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2010 Condrieu, Les Deponcins, Domaine François Villard
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François Villard has grown his tiny wine domaine from four to seven hectares and still produces a miniscule amount of highly allocated bottlings. Referred to by Robert Parker as one of the “stars” of the Northern Rhone, François also acquired a small parcel in Cote-Rotie and a few hectares in St. Joseph. Formerly a chef, François brings his complex palette to the winery to produce wines of power and grace that age for years.
The terroir of the Northern Rhone is, in a word, amazing. Fully exposed hillsides that face the East are covered with terraces first created by the Romans. The soil is made up of small gravel and decomposed schist over a bedrock of granite. The exposition allows for excellent ripening of the Viognier and Syrah grown on these coteaux and for exceptional water drainage (So much so that terraces are always needing to be re- paired.) The climate is warm with much cooler night than those found in the South.
François Villard’s strategy is to allow for the most optimal ripening possible. His wines, as a result, are rich and concentrated with complex aromas of peaches, apricots, honeysuckle, and honey for the whites and leather and spice for the reds. The whites are often allowed to develop botrytis and most of the wines pass through wood ageing for an extended amount of time to prepare them for a very long life in bottle.
The absurdly steep hillsides of the Northern Rhone mean that harvesting by hand is the only option open to winemakers. François Villard and his crew harvest in very small baskets along extremely narrow terraces, making for backbreaking and danger- ous work. These baskets are then emptied into larger boxes to be taken down the hill- sides by tractors, and in some cases, donkeys. The results, however, are unrivaled
It is a poor-yielding grape that is notoriously fickle to grow, being susceptible to a whole gamut of pests and diseases. Crucially it must be picked at optimum ripeness - if harvested too early and under-ripe the resulting wine can be thin, dilute and unbalanced, while if picked too late then the wine will lack the grape's distinctive peach and honeysuckle aroma. It is most successfully grown in the tiny appellations of Château-Grillet and Condrieu where it thrives on the distinctive arzelle granite-rich soils. It is also grown in Côte Rôtie where it lends aromatic richness to the wines when blended with Syrah.
Viognier has been on the charge in the Southern Rhône and the Languedoc throughout the 1990s and is now a key component of many white Côtes du Rhône. In Languedoc and Rousillon it is increasingly being bottled unblended and with notable success with richly fragrant wines redolent of overripe apricots and peaches and selling at a fraction of the price of their Northern Rhône cousins.
Condrieu is to Viognier what the Côte de Nuits is to Pinot Noir. There are now plantings of Viognier worldwide, but this pernickety grape’s spiritual homeland is still in Condrieu – where the finest Viogniers in the world are still produced.
The appellation was created in 1940, and today over 40 growers produce wine from just over 100 hectares of vineyards. In 1965 the appellation covered only eight hectares.
Guigal accounts for 45 percent of the appellation’s production. The vineyards are adjacent to those of Côte-Rôtie, but not as steep. The best Condrieu wines are produced from soils that are on narrow, south-facing or south-east-facing terraces of granite – where the average vine age is around 50 years old.
Condrieu is solely made from the Viognier grape. As well as being situated next to Côte-Rôtie it also encompasses the separate AC of Château-Grillet. The wines are dry with a wonderful floral nose of peaches, apricots, violets and pears. They are quite alcoholic, with low-ish acidity. Condrieus are best enjoyed when young to ensure they maintain their freshness and delicate fruit flavours.
Recommended producers: Pierre Gaillard, Mouton Père et Fils
Best vintages: 2006, 2005, 2004
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