For a while now, I’ve been accumulating various Viogniers, some purchased, some sent in as samples. While Shirazes and Chardonnays have moved through my liver at a fair clip, apricot delights have been taking up more and more room in the corner of my second bedroom, occasionally calling out but never making it much past the “lift, read label, put back down” stage of my wine selection routine
Viognier is one of those varieties I rarely reach for, not because I haven’t greatly enjoyed Viogniers in the past but simply because, perhaps unfairly, I think of them as a chore. I never know what to eat with them, I anticipate wines that are more opulent than refreshing; in other words, they really don’t fit into my day-to-day lifestyle, where food-friendliness and balance keep me whistling.
Enter Jeremy Pringle, fellow Brisbane-based wine blogger and Viognier apologist. We agreed to taste six Viogniers together so that a) I could make some room in my cellar, b) Jeremy could tell me how awesome Viognier is, and c) I might start to feel more affection, as opposed to occasional admiration, for the grape.
Here are the results, in the order in which they were tasted. You can also read Jeremy’s impressions at his site.
Lazy Ballerina Viognier 2009 ($A15, retail)
Lathery sunlight soap, moving to pithy, slightly bitter lemon. Not hugely expressive, this wine comes across as a fresh but neutral, which is surprising considering the variety. Looking closer, there’s an unexpected sense of detail and prettiness, like subtly executed white-on-white lacework. In the mouth, the entry is unusual and interesting, showcasing pithy bitterness more than anything else. I’d say apricot kernels but that’s more wishful thinking than a reflection of what’s actually there. There’s some slippery viscosity through the middle palate, where flavour swells to introduce some stonefruit in addition to light lemon juice and more refreshingly bitter astringency. It tightens through the lemon-juicy after palate.
A squeaky clean style. If it doesn’t engage the luscious, opulent side of Viognier, that’s because it is aiming for a fresher, Summer quaffing style with fairly broad appeal. Certainly well-made, and interesting in terms of seeing how the variety answers this particular stylistic question.
Tahbilk Viognier 2009 ($A17, sample)
Compared to the Lazy Ballerina, quite expressive aromas of honeysuckle and the merest hint of apricot. It’s fresh but paradoxically also seems full and ripe. There’s a bit of vanilla ice cream on the side. No great complexity overall.
Well-balanced in the mouth – it certainly avoids being too heavy. In fact, the acidity and phenolics are rather breathtaking, both abundant and present throughout the wine’s line. The entry and mid-palate show pleasant fruit — lemon, papaya and stonefruit — quite intense really. Mouthfeel, thanks to those structural elements, is raspy and unexpected, seemingly at odds with the fuller palate weight and richer flavours. If you can deal with the texture, at least it’s very fresh and cleansing. The after palate shows alcohol heat, which is present but not overly distracting.
This is a flavoursome wine for sure, yet right now it lacks refinement, mostly due to the way it feels in the mouth. Perhaps a few months in the bottle will help things to settle.
Ishtar Goddess White Viognier 2008 ($A19.50, sample)
Oak at last, plus some low-key cheese aromas indicative of a more active winemaking approach. The oak seems dominant at first but there’s an evolving complexity to the aroma as the wine sits in glass that includes poised stonefruit alongside the other elements. Still, the barrel is a key influence to the aroma profile and, for me, it works well.
In the mouth, good balance without any one element taking over. Entry is immediately flavoursome, if not terribly well defined. Middle palate shows greater complexity, some savoury flavours interacting with white stonefruit and richer, more hedonistic flowers and apricot. It’s quite phenolic, but the resultant textural influence is tempered by some astute winemaking, so that soft cream meets the rougher textures half way. All the while, bright fruit flavours march on over the after palate, retaining good presence right through the lengthy finish.
Very clever, cleverly-made wine that understands how to get the best from this variety while tempering its excesses. Excellent for the price.
Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau 2009 ($A22, retail)
Essence of Viognier. Complex, joyous flowers, apricot delight, ginger cake; it just smells so right, as if picked at perfect ripeness and talking straight to me. There’s some of the intense perfume of jasmine or even lantana, which is part floral and part tangled foliage. Whatever it is, it works and comes across as confident and pure. Very expressive – seems to reach out of the glass to me.
In the mouth, it’s worth mentioning the acidity first, which is beautifully judged and sits within the wine, moving flavours along and keeping the wine tight and fresh without shoving the other components around. Flavour is moderately intense and as complex as the nose. The conventional wisdom is that more intensity equals a better wine, but the restrained fruit flavour here seems totally appropriate and positively influences drinkability. Very clean after palate with some of the slipperiness one expects of Viognier. Quite a long finish.
A real surprise and much smarter than the quaffing white it seems to want to be. Rewards contemplative tasting and is quite delicious.
Blue Poles Viognier 2009 ($A17.50, sample)
Interesting personality, this one. It expresses itself differently, like someone whose speech patterns are syncopated with respect to everyone around them. Quite high toned, powdery aroma, like those personal fragrances that are heavy on the aldehydes. Flavours are in the citrus, spice and vanilla spectrum, but its character is less about fruit and more about silhouette and line.
The palate is fuller in weight than one might expect from the nose, though it’s a long way from luscious, juggy Viognier styles. Light overtones of breakfast marmalade here, but again the palate trades overt flavour for architecture and form. Entry is powdery, showing a streak of surprising minerality. The mid-palate relaxes a little and displays a bit of trademark Viognier slipperiness, but only a bit. The acidity is very firm but fine, and phenolics seem quite subtle, which means the texture retains some finesse overall. The after palate and finish are flinty and chiselled.
I find this wine absolutely fascinating; it shows clear stylistic intent and is executed with enough skill to render that intent compelling and attractive. The most intellectual wine of the tasting. This is the only wine I took home to retaste and, on day two, it is still tight, minerally and delicious. Exceptional value.
Clonakilla Viognier 2008 ($A45, retail)
This is so complex! Apparently lots of barrel work, with plenty of vanilla, spice and smoke, alongside fine honeycomb fruit flavours that are somewhat subservient to the overall aroma profile. Not to suggest it’s out of balance, but rather the whole thing is of a piece, and it’s almost misleading to call out “apricots” or “jasmine” as singular flavours. The aroma keeps evolving in the glass.
The palate is almost miraculously all things to all people, being full-flavoured, juicy, yet beautifully structured and balanced too. The entry is well weighted and quite flavoursome. Mid-palate is impossibly well judged, everything in its place without any sense of fussiness or strain. Flavour is intense but because the wine retains shape and control throughout, this intensity is expressed with poise and appropriateness. The after palate shows some slightly more blunt oak and grapefruit-like flavours before the finish takes over and establishes an afterglow of soft apricot fuzz that lingers on and on. As the wine sits in the glass, it is expressing more richness, almost to the point where the fruit flavour hints at dessert wine opulence.
The most impressive wine here, with the greatest level of refinement and sophistication. Everything makes sense with this wine.