Three vibrant viogniers
Viognier is a wine that can easily be fat and oily, clumsy and over-built. When very ripe it can be very rich and loaded with tropical and spice aromas, but high levels of alcohol, tannin, glycerol and oak all conspire to make a wine that lacks drinkability, lacks refreshing properties, lacks more-ishness.
Happily, this style of viognier seems to be on the wane. Ben Haines, who makes the Warramunda wines, has produced a 2016 that has just 11.8% alcohol. This suggests that the old belief that viognier needs to be fully ripe to produce an interesting wine, is not necessarily correct.
Viognier is, of course, native to the northern Rhône Valley where it makes Condrieu and Château Grillet – the last being one of the few vineyards in France with its own appellation and a single owner. Viognier almost died out in France: reliable sources say there were only 14 hectares remaining by the late 1960s. Its subsequent revival sees it now grown all over the world and Condrieu is highly fashionable.
In Australia, it’s been slow to gain traction with drinkers. I suspect part of the problem is that Aussies find it difficult to pronounce. I’ve even heard some winemakers pronounce it ‘voyn-yer’. It should be pronounced ‘vee-ohn-yay’.
In my recent tastings of Rhône whites, these three stood out like beacons. They are great wines all. I heartily recommend them.
Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2015, Yarra Valley
This comes under the rare, black Carrodus label, which the brilliant winemaker Sarah Crowe has introduced to showcase the very best of Yarra Yering’s great vineyard, usually drawing on the oldest vines planted by founder Dr Bailey Carrodus in the late 1960s/early ‘70s. Indeed, Yarra Yering probably lays claim to the oldest viognier vines in Australia. This is a stunning wine: sensitive barrel fermentation and judicious bottle-age have helped. It juggles richness and power with delicacy, subtlety and complexity. It’s only available ex-winery. (14% alcohol. 97 points. AUD $160)
Warramunda Coldstream Viognier 2016, Yarra Valley
This vineyard is on the same sweep of Coldstream/Gruyere hills as Yarra Yering.
Its white wines have been most impressive, made by talented Mount Langi Ghiran winemaker Ben Haines. (Ben’s own wines, under the Ben Haines label, also draw on this vineyard and are also superb.) This is a terrific wine, unusually fragrant for viognier, and cast in a highly refreshing, early-harvested style. It was barrel fermented in old puncheons, but oak is not apparent. It proves that viognier can deliver great flavour without super-ripeness or high alcohol. (11.8% alcohol. 96 points. AUD $35)
Viognier By Farr 2016, Geelong
Nick Farr (and his father Gary before him) have been making some of Australia’s best viognier for many years. The style has become progressively finer and more subtle over the years, with refreshing properties and understated complexities. The grapes always come from the family’s own vineyards in the dry, warm Moorabool Valley, just north of Geelong. It has modest alcohol and is a far cry from the once ubiquitous fat, oily styles of Aussie viognier. Thank heavens! (12.5% alcohol. 95 points. AUD $65)