.

And I finally tried the resulting wine, last Sunday, at two World Marselan Day tastings I helped organized in Beijing. We tasted it beside one of Tong’s wines from Penglai in Shandong and what a contrast.

While the Penglai wine was floral, soft and delicate, the Huailai sibling was fruitier, bigger — a bit rambunctious! — but I still liked it.

According to Tong, this Huailai wine is still “young” and “needs at least one more year in bottle,” which means we best try it again for World Marselan Day 2021!

Here’s the rest of Tong’s tasting note: “Attractive flowers and dark plum on the nose, complex fruit fruit flavors, such as blackberry, prune, and damson [plum]. Matured in French and Hungarian once-used barrels for nine months to give the wine good structure and a slight vanilla note.”

And a highlight of our World Marselan Day fun!

Note: Tong is co-founder, managing partner and chief winemaker of Excelsis, a Penglai-based wine company with six hectares of Marselan. She has done 10-plus years of viticulture research and study in Australia, Europe and Asia and previously led a wine import-export company. Her goal is to see Marselan become China’s signature grape and her project researches how it performs in different parts of the country, particularly Penglai in Shandong province and Huailai in Hebei province. She made her first wine, “Sheng Ying Jia Niang”, in Penglai in 2016, a blend of 85% Marselan, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petite Verdot, aged in new American, Hungarian and French barrels.

Next-wave Marselan | Ningxia Wineries Growing This Grape

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[First posted on Grape Wall of China on 25 May 2018.]

By Jim Boyce | For the past dozen years, we’ve heard a growing buzz in China about the grape Marselan (马瑟兰)—that’s one reason I started World Marselan Day and why we made it the focus of this year’s Grape Wall Challenge. And that buzz will soon get louder given the tasty wines in the queue.

Prime example: a 2017 barrel sample from Helan Qing Xue (far left). This wine is a portrait in purple. Fresh floral—think violet—and dark berry aromas, along with touches of vanilla and sweet oak, all paired with equally vibrant flavors. Made by Zhang Jing, this Marselan is bursting with personality and might serve the dual purpose of pleasing casual drinkers and experts alike.

Fellow winery Pushang (蒲尚) is already known for its Marselan and a barrel sample from the 2017 vintage suggests less moodiness and more fruit and vibrancy than in 2016. Winemaker Jiang Jing (above) adds a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon to her Marselan but cut it from 10 percent to 5 percent for the 2017 vintages. By the way, Ningxia Marselans can be difficult to find but I did see Pushang’s at Yinchuan airport—in the Xi Xia King wine shop—for rmb298 per bottle.

Our final barrel samples were at the stunningly beautiful Yuanshi. We tried a 100-percent Marselan and a Marselan-Cabernet blend. While some thought the blend had added depth, I was happy with the freshness of the single-variety version: it was less lively than the Helan Qing Xue sample and instead had dustier and darker fruit and a touch of blackcurrant liqueur character. Anyway, we have plenty of wines vying for the hearts of wine experts; we need more that please the palates of the consumer at large.

And there are plenty of more Ningxia Marselans to come given this grape has been planted in recent years by everyone from Pigeon Hill to Helan Mountain (Pernod Ricard) to Li’s Family Vineyard to Changyu-Moser XV, just to name a few. I’ll have lots more on these wines and Marselans from other parts of China!

Ninth Grape Wall Challenge | Consumers judge Chinese Marselan!

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[First posted on Grape Wall of China on 22 May 2018.]

By Jim Boyce | Cabernet Sauvignon dominates China’s vineyards but a growing number of people believe Marselan will emerge as the nation’s signature grape. We featured Marselan, a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, at our ninth annual Grape Wall Challenge on April 26. This is a contest where Chinese consumers serve as wine judges. This year it doubled as a warm-up for the inaugural World Marselan Day on April 27.

The Grape Wall judges hailed from fields as diverse as real estate, marketing, catering and entertainment. They blind-tasted seven Marselans made by wineries along a 3000-kilometer stretch of China, from coastal Shandong to the far west region of Xinjiang.

The judges rated wines as “love it”, “like it”, “dislike it” or “hate it”, wrote a comment about each, and listed their top three. Professor Ma Huiqin, a wine marketing expert at China Agricultural University, then led a post-tasting discussion and pizza feast.

Two wines emerged as favorites. I will stress here our sample size is small and we make no scientific claims about the results. This is just a snapshot from one group of tasters.

Amethyst “Wang Zhu Jing Dian” 2012 (紫晶庄园 “晶灵马瑟兰”) from Hebei province received the highest score and most first-place votes.  Domaine Franco-Chinois 2012 (中法庄园), also made just north of Beijing in Hebei, got the same number of top-five finishes but fewer overall points.

Pushang from Ningxia actually finished second to Amethyst for first-place votes but created much debate among the judges as it tended to be a “love it or hate it” wine.

It was also fun to see each winery receive some love—every brand received multiple “top-three” votes. Again, we make no general claims about the results.

What the tasting did reveal was an intriguing range of Marselan styles as we tasted from Shandong and its monsoon climate in the east to the hot, dry, sunny regions of Ningxia and Xinjiang in the west.

“There are clear differences due to climate,” said professor Ma.

“The wines from Tiansai in Xinjiang and Pushan in Ningxia are obviously plumper, with fuller and juicer fruit. That shows the effect of the heat,” Ma explained. “The wines from further east, from Grace, Amethyst and Domaine Franco Chinois, are more elegant and quite good.”

Ma described Excelsis Marselan from Shandong, the rainiest climate, as “interesting.”

“The first taste is not convincing. The wine seems astringent and thin, with a clear sense of greenness,” she said. But as the wine “breathed”, she said it “made me think”, and it consider it in the context of Italian wines that work well with food.

The overall reaction from the consumers / judges was positive. Marselan tends to deliver fruity, fresh, soft wine that can please everyone from first-timer to aficionados. And while the more elegant wines of Hebei, made with some of the oldest Marselan vines in the country, topped this particular test, there was a good deal of debate about the wines. This simply underscore that there is no “one size fits all” solution to wine but that people need to find what best suits them. We worked on that afterwards as wel all sat down and re-tasted the wines while enjoying pizzas donated by Tube Station.

Finally, we also tried frozen margaritas made using Marselan aka Mar(selan)garitas. Delicious!

First World Marselan Day! Wine Fans Worldwide Celebrate

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[First posted on Grape Wall of China on 22 May 2018.]

By Jim Boyce | The first World Marselan Day saw wine fans in the United States, Germany, Brazil, Romania, China and elsewhere open bottles from around the planet to celebrate this fascinating grape. The event is held on April 27, the birthday of Paul Truel, who created this cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache in 1961.

Because I only found out Truel’s birth date in early April, there wasn’t much time to prepare for this year’s event, thus making the response even more inspiring.

In Beijing, we featured Marselan in our ninth Grape Wall Challenge, a contest with consumers as wine judges. We tasted wines made along a 3000-km stretch of China, from Shandong and its monsoon climate in the east to Ningxia and Xinjiang and their hot, dry sunny growing seasons in the west. More details here.

In the United States, professors Pierre Ly and Cynthnia Howson marked World Marselan Day with a wine from France.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, Jeff Burrows opened a bottle of Chinese Marselan, from the winery Amethyst in Hebei province, that he recently picked up in Shanghai.

Lauren Walsh aka The Swirling Dervish tried a Marselan from Salton in Brazil and wrote that it “tickled my fancy!”

And Edward Bevan had Marselan from another South American country—Uruguay!—from Bodega Garzon.

In Romania, Mark Dworkin, who has consulted for wineries in China, opened a bottle of locally made Marselan.

Nearby in Germany, Jorg Phillip and Wusana Woo managed to find an organic offering.

And in Brazil, Casa Perini got into the spirit!

There were also, of course, Marselan fans in China, including in Shanghai, where Lionel de Gal and La Galerie celebrated the day.

In Beijing, along with our Grape Wall Challenge, we also used some of our wine to make tasty frozen margaritas aka frozen Mar(selan)garitas at Q Bar. (Reduce the tequila by half and add 90 ml of Marselan. Try this at home!)

Thanks to all who participated in the first World Marselan Day for spreading the word about this grape and this project.

Raise a glass | Introducing World Marselan Day

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[First posted on Grape Wall of China on 6 April 2018.]

Who is Paul Truel? A French scientist who created the grape Marselan in 1961. What is Marselan? A cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Why does it matter?

Marselan is now used for wine in 20-plus nations. And for the past ten years, a rising number of people have cited its potential as “China’s grape”, like Malbec for Argentina, Zinfandel for California, and so on.

For these reasons, I started World Marselan Day, and aim to hold it on April 27, the same day as Paul Truel’s birth.

Yes, I understand there are many grape days now, but I think they work best for varieties that have an interesting and unfolding story to tell, and that is certainly the case with Marselan.

By the way, I originally considered doing this project in 2015 but, because I was so involved in the wine industry, I did World Baijiu Day instead. This one will be far more relaxed!

Want to participate? On April 27, open a bottle of Marselan and raise a glass to Paul Truel. And please send me a photo so I can include it on the site (email: jimboyce at worldmarselanday.com).

Learn more about Paul Truel here, about Marselan here, and about the wines made with this grape here.