The SOMM Journal

October / November 2016

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20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER { planet grape } Where Viognier Shines THE ANCIENT GRAPE IS AT ITS BEST IN CONDRIEU AND SOUTH WEST FRANCE by Catherine Fallis, MS VIOGNIER (VEE OH NYAY) WAS GROWN IN THE NORTHERN RHÔNE DUR- ing the Roman Empire. When the Romans were forced out of Gaul in the 5th century, the vines remained uncultivated until the 9th century, when they were revived by locals. The variety spread to neighboring Château Grillet, and from there to the Papal Palace at Avignon in the 14th century. It is the only grape allowed in the Condrieu and Château-Grillet appellations, and is planted in Languedoc and South West France, where the the wines are often varietally labelled. The soils of the Northern Rhône have a light, sandy topsoil over granite, which is ideal for the variety. Like Roussanne, Viognier produces a small crop and provides many challenges along the way. It is prone to powdery mildew in damp conditions or humid climates. It produces notoriously low and unpredictable yields, and needs to be picked when fully ripe. The grape develops high sugar quickly, which translates to wines with high alcohol, but if they are not physiologically ripe the wine will not show its characteristic floral, apricot and acacia aromas and honeyed characteristics. The highest-quality fruit is paired with French oak for added depth and richness, though the oak taste and tannins are not part of the final result. Michel Chapoutier explained to me that they use casks for fermentation and aging, but if you can taste the oak they have failed. In its best expression, the wine is as fat and silky on the mid-palate as Grand Cru Burgundy, and shares the same minerality. The difference is the delicate floral aromas and ripe apricot flavors rather than classic white Burgundy's crème brûlée and butterscotch. There is nothing quite like the decadent enjoyment of a floral, exotic, honeyed Condrieu with a handful of ripe apricots. I recently poured the Yves Cuilleron 2013 La Petite Côte Condrieu AOP (SRP $50, 13.5%, Rosenthal Wine Merchant) and found it to be classic Viognier with its silk and vibrancy, though in this vintage framed by more pith and tartness than usual, along with notes of clementine, apricot, ginger and saffron. At the Planet Grape Wine Review we were very impressed with the Château Lagrézette 2014 Le Pigeonnier White Vision Viognier, Côtes du Lot IGP (SRP $90 14.5%, Original Wine & Spirits), finding it full, silky, layered and complex with notes of apple, pear, peach, dried pine - apple, white rose, chalk and sea spray. It was very vibrant and like sunshine is a glass. At about one-third the price, try the Château Lagrézette 2014 Mas des Merveilles Rocamadour Viognier, Côtes du Lot IGP (SRP $35, 14%, Original Wine & Spirits), which is dry, pithy, elegant and soft with notes of peach pit, apricot, rose petal, white sand, talc and lemon zest on the finish. VARIETAL SNAPSHOT: VIOGNIER medium-plus body/silky • medium-minus acidity • dry or sweet aromas/flavors: apricot • peach • mango • acacia • honey • minerality Drink "on the fruit" up to 3–4 years. PHOTOS COURTESY OF INTER-RHÔNE

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