Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Wine Blogging Wednesday 78 - Get Yo Viggy On
Goodness. Here it is, time for another wine Blogging Wednesday and I've found myself in a bit of quandary. It's WBW78. It's June. And I'm still trying to finish up all my blog entries from our trip Down Under - a trip that was back in April. Should I carry on - in a sensible sequence - and work my back to present times or do I throw all sense of order to the wind and join in with Frank Morgan, of Drink What You Like blog, and get my viggy on?
For reasons that perhaps defy logic, I'm going with this 78th instalment of Wine Blogging Wednesday.
Based in Virginia - where Viognier has made a thriving home for itself - Frank has proffered the traditional Rhône grape as this month's WBW topic and he's invited everyone to virtually weigh in on its varietal virtues.
Every wine geek has likely heard the story about how - after having been grown in the Northern Rhône for approximately 2000 years - the Viognier varietal was almost extinct by the 1960's. In 1965, there were only eight acres or so of the grape planted in its traditional home and total production levels were down to about 10,000 litres of wine or about 1100 cases. Known as a difficult grape to grow because of unpredictably low yields, the need for long growing seasons and its susceptibility to mildew, Viognier wasn't exactly an "it" grape in a world awash in Chardonnay.
As the wine world of the 1980's started to develop a greater enthusiasm for varietal wines, marginal varietals - like Viognier - began to enjoy a bit of revival. No longer isolated to production in the Rhône, the grape is now being grown worldwide - the village of Condrieu in the northern Rhône may still be home to Viognier's most notable vineyards, but the grape can also be found in North America, South America, South Africa and Australia and it's used to make both straight varietal wines and blended wines. Co-fermenting Viognier with Shiraz or Syrah has even become a common occurrence in wineries from every corner of the globe.
With that worldwide emergence, I decided to open three Viogniers from three distinct regions and see how they compare. The grape has definitely gained a foothold in Okanagan Valley vineyards. Production is hardly on a level of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Riesling, but I can easily think of a dozen or more wineries making a varietal wine off the top of my head. Since I'm blogging these three wines out of sequence, I don't rightly know where they are going to end up on The List but they'll get a number eventually.
1176. 2010 Marichel - Raisin d'être Viognier (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)
I'll kick off with the home grown bottle. Richard and Elisabeth Roskell have been throwing their hearts and souls into capturing the taste and terroir of their little corner of the Naramata Bench in BC's Okanagan Valley for just over a decade now. They grow only two grapes - Syrah and Viognier - but they don't look to deliver Viogniers reminiscent of Condrieu or a Syrah styled on the Côte Rôtie. Rather, they practice low impact, sustainable farming and unapologetically make wines that they hope deliver the flavours of the Naramata Bench.
They don't make much of it though. The Roskells have realized that they will likely never even reach a total production of a thousand cases, in any given vintage, with the fruit from their vineyard (and some neighbouring vineyard grapes that they source). They do, however, still produce up to four different Viogniers. Marichel's standard estate label, the non-interventionist, wild yeast inoculated Wild Thing, a Split Rock label in particularly hot vintages (in honour of the summer of '03 when temperatures were so hot and so sustained that a boulder at the entry to the vineyard split from the heat) and tonight's bottle of Raisin d'être (named after the single vineyard where the grapes are grown).
As much as I like the Roskells and Marichel wines, in general, the Raisin d'être was our least favourite of the evening. That's not to say that it was a bad wine. Not in the least. When compared to the other two wines, it was just lighter in body and fruit. There was a nice little minerality on the palate but the wine didn't seem to quite capture Viognier's characteristically floral nose. Viognier needs to reach full ripeness in order to fully exhibit its trademark notes and maybe these grapes didn't quite hit that level of ripeness.
1177. 2010 Le Paradou Viognier (Vins de Pays d'Oc - France)
I'm not nearly as familiar with our second producer. Choices for French Viognier are rather limited in our neighbourhood stores, but I did think this exercise called for a wine from the varietal's home turf - even if I didn't go all the way for a top-notch Condrieu. Le Paradou is a secondary label for Château Pesquié, a well known Rhône producer in our market. Le Paradou is the combined effort of the two Chaudière brothers. In 2005, they decided to work outside of the constraints of French appellation rules and make a Vins de Pays wine where they could work with whatever grapes they wanted and try for a more straight forward expression of the fruit.
With vineyards in the Languedoc region, north-east of Montpellier, Le Paradou isn't quite the Rhône but it is situated near-by, where Provence meets the southern Rhône. The vineyards are located more on the higher altitudes of the mountainside than on the valley floor and, as such, the wine has a brighter acidity than might otherwise be expected. Like the Marichel, this is another Viognier that is neither overly big or oily, nor abundant in floral notes on the nose, but it did feature a somewhat more fragrant nose. With that, it got a bit of a nod over the BC wine. Boo was particularly fond of it.
1178. Yalumba Y Series Viognier (South Australia - Australia)
I thought it was particularly fitting to open a Yalumba Viognier as well. The South Australian winery is often credited with single-handedly reviving the fortunes of Viognier. Their interest in the varietal all stemmed from a visit to the Rhône in the 1970's and a suspicion that the grape might do well Down Under. In 1980, Yalumba started with a 3 acres of vines - Australia's first commercial plantings of the varietal. They now have the "largest mature Viognier resource and oldest commercial vines in the Southern Hemisphere" - with access to over 70 acres from a variety of districts.
Current Yalumba winemaker, Louisa Rose, has taken a particular liking to the grape and that small experiment - and the resulting years of trial and error - have led Yalumba to believe they've got a pretty good handle on the varietal. They actually offer four different Viognier wines - the basic Y Series, a more regional Eden Valley label, the flagship Virgilius, and a botrytis affected dessert wine. Winemaker emiritus and natural born story-teller, Jane Ferrari, travels the globe, preaching the Yalumba gospel, and she's told many a tale about Viognier's re-emergence on the wine scene. Indeed, a few years back at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival, she kept folks enraptured with her appropriately titled, "Viognier Monologues."
This was our fave of the three - and we did taste them blind. Like the other two, the Yalumba didn't take us to that lanolin-like, oily bodied, florally perfume-laden Viognier that is often poured to the unexpectant - and, for that, I'm eternally grateful - but it definitely had both a bigger nose and more noticeable fruit on the palate. This was the glass that I looked to re-fill immediately and repeatedly.
Enjoying the Yalumba so also highlighted my regret that we didn't capitalize on the opportunity to visit Yalumba when we were recently in the Barossa. Yalumba was no more than four or five kilometres down the road from where we were staying at Wroxton Grange. Indeed, the grapes going into Yalumba's Eden Valley Viognier might well have been grown on a vineyard within spitting distance of some of Wroxton's plantings. Unfortunately, the right timing just didn't present itself. I guess this tasting just gives us even more incentive to make our way back to Australia.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the three wines. I'd rather expected at least one of them to be overly florally or downright oily, but they weren't. Thanks to Frank and Drink What You Like for hosting. I'm looking forward to seeing what paths other participants have taken.
With any luck, I might even have caught up with my own postings by the time Wine Blogging Wednesday 79 rolls around. (Editor's Note - not quite so lucky with the catch up by WBW79. It's only taken three months to finally be able to number these wines in sequence. Yikes)