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Celebrating vee-ohn-yay

Condrieu, the home of viognier grapes

International Viognier Day is celebrated each year on April 29.

There are likely many discussions on how to pronounce the name of this grape that, percentage wise, has shown far more growth than any other over the past fifty years.

If you check online you can see “vee-aa-nyay”, “vee-own-yay,” “vee-ON-yay”. Certainly, the least successful try I have heard locally is “wog-ner”.

Years of enjoying wines from this fruit source have made me settle with “vee-ohn-yay”, and I maintain that this is probably correct.

I believe that I am also correct in saying that in 1975, when I first joined the wine trade, there may have only been one vineyard left of this lovely grape in the whole world.

When Jancis Robinson wrote the book Grapes & Wines in 1985, she stated that viognier hardly deserved a mention as she was only able to find 80 acres in total.

We can certainly label it “the comeback kid” with worldwide plantings now about 35,000 acres. One account that I found stated that a mere 17 acres were left in 1965; that was a very close brush with extinction!

I like the saying, “Viognier is for those of us that love to stop and smell the flowers.” Honeysuckle, tangerine, mango, May blossom, vanilla, nutmeg and clove. The one that usually identifies it for me is delicious ripe peach and the physical viscosity that gives it a creamy feel that you can literally see as the wine is poured.

Legend says that the Roman Emperor Probus brought this grape to France, and we will lead off with one from the AOC of Condrieu where it is the only grape variety allowed to be planted, and only with ancient strains that maintain the richness of this grape.

The total vineyard area of this tiny appellation on the steep slopes of northern Rhone Valley is only about 420 acres and it is considered the spiritual home of viognier.

Our 2019 Chapoutier Condrieu Invitare is produced by a family that have been leading vignerons in the Rhone for over 200 years, since 1808. Today they are the leaders in the area of biodynamic farming in all of France.

Pour and observe its deep, golden yellow with green highlights. The nose is very fruity with exotic fruit (pineapple), acacia blossom, lychee, apricot and white peach and it is round and full with good length in the mouth and a final touch of vanilla.

The vineyard soils are composed of schist and altered granites which come through in the wine as aromatic power and great complexity. This type of soil also gives the wine freshness and minerality.

If you are having Asian or Oriental food, this is sheer perfection. Just sipping it is also a joy. Critic Jeb Dunnock awards it a very credible 94/100. $62 (Stock #9450).

Now we move only a matter of yards out of the ancient Condrieu boundary and from the same family offer you 2019 Chapoutier La Combe Pilate Viognier and as their winemaker observes, decides and guides, they allow Mother Nature to have the final say.

Soils on the Chapoutier estate never see pesticides or herbicides, floral growth among the vines is essential. The natural cycles of earth, sun and moon are also considered, as are required by the principals of biodynamic farming.

After harvest, there is direct pressing of the whole bunches followed by a selection of the best juices from the pressing. There is a period of settling followed by fermentation in old 600-litre oak barrels followed by 8 to 9 months ageing in stainless vats.

The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and there is a very light stirring up of the lees (batonnage) during the first months of ageing. As with all Chapoutier’s wines, this wine features Braille on the label.

I have not mentioned what you may see, smell or taste as you can pay $27 and experience the fun of your very own impressions, which I promise will be favourable. (Stock #9438).

My go-to viognier over the years has been Chapoutier Domaine des Granges Mirabel Viognier and I am not alone, as we are out of the 2018 vintage that we have on our list.

I do want to mention the 2020 vintage though, as it is expected to arrive in May. The winery tells us that it is quite deep greenish-yellow with aromas of apricot, pear and marmalade. Their sommelier suggests seafood, especially salmon as an accompaniment.

Like the others here it has the Demeter symbol on the label to say that it has been certified as biodynamic.

I often like the tone of reviews that have been translated into English from another language and here is one on this wine from Europe: “Pear aroma on the front nose, an elegant backdrop here with a good, clear tone to it, nice and decisive. The palate is good; it is great to have a clear-running viognier. Exotic fruits assemble after half way. Ace wine!”

Our stock is #9454 and if you do find a bottle of the 2018 in one of our shops the price is $24.55.

If we travel to the New World the only example that I can offer you is 2020 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend that has been for many years now, the top selling wine, in cases, of this iconic Napa Valley winery.

Canadian writer Natalie MacLean comments, “Pine Ridge 2020 is great value. A vibrant Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend, grapes for this vintage were sourced from the banks of the Sacramento River in Clarksburg with the viognier wine grapes from the Lodi wine region in California.

“Dry, lush and medium-bodied with ripe apple, passion fruit, ginger and citrusy flavours on the palate. Chill and enjoy with pork chops from the grill. Chenin blanc viognier food pairings: seafood hot pot, grilled chicken, grilled shellfish.”

A lovely refresher for the weather ahead for $24.75 (Stock #6037).

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published April 29, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated April 29, 2022 at 7:48 am)

Celebrating vee-ohn-yay

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