Tag Archives: Viognier

A Clear Chilean Winner

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“Which are your favourites of the wines you’ve tasted today?” is a question I frequently ask at the end of a wine course or tasting that I’ve run.  The result is normally very close, often with 2 or 3 of the wines tying for the most popular.  That isn’t surprising; tastes vary enormously with everyone having their own particular preferences.  And those preferences will be reflected in how they vote, which is why it is rare for one wine to have a clear win.

So, on the few occasions when it does happen, the winner must be quite special and have wide appeal – not always the same thing.  Such a wine emerged from a recent day course on the Wines of the Americas that I ran at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre.  From a dozen wines from such diverse countries as the USA, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil, Tabali’s Encantado Reserva Viognier from Chile’s Limari Valley (Waitrose, £9.99) was not just a clear winner – it secured more than twice as many votes as any of the other wines we tasted. 

tabali-viognierAlthough I can’t remember such a decisive result before, I wasn’t surprised this wine was popular; I’ve opened it on a number of occasions previously.  It has really appealing floral and citrus aromas which carry through onto a rich, just off-dry palate balanced by good, clean acidity and with flavours of ginger and apricot.  A lovely wine: complex, fruity and characterful.

It is only in the last 20 years or so that the Limari Valley has started to concentrate on quality wines – previously much of the production there was distilled into pisco, the local brandy – and Viognier is hardly a mainstream grape for the area but Tabali’s site, just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean with its cooling influences, is clearly well suited to this tricky but high quality variety.  Perhaps we’ll see wider plantings there in future.

And, looking to the future, a date for your diary: on Saturday 7th March my next course at Stoke Lodge will be on ‘The Hidden Corners of Spain’.  We’ll focus on wines from some of that country’s less well-known regions and grapes.  Places are still available but booking is essential: www.bristolcourses.com or 0117 903 8844.

The Fall and Rise of Viognier

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“Viognier was close to extinction in 1980 when Yalumba pioneered a renaissance of this rare, exotic and alluring variety” – so reads the back label of a delightful example of the grape from Australia’s Eden Valley (currently on offer at Waitrose for £9.74, usually £12.99).Yalumba Viognier

It’s not in doubt that there were only a few acres of Viognier remaining at one time. However, Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand in their book “Grapes & Wines” (Webster’s, 2001) suggest that the low point was rather earlier (1965) and attribute the revival elsewhere – crediting either Josh Jensen of Calera in California or the ‘king of Beaujolais’, Georges Duboeuf. Personally, I don’t mind who ensured the grape’s survival – it’s a fascinating and distinctive variety and deserves to be around.

But, how did it get into such a perilous state? It’s a grape that is native to the tiny northern Rhône Appellation of Condrieu and, for many years, it was grown there and virtually nowhere else. The vineyards of Condrieu are perched on impossibly steep granite slopes overlooking the Rhône making any work in the vineyard both difficult and dangerous. Not surprisingly, as transport in the region improved, many growers abandoned their vines and sought work in nearby Lyon instead. Indeed, in one year, just 2500 bottles were made from the variety.

Without getting into the debate about who engineered its revival, the prospects for Viognier have been transformed and the grape is now thriving with major plantings in the south of France, California and Australia as well as in the vineyards of its native Rhône.

So, what’s so special about it? At its best, it has a wonderful aromatic perfume – think apricots, peaches and exotic spices – and a full, rich and mouth-filling taste not quite like anything else. It goes perfectly with gently spicy or creamy dishes. For a real treat, ask your local independent wine merchant if they have any Condrieu (expect to pay £30 plus a bottle); otherwise, the example from Yalumba that prompted this blog should convince any doubters.