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.

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