Grapevine Archive for Viognier
With plantings under 50ha at one point (the vast majority in the Rhône), extinction seemed on the horizon for the viognier grape, with the tiny Condrieu appellation apparently destined to be its only real representation.
Viognier’s vulnerability in the vineyard to both disease and pests coupled with its low-yielding nature, specific soil-type preference and the necessity for a great deal of warmth to achieve adequate ripeness all had a part to play in this dwindling quantity of vines.However, Viognier has since seen a resurgence and now is planted the world over from Australia to California, Chile to Languedoc-Roussillon, where its challenging nature has yielded a plethora of styles to enjoy. Take for example the luscious McManis Viognier 2012 (USA, £10.95 per bottle), the fresh and crisp-finishing Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Viognier 2013 (Australia, £9.95), the opulent barrel-fermented Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Viognier 2013 (Chile, £8.50) and the more classically styled Viognier, Domaine du Bòsc 2013 (south of France, £7.25).
With aromas that allude to apricots and peaches, taking in honeysuckle and violets backed up with subtle spice and offering body and texture, viognier, even in small proportions, can also bring so much to a blend.
Its addition in small quantities to the red wine Côte-Rôtie is well known. For a winter warmer, The Wolftrap, Western Cape 2013 (South Africa, £7.25) matches the brooding red syrah and mouvèdre varieties with viognier, which adds glorious lift and interest.
White blends benefit from not only this fragrance addition but also the weight it brings to the wine. Take for example two members’ favourites from France, Les Pierres Bordes Marsanne-Viognier 2013 (£5.95) and Duo Des Deux Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin De France 2014 (£6.25) where the complementary nature of viognier not only fattens the wine but brings its unique bouquet to the mix too. The same can be said of South Africa’s Piekeniers White, Piekenierskloof 2013 (£7.75).
Modest use of oak can enhance viognier further, adding a new dimension – as can be seen in The Liberator ‘Butch & The Sunrise Kid’, Western Cape 2013 (£9.95) as well as the Bulgarian The Guardians MRV, Borovitza 2011 (£14.95).In its Rhône heartland, Grignan Les Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2013 (£7.95) shows how even in a group of varieties the characteristics of viognier shine through and produces a great food-friendly wine. Indeed, viognier’s perfume and body suits many foods, especially the sweet meat of shellfish and it also displays an affinity for spicier Asian foods and curries.
I have not even touched on some of the southern French and Rhône examples of this grape that reveal its fine wines and aging credentials, but I think the above displays that for this most finicky fruit, the outlook is peachy!
The Cellar Showroom
The 2012 vintage has been fantastic for white Rhône wines and though quantities are small, we are delighted to be offering a selection in our opening offer from the region.
It is incredible to think that viognier, today a rather trendy white grape variety found in vineyards across the winemaking world, was on the verge of extinction less than 50 years ago.In the 1960s total plantings barely covered ten hectares and all of these were on the steep-sided terraced vineyards of Condrieu and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The vertiginous slopes are difficult to farm and the viognier vines were old and diseased. Prone to coulure, they were producing pitifully low yields making the wines expensive to produce and had no real market to support them.
That this remarkable grape has survived and gone on to be a variety of global significance is down to the persistence of two northern Rhône growers, E. Guigal and Georges Vernay. Widely regarded as pioneers in the resurrection of the Condrieu appellation, they both saw the beauty and potential of this grape and made it their business to improve the health of the vines, by selecting and propagating those in best shape.
It wasn’t just for its ability to produce exotically perfumed peachy whites that they persevered with the grape. Guigal in particular was passionate about adding in the permitted small amounts of viognier to his syrah to add bloom and fragrance to his Côte-Rôtie wines.Meanwhile the improvements that Guigal and Vernay brought about in their Condrieu helped bring the grape to a wider audience. Condrieu became highly sought after and the grape the trendy new white grape of the early eighties.
Becoming fashionable isn’t always a great thing, but for viognier it has helped to preserve the grape for future generations as growers throughout the world sought to introduce it to their regions improving the quality of the vine stock as they did so. And while nowhere quite matches the complexity of viognier from Condrieu, there are some great-pretenders from the Cape to California and all (warm) growing regions in between.
If you’d like to find out more about the different styles of Condrieu, read buyer Marcel Orford-William’s post from his visit to the region last year.
Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams reports from Condrieu, the home of this sun-loving grape
Well I’m in viognier country, the original one, even if the grape itself came from elsewhere. It thrives in the northern Rhône, though it usually needs to be sheltered from the north winds. And it needs sunshine – plenty of it.
Viognier is a capricious variety to grow and suffers from poor flowering in most vintages. For the moment, not a single berry has been picked from the 2013 vintage. Nothing is quite ripe, the berries are hard still and very green but with each day as the fine weather holds, there is hope.When I say viognier country, I mean of course Condrieu, which only allows for that one grape variety. When I visited for the first time in 1987, it was nothing if not exotic, and the wine was still desperately rare. That has since changed but the expansion meant that Condrieu was often made from very young vines. But now those new plantations are 20 years old and the extra maturity is starting to make a difference. The 2012s are gorgeous, full of fragrant, savoury fruit and nicely balanced. A notch up on the fuller 2011s, I think.Condrieu has seen many fashions. In the old days, it was common for viognier to be picked seriously late. I learned today that the old timers sometimes used to plant another variety, cugnette, the local name for jaquère from Savoy. This always kept high acidity and was picked with the viognier and vinified together. Illegal now, of course, except that today I tasted cugnette for the first time, in its pure state (for family consumption only), and it was delicious.
A peculiarity about Condrieu is that its style is not so well defined so it can be dry or intensely sweet. Viognier is however a low-acid grape, and when picked very late usually loses its shape and can become flabby.
Viognier is planted all over the world nowadays but nowhere does it quite like Condrieu. The combination of the metamorphic rock, poor soils, steep slopes and uncertain yields creates a very special wine here.
Does it keep?
Perceived wisdom says that viognier is not a keeper, but actually that is only partly true. When made from young vines then yes, it needs drinking sooner rather than later, but when it is produced from old vines the wine needs a year in bottle and then can keep up to five years easily and in some cases much longer still. But most of the wine is drunk young and, as a result, Condrieu sells out well within a year. Sound business!
The importance if terroir
These ancient soils are not uniform and as a result they’re differences in taste which are fascinating. It used to be said that the best was in Condrieu itself but of course that is where the oldest vines are, on such famous slopes as the Coteau de Chéry. But further south, the vines are getting older and are full of interest.
There is no classification, though one particularly special slope has its very own appellation, Château-Grillet. It is owned by Château Latour and no expense has been spared on this quite extraordinary wine that reveals its true colours only after several years in bottle.
So when do you drink Condrieu, and what with? It is not a wine for everyday drinking. It is full, very fragrant (peach, apricot, ripe yellow plum), low in acidity and never bone dry, even if analytically it may be so.
I can still remember my first taste of this nectar. It was in Condrieu itself, over lunch with a view of the Rhône and a plate of pan-fried scallops. Heaven.
Condrieu goes well with sweet-flavoured dishes such as scallops, shellfish (but not oysters), certain fish especially in a creamy or even slightly spicy sauce. And, new to me during this visit was a happy match: fresh garden tomatoes, delicately seasoned but also perfectly ripe.
Condrieu is expensive, and expensive to make. Increasingly, growers also make a cheaper wine made partly from younger vines, partly from vines outside of the Condrieu and are well worth looking out for. Moreover as non-appellation vineyards often mean vines facing east rather than south, acidity can be a little higher and the wines, simpler but also more refreshing.
Society Buyer for the Rhône
Established in 1860, Tahbilk is located in the Nagambie Lakes (Goulburn Valley) region of central Victoria (120kms north of Melbourne). This year the Purbrick family, owners since 1927, celebrate 150 years of the winery’s existence, as well as 50 years of supplying The Society.
This premium, cooler-climate vineyard comprises 200 hectares of vines majoring on Rhône varieties such as marsanne, viognier and shiraz. Their marsanne plantings are the largest single holding of this variety in the world, and their marsanne and shiraz are amongst the oldest plantings anywhere.
4th generation winemaker Alister Purbrick visited The Society this week to talk to and taste with Society staff. The fragrant, stainless steel fermented Tahbilk Viognier 2009 was a refreshing, dried apricot flavoured revelation; the comparison of the 2008 and 2002 Tahbilk Marsanne was fascinating – buying a case of the 2008 now, putting it into Members’ Reserves for 10 years and then enjoying it would be a very worthwhile thing to do. The smooth, spicy and brambly Tahbilk Shiraz 2004 caressed the palate and the mint-and-cassis driven Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 was a real delight. For details of Tahbilk wines offered by The Society, click here.
Alister (on the right) and his daughter Hayley, pictured here with the Chairman (Alister’s father John) are at RIBA, London, on Monday 10th May with 11 of their compatriots as The Society presents Australia’s First Families of Wine to 300 members.
As regionality becomes more in vogue with drinkers of Australian wines, what is your preferred Aussie wine growing area?