"Compromises are for relationships, not wine." --- Sir Robert Scott Caywood
Viognier (vee ohn yay). If you’ve not enjoyed this white wine grape as a varietal, you may have had it unknowingly - blended in with your Syrah. A small amount (sometimes no more than 3%) is co-fermented with red Syrah in order to add bouquet. On its own, Viognier can produce full bodied wines of lush character with delightful and powerful aromatics of peach, apricot and pear along with minerality. It pairs well with spicy cuisine. It is distinctive and one of my favorite white wines.
The French know very well what Viognier is, but do not label their wines by varietal. Instead, labeling is by geographical area. Condrieu is its own appellation (AOC) in the Northernmost white wine appellation in the Rhone Valley and is the original home of the Viognier vine. Condrieu’s terraces are composed mostly of granite and “arzelle”: a mixture of decomposed granite, mica, shale and clay that gives wine from that AOC its character. E Guigal is the “firm” producing the wine, founded in 1946 (imagine planting vineyards so soon after war’s damage) by Etienne Guigal. It is now under the control of grandson Marcel Guigal.
Perhaps the most famous Viognier is Guigal’s “La Doriane” Condrieu,* a cuvee with an ARP of $85. But wait… $85? Viognier can be had for $20 and less. Well, there are Yugos and Bentleys and both share characteristics, but can’t be said to be the same. So a better inquiry is to wonder if that difference is worth the difference. And by worth, I mean is the experience elevated enough for my ordinary taste buds to justify the difference? I tasted a 2011 E. Guigal Condrieu (not the cuvee) which, at the time, retailed for $55 and which I found for $29 as an “End of Bin.” Perhaps you’ll understand later why I tasted a 2012 soon after and happily paid the full retail of $56. Vive la difference!
All Viognier will share character, but it’s a matter of degree. The best wine, for me, is that which alludes, hints, teases, seduces. It’s the wine that is the most difficult to describe because all the instruments in the symphony of flavor work together in symbiotic harmony; no one instrument is too dominant. Guigal’s Condrieu offers a bouquet of pleasant spice with lemon, quince, kiwi and pineapple. On the palate, it is rich and full bodied and gifting flavors of un-ripe peach, Meyer lemon and lemon-crème and pineapple. The finish is floral tinted and the memory of the experience taunts repeating it.
|So tasty with spicy scallops & shrimp.|
The aromatics and flavors are delicate, clean with minerality. This is a wine for both the senses and one’s thoughts. And upon tasting it, one learns why others are so enamored by the experience. Sociologists observe that today’s generation values “the experience” over things. I don’t pretend to completely understand that, but I can say my experience savoring Guigal’s Condrieu is one I valued. Wine Advocate awarded 92 points to this vintage. Wine & Spirits gave it 94. The Rhone Report assigned it 91 as did Wine Spectator. International Wine Cellar continued in this direction by giving it 92 points. Along with these rankings came descriptives of flavors, some of which I also enjoyed and others which I didn’t detect so they go unmentioned. For me, what was so enjoyable was how all these aromatics and flavors assembled as a choir with superb grace and finesse. Nuances that were seamless. Once experienced, this wine, contrasted against other Viognier, makes others seem like brash cousins. Tiramisu vs. puddin’ pops. What your palate detects will be different. Palates do what they do independent of our wishes, but it’s certain the overall experience will be enjoyable.
Nor should you worry that the 2011s are off the shelf. Viognier is a wine to drink young. I found the 2012 vintage to be much the same; a little crisper with acids more detectable but with the same lush mouthfeel. (Both undergo 100% malolactic fermentation). As a rule, Guigal ferments one third in new barrel and two thirds in stainless. The 2013 vintage (not yet tasted) is available now and, allegedly, is a little tighter. No surprise there. I found these wines improve over 1-2-3 years of cool cellaring. Consistent along each vintage is the scoring. Wine Spectator awarded 93 points to the 2013 and 90 to the 2012. Wine Advocate awarded 92 points to the 2013 and 93 to the 2012. So while the experts don’t exactly agree, the consensus among those that know is that E. Guigal’s Condrrieu is the gold standard for Viognier. And for whatever the Wine Mizer can weigh in with, I’ll say only that I’m looking forward to tasting the 2013.
Pair this wine with any seafood. Try it against oily Sockeye salmon, mushroom caps stuffed with shrimp & crab sauced with beurre blanc, lobster, pate, white asparagus and, day I say?...... ham!
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* In case you’re wondering, the difference with Curve La Doriane is that it sees 100% new oak and is a selection that comes from a number of estate plots. The classic Condrieu, remember, is two-thirds steel and with some grapes being sourced from neighboring vineyards. I’m quite happy with the freshness of steel, but feel free to experiment. Both bottling are 100% Viognier and made from vines whose average age is 30 years.
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