About this WINE
The Viognier grape spread like wildfire during the 1990s, being planted even in Brazil. However its spiritual home is in the Northern Rhône and specifically in the two small appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet. The latter owes a great deal of its fame to the fact that it is only one of two single Estate appellations in France.
It has been owned by the Neyret-Gachet family since 1840 - today it Isabelle Baratin who runs it aided by cult Burgundian oneologist Max Leglise The south facing vineyard covers a mere 4 hectares and is situated in a natural amphitheatre nearly 500ft above the Rhône. After being vinified the wines are aged in old wooden casks for 18 months.
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
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.