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About Gros Manseng
(Synonyms: Gros Mansenc Blanc, Gros Manseng Blanc, Handia, Ichiriota Zuria, Ichiriota Zuriahandla, Manseng Gros Blanc, Petit-Mansenc)
Gros Manseng is a white-wine grape originating in southwest France; while it populates that entire region now, it is thought to have begun in Jurançon. It is occasionally bottled as a monovarietal, being much more often one component of one of the characteristic regional blends (such as Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Jurançon, which latter can be sweet or sec, dry).
Gros Manseng is closely related to the more premium grape Petit Manseng, and both are often used in the same blends. Gros Manseng is more productive but regarded as less "elegant and rich" than its cousin grape; nonetheless, it makes some quite good and pleasing wines on its own. Some are, in the style of the region, vinified sweet (because this is a very high-sugar grape), but not a few are made as table wine. (One can make a colorable argument that the preference for Petit over Gros arises largely because Petit makes extraordinarily luscious sweet wines, and that for dry table wines, Gros is as good or better.)
Gros Manseng wines are typically dark (for a white) and intensely flavored with fruit and floral aromas and tastes; typically, one hears of apricot and quince, along with spice and flowers. The wines are medium- to full-bodied and high in acidity, which well balances their richness. The nature of the wine depends a good deal on the vineyard practices: Gros Manseng grapes picked early will make light, easy wines with an alcohol content of 11.5% to 12% marked by a fresh-fruit, floral quality; grapes picked later, making wines in the 12.5% to 13.5% alcohol range will have much more powerful "big wine" flavors and aromas. The alcohol level is thus a good proxy for the style of any particular bottling.
Factoid: Gros Manseng is nowadays also made in a sweet botrytized style, often significantly oaked, and such wies are receiving good reports.
Some Descriptions of Gros Manseng Wines
"On its own, Gros Manseng has the potential to produce intensely flavored wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes. The time of harvest will play a large role in the type of wine that the grape will produce. When it is picked at a potential alcohol level of 11.5-12%, the resulting wine will have more characteristics of fresh fruit and flowers. If picked later at a potential alcohol content of 12.5-13.5, the flavors will be much more intense and powerful.
- Wine Searcher
"When picked early, Gros Manseng produces dry wines with an appealing floral aroma, high acidity and spiced-apricot fruit flavours, vaguely resembling Viognier. The vine can yield large crops that still retain quality, although the grape’s thick skins can lead to high alcohol levels and tannins if the variety is not treated gently in the winery."
- Fringe Wine
"The rule of thumb with the two vines is that dry table wines tend to be made from the Gros Manseng plants while sweet dessert wines are made from the Petit Manseng. Like every rule, this one has its exceptions, but it's a trend that you can reliably bank on most of the time. In the Jurançon, located about 30 km from the Spanish border, the production of dry white table wines from any member of the Manseng family is a relatively recent phenomenon. . . "
- Anivin de France
"With aromas of quince and apricot, white wines made from Gros Manseng, which are most often dry, are highly alluring. They often feature hints of spiced flowers. Sometimes, when harvested after overripening, they have a certain sweetness, with notes of candied fruits and exotic fruits (mango, pineapple and passion fruit). Gros Manseng is a grape variety with exceptional flavors. It has a strong acid flavor that gives it a highly elegant character. . . Wines made with Gros Manseng have a moderate alcohol potential, and are very powerful, sometimes reaching 13% alcohol content. "
- Les Caves de Pyrène
"The distinguishing characteristic of this variety is its scything acidity, and it is not fanciful to perceive the purity and freshness as part and parcel of its mountain environment. . . Jurancon has a long growing season and is one of the sunniest wine growing climates in France. This enables the grapes to reach maturity and acquire aromatic ripe citrus flavours."
- Nohkrin Wines: Get to Know a Grape
"Wines made from Gros Manseng typically have good acidity and pleasant floral and apricot aromas. . Picking the grape too early will not allow its full flavours and intensity to come out, while waiting too long will lead to 'flat' wines that lack flavour and are 'short' in the mouth. Additionally, if a winemaker is too rough with the berries, there is a risk of the wine developing excess tannins, making it difficult to drink. Gros Manseng really shines when it comes to food pairings. Its sweetness-acidity balance lends itself well to a variety of dishes."
- Lionel Osmin et Cie
"Gros Mansengs offer an aromatic range around a sulphur molecule. These thiols give pronounced exotic fruit or citrus notes. Associated with the natural acidity of the vine, its notes confer freshness and elegance on wines derived from Gros Mansengs."
- Wines of Southwest France
"Gros Manseng . . . is mostly used to make highly fragrant and crisply fruity dry whites, the best of which have amazing vitality."
- Christopher Piper Wines
"Characteristics: Aromatic dry and richly sweet but balanced whites."
Some Gros Mansengs to Try
(About this list.)
There are numerous specimens of Gros Manseng available at reasonable prices, but there are obstacles for one seeking out Gros Manseng wines. First, many are not monovarietal but simply blends containing some Gros Manseng; those might be fine wines, but the idea here is to present monovarietal bottlings, so that the grape's nature can be evaluated. Second, many Gros Manseng wines "hide" behind the designation "Jurançon Sec"; such wines can be blends or, fairly often, 100% Gros Manseng. Third, one has to take care not to be buying a sweet dessert rendition. Fourth, while there are many specimens out there, a high percentage have very limited availability. So, as always, caveat emptor.
In the end, because so many of the choices are so hard to find, we trimmed down to just a few often-recommended bottlings that should (according to the wine-search engines) be reasonably findable.
The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond ♦ symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
- Domaine des Cassagnoles Reserve Selection Gros Manseng, $9 - $14.
(Do not confuse this with their Côtes-de-Gascogne blend.)
Some quotations and facts:
I am happy to report that Gros Manseng is carrying on quite well on its own [as opposed to in blends] in this case. The wine is entirely different from the other [blend] bottle. . This is a medium bodied wine that is all flowers on the nose, some lemon oil too. Clean and fresh tasting, it's refreshing and delicious, and it would be great with heartier fish dishes, but also with things like roast chicken, vegetable stews, or even a simply prepared pork chop. This could easily be one of your three or four house whites for the next few [warm-weather] months.
Interesting aromas of grapefruit pulp (a fellow writing friend of mine would say “pithy”), melon and grass. The grapefruit and grapefruit pulp notes come through in spades on the palate. There is a nice backbone of acidity, but it never becomes bracing. Interesting grass and melon notes come through on the mid-palate leading into a long fresh finish of grapefruit pith (there you go Joe) melon and grass. It is rounder on the palate then let’s say a Sauvignon Blanc, but the acidity drives the grapefruit pulp notes enough to make them sing on the palate without getting carried away. This white is delicious, vibrant and round all in one package. Talk about a white that would go well with shellfish, fowl or sushi! The kicker is, you get this for twelve bones. (B+)
Wine Spectator (2012 vintage), 88 points.
Wine Advocate (2011 vintage), 89 points.
Slightly deeper and more textured is the 2011 Gros Manseng, an underrated white varietal that can offer plenty of delicate pineapple, honeysuckle and caramelized grapefruit characteristics. This 2011 reveals more body than its sibling in addition to an elegant, long, penetrating personality.
Pleasantly ripe and juicy, this offers complex flavors of mango, kiwifruit and red peach. Mint and lemon tart notes chime in on the rich, mineral- and spice-accented finish.
This is a wake-up call for your taste buds. It's got bite; it's got vibrancy, but with a little more depth and character than its sister wine (the Vin de Pays). Think sunshine in a bottle mixed with a dash of herbs and honey. This is a pure refresher. Perfect on those convection-oven days when you want to sit outside and enjoy some goat-cheese and olives, but need to keep the heat at bay.
Amazing value white with apricot, lime, grapefruit flavors. Dry with ample acidity this was a real surprise, especially for $10.
This is a very nice French Gros Manseng with with a nice punch of pink grapefruit, lemon zest, nice acidity and a decent finish. Slightly floral and dry, this has a very good QPR.
I’ve never heard of this grape – Gros Manseng. But damn, it’s good! Domaine des Cassagnoles Reserve Selection has a great, screwcap selection for $14. It’s a little tart, very fresh with hints of grapefruit and green apple.
Very aromatic with minerals and grapefruit in the nose, then some sweaty earthy smells. Decent acidity, dry and medium body, yellow apple. As it warmed up there was a plastic vinyl taste. Finish is a little short. Interesting wine, decent for the price.
- Domaine Bru-Baché Jurancon Sec, $15 - $17.
(100% Gros Manseng. Don't confuse this with their pricier "Les Casterrasses" bottling.)
Some quotations and facts:
While the apple aromas and flavors are quite attractive it is the tension in the mouth that really enticed me. The changing physical sensations made me want to repeatedly taste more. I preferred this wine on the first two nights rather than the third when it was softer. . . The color was a medium autumnal yellow. The nose was evocative of apple juice. In the mouth were yellow fruit and apple flavors that had a puckering start. There was hints of acidity before the wine became quite tart which was followed by an aftertaste of ripe fruit. With extended air the wine calms down to have a softer approach but retains a lively kick in the finish. The flavors are of apples with softer apple acidity. ***
This little treat is all about ripe fruit: apple, peach, and melon all appear in their more luscious forms. But the wine is ultimately dry, and packs such a wallop of minerality that one nearly forgets about the delicious fruit until the next sip. Very good. 90 points.
Wine Spectator (date unknown), 91 points.
This complex white is almost amber in color, with firm, rich flavors of crisp apple, nectarine and melon. Very well-structured, offering plenty of acidity. The fresh finish features plenty of mineral notes.
This expression of the obscure gros manseng grape tends to have "deeper color, a rounder texture, nuttier flavors and just more gravitas than a lot of other white wines in a similar price point," he [Andrew Fortgang, bistro owner] says.
Nervy and tangy, this is laced with flavors of ripe apricot, lemon and lime zest as well as notes of basil and green apple skin. With its exotic, juicy character and tense acidity, this is a wine for food. 86 points.
In his bottlings of Gros Manseng, Claude [Loustalot] plays with both tank and wood-aging. Laden with citrus notes and stony minerals (from the schist and limestone soils), these cuvées have terrific complexity for wines so refreshing and easy-to-enjoy.
From SW France the Jurancon Sec from Domaine du Bru-Bache 2010 is crisp and dry and screams for sushi and wasabi spice.
- Domaine Chiroulet "La Côte d'Heux" Côtes de Gascogne Vin de Pays Blanc, $14 - $17.
(100% Gros Manseng)
Some quotations and facts:
La Cote d'Heux Blanc 2011 is a fantastic wine! Produced from grapes harvested late, at the end of October, and fermented at 18°C in wooden vats, it then undergoes partial malolactic fermentation. It is then matured over 12 months on fine lees, stirred for the first 10 months, to give a rich, full flavour and body. Despite the grape’s propensity to produce deeply coloured wines, this wine is a pale gold in appearance, with a clear rim. Aromas of citrus fruits and lemon blossom on the nose give way to intense flavours of grapefruit, nectarine and some honeyed spiciness. The later harvesting has produced a full bodied wine at 13.5% alcohol, unctuous and smooth on the palate but balanced by well integrated acidity. The finish is long, powerful and crisp, with just a touch of oak.
A panel samples French varieties ranging from the familiar to the esoteric . . .
“I love this wine because it is 100% Gros Manseng, aged in neutral barrels with bâtonnage,” Dexheimer noted. “Gros Manseng is similar in character to Sauvignon Blanc, with citrus and fresh-cut hay, but more texture. It’s very bright, like sunshine in a glass. Now that my glass is empty, I get a woolly, bruised-apple aroma. Most Côtes de Gascogne producers use Ugni Blanc or Colombard, so this wine is actually a step above.”
Kroll: I found this to be earthy, funky, and musky in a good way—barnyard and hay—and then slightly floral, with golden raisin and baked Asian pear. Soft, generous fruit; subtle,
soft medium body.
Dalton: It reminded me of a Chenin Blanc, with funky mushroom notes; lanolin, waxy notes; and lemon-curd florality. I liked the off-dry finish. Delicious wine.
Morgan: It was funky and fleshy, super-mineral, with Asian pear, lemon zest, yellow apple. I definitely thought it was higher alcohol. It is a richer style.
Benchimol: I liked how this hit different parts of my palate and opened up some fruit profiles that I don’t often get, like mango and starfruit, along with a sort of quirky funkiness. It was really fun.
Williams: I liked that it had a greenness that is not underripe, like fresh, minced green chilies.
Wine Advocate (2007 vintage), 88 points.
Honeydew melon, narcissus, honeysuckle, and orange zest in the nose lead to a lush, expansive, persistent palate impression, featuring some of the slight oiliness, honeyed richness, and musky, exotic animal notes familiar to those who drink Jurancon.
Straw. Wild earth/petrol/mango nose. Deep, sweet (textural?) impression of peach/mango/citrus balanced by strong acidity, and, yes, a "minerally" quality. The earth character repeats late. The wildest of these whites, but killer, and stupidly cheap, as well.
[Google-translated from French:] Pretty aromas reminiscent of a sweet wine (pineapple, orange peel lightly caramelized). In the mouth, nervousness gives a beautiful shine, the mid-palate is concentrated, mineral and ends with a final sip of grapefruit.
[Google-translated from French:] The vineyards are in the middle of the Heux coast; brown clay and limestone base gives fat and nervousness in this bottle. The harvest takes place in late October, when the fruit is at the peak of maturity. The fermentation takes place at low temperature before aging on lees in tanks, with regular stirring to structure and complexity this wine. This is a Coast Heux Gascogne powerful rich and expressive, which can keep you company from the beginning to the end of the meal. A bottle to drink in its youth.
[Google-translated from French:] Light yellow dress. Elegant nose, smoky vanilla on white background fruits, acacia. Refined palate, silky. Preference is aromatic and the amplitude balance. The wooded based in the fruit. Final a pleasant sweetness. Discover it now.
- Clos Lapeyre 'Lapeyre' Jurançon Sec, $13 - $18.
(100% Gros Manseng; do not confuse this basic Jurançon with their "Vitatge Vielh", "Mantoulan", or Magendia de Lapeyre" bottlings.)
Some quotations and facts:
The Larrieu family winemaker, Jean-Bernard, is keen that his organic methods express the Jurançon terroir and, in this instance, the Gros Manseng grape. Mouthwatering acidity; juicy, tart grapefruit notes and a long finish all equal a great food wine of real character. 17pts/20 (90/100pts).
This is a firm, savoury white with striking minerally, slightly herby palate. With good acid and concentration, there’s lots of interest here. Mouthfilling, chunky and structured. Very good+ (88).
Perfumed apricot-flavored wine, this is rich, smooth and opulent. The ripe yellow fruits, with their hints of mango, are balanced by fragrant acidity. It’s a full wine, with good concentration from aging on the lees. 90 points.
Dry and zesty and crisp with a gentle grip around the gums. Dry and a bit dusty on the finish. Lots of flavour without being a ball of fruit. 16.5/20.
A very aromatic wine, very floral with fresh fruit flavors, well balanced with long, beautiful expressions of Gros Manseng with fresh citrus and mineral on the finish. On the palate, it’s very supple with plenty of fruit, an oily richness and good length.
This is made from 100% gros manseng, showing a beautiful pale gold in the glass. It opens with aromas of peach and citrus with a hint of sweet herb on the nose; in the mouth, peach and apricot amped up with near-electrifying acidity. This is a steely, nervy wine--the first sip sort of shocks you into a heightened state of alertness. Clean, citrusy finish.
This offering from Clos Lapeyre is a lovely alternative to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. It's a unique white, pale gold in color, with a novel flavor profile of sweet lime and toasted almonds coupled with a bright mineral acidity. The grape, if you're curious, is peculiar to the region in France and called Gros Manseng. And winemaker Jean-Bernard Larrieu makes one of the best Jurancon secs around.
This wine is intensly acidic with great concentration of tart, green fruit. The intensity is on a par with what you get in the great Semillons of the Hunter, with an appropriate, underripe character. It’s reminiscent of tasting not only the flesh of the fruit, but also savoring the pitch. This wine won’t be for everyone yet I love it. The grapes behind this wine are all Gros Manseng sourced mostly from the vineyard named Herrua.
Clos Lapeyre Jurançon Sec 2012 is, like Vouvray and Riesling, from one of the few wine categories which can thrillingly produce beautiful wines across the sweetness spectrum. This Jurançon (the region lies at the base of France’s Pyrenees mountains) is fully dry, brittle even, but its body is simply enormous. It’s an angular wine, like the Ravines, but the angles belong to a dodecahedron rather than a diamond; the space it occupies is cavernous. Like many of these wines, it has enough structure to accompany red meat.
For a Splurge
Curiously, there is really no choice for a splurge—it seems as if just about every 100% Gros Manseng bottling comes in at or under $20 retail in the U.S. That may be a consequence of its playing second fiddle to Petit Manseng, but in any event if you want to splurge on this wine, by several bottles.
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