It’s time to say yay to viognier


Yves Cuilleron La Petite Côte, Condrieu, Rhône, France 2019 (£44, Condrieu is the style that comes closest to how I imagined fine French wine would be when I was an impressionable teenager first discovering Rimbaud and Baudelaire. The polar opposite of the cold, quicksilver, somewhat austere delights of chablis, it’s a dry white wine that has something of the decadent about it. Condrieu can be heady, perfumed, flamboyantly full-bodied, with the scent of warm evenings in late-summer gardens: honeysuckle, jasmine, verbena; ripe peach and apricot. It’s also quite rare: it comes from a short stretch of vineyards planted on the banks of the Rhône 30 miles or so south of Lyon, most of which have to be worked exclusively by hand (a virtue of necessity on these very steep, tractor-repelling slopes, but a virtue nonetheless). The decadence continues into the pricing: the best condrieu (all condrieu) isn’t cheap. But when it’s good, fully ripe and yet balanced with a trickle of cool-stream freshness such as Yves Cuilleron La Petite Côte, it’s close to irresistible.

Laurent Miquel, Vendanges Nocturnes Viognier, IGP Pays d’Oc, 2020 (Waitrose) One distinguishing feature of condrieu that is no longer quite so rare is the grape variety from which it is made, viognier. Just half a century ago, the world’s viognier plantings had dwindled to a mere 35 acres, in Condrieu and neighbouring, single-producer appellation, Château Grillet. Like so much else in modern wine, it was producers in the so-called New World that brought about the variety’s renaissance, the most notable being Australian producer Yalumba, which found the variety ideal for the warm sunny conditions of South Australia’s Eden Valley. The company has devoted a lot of time and resources to understanding viognier, and makes some of the best and best-value viogniers around (such as the Y Series Viognier for £8.50 at Sainsbury’s). Other good-value options include another long-term master of the art, Laurent Miquel in the Languedoc, and the fresher, breezier but still charmingly aromatic style of the Vendanges Nocturnes, which is £6.99 (down from £9.99) until 24 August.

Tabalí Barranco Río Hurtado Viognier, Limarí, Chile 2018 (£14.50, The trick with viognier is timing: rather like harvesting a peach, there is a very small window of opportunity between unripe and over-ripe. Viognier needs sun and warmth, and the grapes must be ripe, with plenty of sugar (and therefore potential alcohol) before they begin to display all the full-bloom aromas and textures that make it so appealingly different. But if you leave it too late, you end up with a wine that has too much of everything, except the freshness that makes any wine drinkable. In Chile, there’s been a tendency over the years to err too much on the side of early picking with viognier, which has produced some perfectly drinkable but not especially distinctive or exciting wines. Some of the country’s newer, more remote vineyard areas seem to offer conditions where finding that picking sweet spot is less of a challenge. Certainly, Viña Tabalí’s very high altitude (1,600m above sea level) Barranco vineyard in northerly Limarí has yielded a beautiful and highly original expression of this finicky grape: luminous, graceful, it plays up viognier’s floral side with downy peach and a pulse of coolness.