By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 11 March 2017
Meet the Mansengs. Two white grapes from south west France, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, which are fast becoming sommelier and winemerchant favourites thanks to their enticing aromas and electrifying acidity.
Both Mansengs originate from the Pyrenees area of Bearn and Jurancon – mentioned in records since 1562 – but the two were not distinguished apart as Petit and Gros until the C18. Due to the phylloxera crisis, the Mansengs almost became extinct – and by the 1980’s when there were few hectares left even in France. Now the resurgent of interest by local Pyrenees growers has seen plantings increase to over 4000 hectares.
The classier and higher quality grape of the two is Petit Manseng. Named after its small thick-skinned berries, it is a low yielder of rich intense sugar rich grapes with little juice and a lot of natural acidity – and makes delectable sweet wines. It is a tricky grape to grow, but has an increasing following now across south west France and even in the east in Languedoc and the Rhone Valley.
The larger berried progeny Gros Manseng is easier to plant with higher yields, so no surprise that there are more planting of the Gros, with 3000 hectares in France compared to Petit’s 1000 hectares.
The big berried Gros does not have the richness and character of Petit, but when used for dry unoaked wines it has attractive apricot and quince hints and is often blended with the richer Petit. When planted on clay it tends to have more richness and depth. Gros is not only found in Bearn and Jurancon, but also in nearby appellations Pacherenc du Vic Bihl and Cotes de Gascony, where it is also blended with Colombard (for example, as in Tesco’s Finest Cotes de Gascogne white £6).
Thanks to the recent surge in interest, winegrowers worldwide from Japan to New Zealand are now planting Manseng. Of the two, it is the fabulous apricot, quince and honey aromas and vibrant freshness of high quality Petit Manseng that has attracted growers to plant it abroad.
And Petit Manseng is certainly well travelled even if plantings are tiny. You can now find small plantings in Portugal, South Africa, Victoria in Australia, Marlborough in New Zealand and even in Virginia and Georgia, as Petit Manseng’s high acidity suits the warm summers there.
Jurancon, SW France: JURANCON SEC 2014 Domaine Laguihou (£14.99 Cornelius Wines, Edinburgh)
Made from equal percentages of both Mansengs. If you like your white dry, taut, pure and intense with vivid acidity, you will love the dry whites of Jurancon. This is deliciously juicy, peachy with a tangy freshness. Serve as aperitif or with crab or scallops.50/50 blend of the two Manseng grapes: 12.5%
St Mont, SW France: COTES DE ST MONT LES VIGNES RETROUVEES 2014 (£7.95 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
St Mont region southwest of Gascony uses similar grapes to nearbyJurancon in a slightly fatter style. So while you don’t get the whistle sharp purity of Jurancon, you get a lovely floral, citric fruity unoaked dry white. Serve with rich textured seafood dishes: 13%
Marlborough, New Zealand: PETIT MANSENG 2015 Churton Vineyards (£38 half litre Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Fascinating to taste New Zealand’s one and only Petit Manseng. Made by an enterprising English couple Sam and Mandy Weaver, who named their New Zealand winery after Sam’s Shropshire birthplace. Fabulous apricot and honeyed aroma, beautiful depth of flavour with enticing sweetness but not all cloying thanks to the wonderful natural vibrant acid and dry finish – production of this wine is still minute with just 0.5 hectares planted – hence the price!: 11.5%
SWEET DESSERT WHITE
Jurancon, SW France: JURANCON LA MAGENDIA 2012 Domaine Lapeyre
(£12.99 hf bt Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk; £14.99 Selfridges; www.smilinggrape.com)
Wild flowers, pineapple and passionfruit with a superb acidity like an electric current across this honeyed sweetness. This deliciously gentle Petit Manseng-based dessert wine is made by the wine ‘poet’ of the region Jean Bernard Larrieu. No wonder ‘La Magendia’ in Occitan means ‘the best’. Serve with foie gras or with dessert fruit salad or tarte tatin.
Comte-Tolosan, SW France: CABIDOS VIN DOUX CUVEE SAINT CLEMENT PETIT MANSENG 2012 (£9.50 for 50 cl bt The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Beautiful Chateau Cabidos has a Thai winemaker making superb value sweet wines from their Pyrenees based chateau north of Pau and Bearn. This enchanting sweet wine is made from 100% Petit Manseng grape by the ancient ‘passerillage’ method, where stems are twisted whilst grapes are still on the vine, dehydrating the grapes and increasing sweet concentration. The late picked grapes are then fermented and matured to make an enchantingly fresh but sweet honeyed dessert wine. Serve with crème brulee, apple crumble or crepes suzette: 11.5%
Jurancon, SW France: SYMPHONIE DE NOVEMBER 2014 Domaine Cauhape (£12 hf bt Fine Wine Co, Musselburgh)
Named after the month of harvest, this delicate sweet wine has exotic fruit aromas, ripe citric flavours, a mouthwatering juiciness thanks to the vibrant natural acidity. Made by local legend and owner of Domaine Cauhape, Henri Romanteau. A fine match with blue cheese or lemon cheesecake: 13.5%
Join Rose’s South West France wine and charcuterie tasting on Thurs 6 July at SMWS Leith, Edinburgh £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com