Chris from Majestic Sonning has one of those moments when the earth aligns with several planets and…
Whilst having a meal with some lovely friends / colleagues I was graced with a bottle of E Guigal’s glorious La Doriane Condrieu. It was sublime. A wine has never struck me with such grace and power that I have been converted from one obsession to another. The days of searching for another claret have gone, I want the true fist in the velvet glove; Viognier!
Viognier is a cruel mistress and she offers the wine maker a tempestuous relationship of searching for ripeness with the penalty for getting it wrong a wine that has little flavour and little promise. Get it right and I would argue it provides the best white wine in the world. As the fine people of Burgundy are recovering from the shock of questioning the power of the Montrachet I will carry on with my bold and provocative statements. It is possibly the hardest white wine grape to grow with a small margin of error to get the ripeness correct so that the complexity of the grape can be shown. This coupled with the question of oak, leaves a winemaker scratching their head.
A bit of digging around on Viognier left me amazed at how precarious its existence actually was. In the mid 60’s a tiny patch of Condrieu in the Northern Rhône was the only place with any vineyards left. The entire planet was barren of this epic grape except for a block of the French hilly countryside. Then it began. Slowly but surely the worlds winemakers became switched on to the grape that proves so difficult but can be so right. It has now swollen to over 100 times the original amount but still a drop in the wine ocean.
The reason for my sudden interest is more than La Doriane. It extends to the wines from outside the Rhône. As you may have gathered from other articles I have written I have a bit of a thing for French wine. The new world struggles in my wine rack for space but Viognier is different. The Yalumba Viognier from Australia was excellent and showed some of my favourite elements of this diva of a grape. A subtle splash of white pepper and other sweet spices combined with a wash of nectarine made it a joy to drink. Factor in the price and it’s a heck of a wine for a heck of a price. Chile has some lovely examples including the Viu Manent which shows the grape in a lighter guise but still so good. Argentina strikes with the Alamos Viognier which is superb with joyous flavours coming through. Southern France shines with numerous examples and all at reasonable prices.
Then you have the daddy of them (or is it Mummy?) Condrieu. This Rhône village nestled in the hills started, saved and perfected the Viognier enigma. When I first tried one I paused and just took in what I had tasted. Not often am I silenced but those creamy tones with such complexity and vigour made me realise I have tasted an epic wine. Yes the wines are in the fine wine price bracket but my word they are in the fine wine taste bracket!
Ultimately the grape reflects the skill and the passion of the wine maker. Yields are not high and there is intensive grape selection but with a deft touch they can create heaven.
So when you are in a Majestic and wanting something different just pop a couple of bottles of Viognier in your trolley and ponder on the rise from near extinction of the grape, which would have robbed us of something truly perfect.