What portion of white wine drinkers enjoy viognier is a question I often ask. That is because so few viognier inbibers appear to be around, and even fewer Anglophones who pronounce its name as the French do.
In short does viognier have a problems with survival. Uncorked’s recent 2015 Wine and Food Tour of the Rhone Valley certainly identified a style shift in the viogniers tasted.
The whites of the Rhone are quite polarised: marsanne and roussanne in the north (though many do not grow roussanne because it is a curly producer); viognier around Condrieu, in the north also, then a big drop down to the southern Rhone for the six traditional varieties, grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc, ugni blanc, viognier, roussanne. Also there is an existing romance with the mid-Rhone marsanne and roussanne-producing appellation of Saint-Peray, solely white; each negociant appears to have some.
In general there is no more powerful white wine in the mouth than these devils-products of hot climate, massive natural skin tannins, powerful bitter-sweet, high ripeness fruit flavours that persist for many, many seconds and are ever-lingering.
Under this platform M Chapoutier presents Condrieu Invitare 2014 (AUD 75); hardly recognisable as varietal viognier, slim, composed, no oak, no oil, no overt viognier fruit, just a fresh, tight, dare I say it, steely-tannin, no opulence, clearly a style change to engage more drinkers.
I would too. Big white Rhone is too much.
The Rostaing Condrieu La Bonnette 2013 (AUD 170) is made quite traditionally by Rene, and tasted in his modest cellar. It has pale colour, nice aromatics of no great intensity, no great opulence yet the tell-tale slippery feel of full ripeness viognier in the mouth. Drink this young, don’t keep it or it builds more in the bottle. Not a good idea.
Yves Cuilleron in Chavanay, just below Condrieu is a white Rhone specialist to me, and two tastings were conducted there this tour, both times underlining the excellent winemaking and viticulture pursued at this grower and negociant.
Cuilleron has ten hectares of terraced vines in Condrieu: La Petite Cote 2013 (AUD 46 375 ml) is a carefully tempered viognier, mild-coloured which tells you a lot (no over-development), is a one parcel blend aged in older barrels for 9 months, apricot nose, yes, a taut palate is even better with this wine, excellent.
Viogniers easily over-develop. Cuilleron Condrieu Vertage 2011 (AUD 130) shows the opposite, rich in the mouth, yes, but still composed yet from a year of leanness, a blend of parcels, 50% new oak, 50% old oak; a delightful drink with slipperiness, just ready for some oily fish. The 2013 is current release though Cuilleron showed 2011 at the cellar for demonstration.
Any winemaking that reins in the massive bitter-sour fruit which viognier tends to show at times is a positive for wine drinkers.