From my very first sip of Condrieu, I have been a great fan of Viognier. And when you have such a harrowed life story as has this grape, you need all the fans you can get. Being nearly extinct in your home region (ok.. so there are reports that there was still just under 10 acres) because nobody loved you anymore due to insects & war amongst other things totally beyond your control, would have a dampening effect on anyone regardless of your quality.
Those dampened spirits have changed rather dramatically in 20 years though. And while this month’sWine Blogging Wednesday was focused on Virginian Viognier, as I do not have access to many (read any) of these, not wanting to be left out, I have opened some Australian V instead. Australia has played a significant part in this grape’s change of fate, as has the US & France itself, and one of Australia’s First Families of Wine, the Hill-Smith family certainly has been a pioneer in resurrecting the grape.
Yalumba’s pioneering work with Viognier in Australia has been ongoing since the first vines were planted in 1981 with the recent sourcing of seven new clones from Condrieu and the USA being planted in their vineyards. Not only does Yalumba produce classic dry Viognier and Shiraz Viognier, they also have several dessert styles and unique blend of Viognier with Tempranillo and Grenache.
From here Viognier has spread rather rapidly across Australia with 1451 hectares planted by 2010. The styles of wines being produced with this grape is also quite remarkable – sparkling whites through to boisterous reds & sticky dessert wines. While I love it’s curvaceous side, I probably have just as great an appreciation of it’s less flambouyant nature as well. Yes, they are out there.
Of course, Viognier can be a bit of a hussy & enjoys the odd wine-hook-up. I particularly enjoy the more classic Rhonish blends – Rutherglen Estates VRM, Mitchelton Airstrip & Yering Station MVR are good ones to look out for. Finding a well blended red can be more difficult as in many Shiraz Viognier blends that I taste, the Viognier stonefruit is poking its nose out too much. I prefer the classic style where it adds pepper, lifted perfume & colour without taking over. I find that it is worth paying the extra for these reds at the moment but I am sure that this will change with time as winemakers develop more deftness with their blends.
Here are some of my favourites:
Philip Shaw The Dreamer Viognier 2011 $20 (10.5%) – A more delicate style of Viognier with a minerally apricot nose. Do not confuse the lower alcohol with it being less than ripe. While it is sits lightly on the palate, it has lovely texture with excellent acid balance & poise. A very pretty wine that lingers longer than many of the more flambouyant & fleshy flash & grab styles available.
Yalumba Viognier 2010 $25 (13.5%) – Coming from pioneering stock, this wine has a stylish fleshy purity to the fruit. The musky stonefruit is alluring with a long apricot length. This wine is showing little fat – just ripeness & foodability.
Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2010 ($49) – This wine is well worth spending the extra fun coupons. This is one of the best that Australia produces. It is tight & minerally on opening with apricot & white pepper. It is linear along the palate with a long peppery length. A very finely textured wine.
The D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab 2010 Viognier Marsanne ($17) – This is one of D’Arenberg’s distinctive blends & the name ‘The Hermit Crab’ recognises the McLaren Vale’s limestone’s origin – those creatures from under the sea. There is also a tip of the hat to ‘Hermit = Hermitage’ in the Rhone, the home of both of these varietals. The blend is 68% Viognier & 32% of one of my favourite white varietals, Marsanne.
Pretty talc, lime & apricot aromas jump out of the glass. The fruit is in such generous proportions with a fine silkiness throughout. A good robust wine for food, particularly for strong flavours as the acid keeps the wine in line & fresh.
Yering Station Shiraz Viognier Reserve 2010 ($75) (14.5%) – This wine is still a baby and needs some time to even out more. There is abundant white pepper, vanilla & fresh plum with a floral lift. It is firm & silky with chalky tannins, generous fruit & a peppery finish.
Want more Viognier – see The veritable story of Viognier, Vermentino & Verduzzo