Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Viognier extinct!

20 years ago the Viognier white grape variety was almost wiped out. With as little as 35 acres in France remaining it was another unloved variety about to disappear. That would have been a great shame as people had only started to be able to pronounce it (vee-on-yeah or vee-ohn-yay).

That was when South Australian company Yalumba planted a few trial rows in Eden Valley, in the greater Barossa wine region. Which is distinctly cooler that the Barossa Valley floor. In France, Viognier was confined to a few areas of the Rhone region - Condrieu and Cote-Rotie appellations. Rhone is similar in climate to Barossa, so Viognier does equally well in South Australia.

Since Yalumba started its trials with Viognier, they discovered its full range of attributes. A typical Viognier white wine has a rich and luscious mouthfeel, which comes from the high glycerol of the grape. On the nose it is normally seen as showing ripe or dried apricot, and floral and citrus characters, with an interesting spice or anise/Thai basil note.

Also in the Rhone region a small percentage of Viognier is added to Shiraz/Syrah. They are allowed up to 20% Viognier as part of the AOC control system, but generally most winemakers never go above 5%. And so this approach has also been implemented into the New World. Even a small percentage (such as 3 or 4%) can change a Shiraz significantly. Adding to its floral character on the nose, and making the palate smoother, rounder, more voluptuous. It is always a surprise that adding a white grape to a red wine makes the red more intense in colour.

Some other boutique wineries who produce quality Viognier and which Rich & Lingering visit on their tours, include Langmeil Winery, and Torbreck Vintners in Barossa Valley, Petaluma in Adelaide Hills, Mr Riggs, and Olivers Taranga in McLaren Vale.

So indulge in a new old variety before it disappears.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

10 Key Wine Terms to Help You Bluff with the Best

So you DO know the first thing about wine, but need to know the second. Well, try slipping these terms into you next wine discussion – preferably not all in the one sentence.

Acidity - Acidity is like the ‘pucker level’ of a wine, or how much it makes you smack your lips, or your saliva run. Acidity can add that zesty or crisp aspect to a wine, but if too acidic can make the wine appear quite tart or out of balance.

Balance – This has nothing to do with being able to remain vertical after a full day wine tasting tour. Balance is how the acidity, fruit, oak, sugar, alcohol, and tannin of a wine blend together so that the whole wine is balanced. In a well-balanced wine no one aspect should overwhelm the others.

Body - This describes the ‘weight’ of the wine in your mouth and is related to alcohol levels and fruit flavour.

Length – This is the sustained impression of the wine across the palate, once it leaves your mouth. Despite what people say length is important!

Finish - The final impression a wine leaves after you have swallowed it. Does the wine leave your mouth feeling clean, creamy, or fury?

Creamy – This is often used to describe Chardonnay or Viognier. It is a character of a wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation). Leaving the mouth with a richness and that creamy feeling.

Oaky – This is the toasty, smoky, spice or vanilla aromas and flavours that come from aging the wine in oak barrels. Sometimes wine can be aged in French or American oak barrels, or both. Barrels made from French oak are generally thought have more subtle oak flavours than those made from American oak.

Tannin – This is predominantly a red wine term. Tannin adds to the texture of wine and gives you that furry drying feeling on your gums and inner cheeks. It’s the same mouthfeel from black tea. When there’s a lot of tannin in a wine it can make your mouth feel very dry. Tannin can come from oak, grape seeds and stalks, but mostly grape skins.

Astringent – A harsh, dry sensation in the mouth caused by high tannin or phenolic levels. People tend to use the word ‘phenolic’ to describe astringency in white wines and the word ‘tannic’ to describe astringency in red wines.

Phenolic – It is a feeling produced from a natural compound in grape skins, seeds and stalks. It can cause wine to taste bitter and harsh.

During Rich & Lingering’s private food and wine tours, these terms will be used on a random basis. Normally by the end of the day we try to keep words to single syllables.