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2008 Condrieu La Chambée, Les Vins de Vienne
Les Vins de Vienne was the name given to the wines of the Seyssuel region in the Roman times, which were reportedly of some repute. It is also the name given to the négociant firm and a domaine recently set up by three leading winemakers from the Northern Rhône, Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard and François Villard.
For the domaine, the team have resurrected a long-neglected vineyard area on the steep hills in the commune of Seyssuel, a little bit further north of the town of Vienne, in the far northern reaches of the Rhône Valley.
For the négociant business they have pooled their resources and genius to forge a new benchmark for négoçiant and domaine Rhône wines. From the smart aesthetics of the packaging through to the sheer class of the wines themselves, the operation has made a very big impression in a very short period of time.
With plantations of Syrah and Viognier they have created wines which resemble their famous progenitors in Condrieu and Côte Rôtie, yet with subtle, fascinating points of difference. They have now spread their wings to create a whole family of wines including this extraordinarily good Côtes du Rhône
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