BEFORE picpoul and albarino came along, I prophesied that viognier would be white wine’s “next big thing”. Wrong as that particular forecast proved to be, I retain a special fondness the grape variety. 

Once, of course, Condrieu in the Northern Rhone was almost the only area to succeed with the hard-to-please viognier. Its very tight bunches make the grape particularly susceptible to disease, while its characteristic flowery aromas demand absolute precision in timing the harvest.

Crack the problems, though, and few wines can match viognier’s texture, perfumed honeysuckle elegance and dense, ripe apricot flavours. No surprise then that winemakers across the world have coveted it. Indeed, a number now grow it successfully and are even producing a few inexpensive versions. Predictably, though, you must spend a little more to experience viognier’s full potential for finesse and complexity.
Southern hemisphere growers have managed the vines’ transition to distant lands well, and I am also impressed by South Africa’s 2014 Bellingham The Bernard Series Viognier (£12.29 at Majestic). This is a beautifully rounded example with creaminess to sit alongside the classic texture and sophisticated orange-centred fruit – enlivened here by a measured burst of fresh, tangerine based acidity.

Ever up for a challenge, Norrel Robertson MW in eastern Spain was also attracted to the variety. His 2011 El Puno Viognier Calatayud (£18.95 at Cross Stobs Wine, Barrhead, Glasgow or via its online service) is full and smooth with tropical fruit touches and skilfully balanced acidity. There is something almost Burgundian in the vanilla and other barrel influences it displays – and in its extra bâtonage-induced richness.
So, while the sales volumes I predicted may have eluded it, I still feel justified in regarding viognier as an absolute superstar.

BEST BUYS:

2013 Freedom Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Lodi, California, 13.5 per cent

A nicely balanced cabernet with the typical extra ripeness and warmth that California gives to the cherry and blackcurrant fruit on display here – and embellished in this example with a minty backdrop accentuated by slightly sweet herbal influences. The acidity is gentle and the tannin is pretty soft too but there is also a savoury, almost slate edge that adds an interesting extra dimension.
£9 at M&S

2013 Extra Special Bordeaux Blanc
France, 12 per cent
Bordeaux handles sauvignon blanc differently and, in this case, oak has been used to smooth things out and to add a spicy component. A small percentage of semillon has also been blended in and this adds texture and touches of pear to the principal apple and orange centred fruit without dimming the freshness and vibrant acidity the sauvignon brings to the party.
£7 at Asda

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Brian Elliott

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