It does it for me. I’m seduced by the exotic charm of Viognier, thrilled by its seductive appeal and constantly in awe of its many guises. But one thing is for sure, nowhere in the wine world, from Napa Valley to Eden Valley does it express itself better than the northern Rhône Valley and its spiritual home of Condrieu, a tiny sleepy village at the Southern end of the Côte-Rôtie hills, where mica schistes give way to sand & granite, but no less vertiginous, precarious hillside terraced vineyards.
By nature, it is an unreliable grape, low cropping & susceptible to disease. It can lack acidity if not picked in time, left with too much hang time and it can become overtly fruity and flabby. In short, it needs patience, understanding, love and attention, I have to stop myself as the parallels to my children are so similar and the end result the same, a pure love affair. You need to believe to work these vineyards, because there is easier work to be found. There can be little doubt that this is my favourite grape variety, from my favourite white appellation from my favourite wine region, and probably my favourite wine country too.
I can still recall my first experience of Condrieu with great joy and misty-eyed reflection. In the early 1990s I was working for a ‘bottle shop’ as the Australians like to refer to their local wine shops, in the central business district of Sydney.
At the time, being able to pin point Bordeaux on a map stood you out as relative wine expert, given the parochial nature of Australians and the tendency to drink their own. These were heady days for a young, single and carefree lad in the wine trade. The French unfortunately didn’t make life all rosy for me. Testing nuclear warheads in Moruroa atoll would make my first week in my new job, more a case of collection rather than delivery, as every restaurant in Sydney joined hands in a show of unity with their cross Tasman antipodean cousins and sent back all the French wine on their lists. I returned to base with a van full of wine and started to unload it into the shop when my boss stopped and took one of the bottles from the box, worried that it may have passed its best. I think it may have been a 1990; I certainly had never knowingly tried a Condrieu at this time and was keen to learn. A tasting team was duly assembled in the back office of the shop, whoever this chap was that had made the wine, he was certainly being spoken about in reverential terms and my excitement grew. My glass was filled with a light golden liquid, and to this day I can still smell the musky perfumed aroma of peaches and apricots, the floral flavour in the mouth and this exotic galangal, ginger and tangerine finish – I had never tried anything like it. I was hooked on Condrieu and Viognier that very day, in the back office of a wine shop in Sydney. André Perret Coteau de Chery, a wine that started a love affair that continues.
The love affair remains intact to this day, it has never dimmed; yes Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache have tried to edge their way into my affections, but the trusty, faithful Viognier has always been there to remind me that the grass isn’t always so green on the other side.
I’ve tasted the pretenders from all over the globe. The different versions, the different takes, styles, nuances, with oak, without, from egg, from stainless steel. South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal – they all have an expression. None come close to matching the majesty, the uniqueness of style that the very best Condrieu growers make in the Northern Rhône Valley. Freshness, elegance, minerality and a precision are just some of the reasons they appeal to me, get these all in balance and you have some seriously world class wine at a very good price. I am really proud and super impressed with the range of producers that we work with that fashion great Condrieu. Whether it be the floral charm and elegance of Rémi Niero, or the slightly richer style of Duclaux or Bonnefond, and new to Lea & Sandeman this year, the fruit forward spicy wines of Clos de la Bonnette, you can rest assured that they have been tried, tasted and approved and will deliver great wines too.
Register interest for our upcoming Northern Rhône En Primeur campaign here.