Yarra Yering Carrodus Viognier 2012

The entry for Yarra Yering in James Halliday’s excellent Australian Wine Compendium (1985) reads in part: “the vineyard includes some very exotic varieties, including tiny quantities of viognier.”

It’s been a while since Viognier has been regarded as exotic in an Australian context; indeed, I can’t think of another variety that has had so meteoric, and so brief, an ascendancy. Now that it’s been largely relegated to the same figurative drawer in which one might keep incontinence pads and prawn cocktail, it’s worth remembering the variety can give rise to wines of spectacular beauty, such as this.

Unquestionably the most complex, taut and fine young Australian Viognier I’ve ever tasted. Although varietal in its expression of apricot kernels and spice, this finds a way of seeing the grape at its most crystalline, most mineral. There’s little of the voluptuousness one might expect. In its place, a positively racy palate structure, complex and orderly, sprinkling well formed flavours down the line with decisive articulation. If ever a wine were tense, this is it — there’s such a coiled intensity to the way the palate is placed on the tongue. It comes across as quite worked, with a good deal of oak input, and I like the way these winemaking artefacts are subservient to the fruit’s linear movement. Alcohol marks the after palate a little too prominently for my taste, though I don’t want to overstate its impact — there’s simply a bit of heat as the wine comes to a close.

It seems true that Viognier is a more divisive variety than many. I just wish more drinkers were able to see its expression here. An exceptional wine.

Yarra Yering
Price: $150
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Eloquesta A Boy with Fruit No. 1 NV

With his previous releases, Stuart Olsen with his Eloquesta label skirted the edges of eccentricity, but this release blasts through any vestigial sense of convention. Hipster-bait to be sure, this non-vintage mixed black blend (along with some Viognier) is, so declares the press release, more about region and winemaker than variety.

As an aside, how nice to see a producer acknowledge that, yes, people do play a role in winegrowing, and not just as impossibly romanticised shepherds of Nature’s Will as grapes make their way into the bottle.

No, this is a celebration of the winemaker, and it’s a good argument for placing an interesting person at the centre of a wine project. I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with Stuart Olsen aside from the occasional online interaction, but clearly there’s a curious, exploratory mind at work, even if some of the ideas being juggled (harvesting “in line with the lunar cycle”) are less interesting to me than others.

In the end, we judge these ideas through the wine produced, and I’m happy to note this is a very distinctive, enjoyable wine. It wears its eccentricity on its sleeve, and this smells notably unlike the mainstream. Its aroma is deeply fruited and forward, with a sappy edge and a general air of savouriness that underline the fruit and take it into less familiar territory. There’s an interplay of fresh, vibrant fruit, nougat oak and aldehydic cocoa powder that, for me, strikes a good balance.

The palate is very supple and establishes this as a wine that drinks well right now. It’s very giving, with a relaxed acid line that allows the mid-palate some expansiveness, perhaps at the expense of some tension and precision. Flavours are, again, an interesting mix of freshness and age, just as successful as on the nose, but with the added attraction of ripe, rather plush tannins through the after palate. Not a wine of great impact, perhaps, but drinkability is high, and the flavours are most distinctive.

I really like what’s happening with this label and I look forward to more.

Eloquesta by Stuart Olsen
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Dowie Doole Cane Cut Viognier 2010

For some reason, I don’t often reach for a sticky, even though I have thoroughly enjoyed many bottles over the years. I suppose it’s the, perhaps unfair, anticipation of flabby, sweet vulgarity that keeps me away; to my palate, there are few things as undrinkable as a low acid, high sugar, sweet white dessert wine. So, despite almost tasting this on several occasions, I’ve restricted myself to admiring its spectacularly pretty packaging and thinking about the various ways in which a cane cut Viognier might go off the rails. Not known for its subtlety, my greatest fear was too overt an expression of Viognier varietal character; I imagined great gobs of apricot flopping over yet more gobs of apricot, cloying its way along my palate, making me wish I’d stuck to admiring how well-judged the slightly blingy label is against the lovely hue of the wine.

The reality of this wine is diametrically opposed to my fears for it, and in fact shows an exceptionally well-judged sense of style in its making. It’s a light sticky, fleet in the mouth, with just enough fruit flavour to fill out its delicate vibe. In fact, the nose could be that of a rich dry table wine, showing apricot kernels, firm stonefruit flesh, light vanilla and heady florals. There’s an almost savoury tone to it that is a lovely counterpoint to the relative richness of the fruit character; certainly, everything seems in balance. Mostly, this aroma speaks simply of fresh fruit, picked and eaten at the point of early ripeness.

The palate shows great continuity of style, echoing the nose’s nimble aroma profile with a palate structure that is gentle but shapely, well matched to the wine’s moderate weight and body. It’s here the wine’s sugar content has an impact, creating good intensity of fruit flavour from entry onwards, and rounding out the mouthfeel. There could probably be a touch more acid, as the fruit just starts to cloy through the after palate. The whole is so light, though, that this isn’t a serious flaw.

Mostly, this is fun, delicious, and just sophisticated enough.

Dowie Doole
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 1998

A couple of weeks back, I finally, finally got around to inventorying all of the wine that’s stashed around the house (and in the garage). The single most important thing I learned? I have way, way too much wine. (Duh.) Most surprising of all, however, was coming to the realization that I had a few things in the dodgy wine fridge in the garage that I had completely forgotten about. Case of 2002 Petaluma riesling? Check. Six pack of 1998 Clonakilla s/v that presumably came from the closeout bin somewhere, complete with discounted price stickers? Check. Why I didn’t realize this earlier, I have absolutely no idea. So what to with this stuff? Easy: Drink it.

This wine doesn’t look remarkably old; the cork was in good shape and it’d been carefully cellared for a good long time. It’s beautiful to look at, with some browning towards the rim, but more importantly it’s got that lovely sort of finely particulate look that I for whatever reason enjoy. On the nose, this smells like nothing so much as Cornas. Honestly. It’s got just a hint of rich, dark syrah fruit – but over and above that it’s got real minerality, charred back bacon, dried violets, and the smell of rye bread baked over an open fire, giving it a roasted, charry, smoky effect.

Upon entry, the first thing that strikes me is the relatively light feel of the wine, combined with a surprise sourness. However, given time and attention, the palate does fill out, balancing the sourness with bright, sharp red fruit. Tannins are still very much present, but nicely silken and restrained at this point; there also seems to be just a hint of cocoa on the finish, which gracefully declines into a lively, babble of sweet cherry fruit and spicy, earthy meats.

I don’t know what this wine was like when it was younger; a lot’s happened since these grapes were harvested. There is a real beauty to this wine, though, and although it may not be the most complex or enthralling Clonakilla I’ve tasted, it still has moments of transcendence and beauty to offer.

Price: $30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Ishtar Goddess White 2009

I find it interesting that Viognier seems to polarise not only drinkers, but winemakers as well. It’s perhaps not unexpected for a variety that is still quite new in mass market Australian terms, but there’s a diversity of styles (see our recent mega-tasting for some examples) that, it seems to me, speaks more of uncertainty than confident choices. 

By contrast, one of the things I enjoy about Anita Bowen’s wines is that they are all about confidence. Not showiness, but a certainty that enables them to reveal themselves slowly, never crying out too loudly for either love or admiration. Her 2008 Viognier stood out in the mega-tasting lineup for its appropriate winemaking and sense of stylistic resolution. This more recent vintage is no different, though apparently achieved with more subtle winemaking inputs.
A heady, perfumed nose of honeysuckle, spice and nectarine skins. It’s an entirely coherent aroma profile without being especially complex (in the sense of having a cascade of different flavours). It is, however, very well defined and precisely layered, and becoming more expressive the longer it sits in glass. 
The palate is similarly etched, with an additional, quite adult, streak of phenolic bitterness that strikes me as entirely positive. First, the entry, which is immediate and fleet, depositing bright fruit flavours onto the tongue before reaching a middle palate that shows good balance between acidity and the sort of viscous mouthfeel that can easily sink Viognier. The tension between these two elements is more interesting to me than the flavours here, which are very correct but slightly simple and “grapey.” The after palate shows that lovely bitter, pithy streak before the wine tapers off through a reasonable finish.
This wine just feels right in the way it has been judged and executed. 

Balthazar of the Barossa
Price: $A19.50
Closure: Other
Source: Sample

Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley 2008

Wonderfully refreshing and complex, this is miles away from the screechingly acidic honeysuckle toffee you so often get in viognier at this price point. Glowing golden green in the glass, I suddenly found myself remembering what it was like to lick buttercream frosting off of the metal stand mixer beaters when I was young: there’s a brief, sharp flash of alloyed brightness that quickly folds itself into a lusciously textured, lemon-rind and salt water taffy hugeness that is barely contained within a hulkingly big, disproportionately sized wine that thankfully stops just this side of gaucheness. On the nose, the aromatics remind me of Osage orange and bitter white flowers; there’s also a subtle hint of freshly churned butter as well as a suggestion of something akin to marjoram.I’m very impressed with this wine, but I will that it stops just short of greatness: there’s some tension in the outsize-osity of the finish that is uncomfortably close to a beer gut spilling over the waist of daggy polyester trousers, I’d say. For all of the wine’s charms, it could do with a bit less ripeness, a bit less flab, and a bit more minerality – but still, could you possibly have expected better for the price?Yalumba
Price: $13
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Printhie Mount Canobolas Collection Shiraz Viognier 2008

Ever since Shiraz Viognier blends became popular in Australia, a very few years ago really, it seems to me producers have been struggling with how (perhaps even why) to tackle this style. The biggest problem, for me at any rate, is too evident a Viognier influence, turning what would ideally be a feminine, elegant wine into something caricatured, almost cartoonish, with overt apricot flavours and an unattractively pumped up mouthfeel. I’m making all sorts of problematic assumptions about style, of course, but that has been my honest reaction over a few years of tasting local Shiraz Viogniers. So I tend to approach them with some trepidation.

This wine let me down at first. Apricot aromas dominate slightly reticent spicy Shiraz and create a sweet, exaggerated aroma profile akin to a forced smile. The apricot never entirely settles into the fabric of the wine, but it does recede sufficiently with some swirling to allow meaty, white peppery berries to step forward and share the spotlight. There’s also some well judged ice cream oak to add complexity. 
The palate is replay of the nose’s evolution over the short term. Starting too sweet and slippery, it becomes much more savoury after an hour of air. Entry is cheeky, with a thread of red fruit sliding along the tongue towards a middle palate that remains tight, but adds an array of peppery, savoury flavours. Weight is light to medium bodied, with a focused architecture and brisk movement along the line. Intensity is only moderate, and the overall impression is one of lithe elegance rather than power. A textured, slightly raspy after palate that emphasises pricklier aspects of the flavour profile, with just a bit of fruit sweetness to keep things friendly. Good length.
Not entirely resolved as a wine, but there’s plenty to enjoy, and it’s nice to taste a premium label that takes a measured, subtle approach to style. Elegant packaging.

Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Viognier mega-tasting

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. 

Yalumba Hand Picked Barossa Shiraz + Viognier 2001

Dusty roasted cocoa nibs come to mind, backed with the residue of children’s fruit leather that was forgotten underneath the front seat of a minivan for months: dusty-sweet with faint memories of summertime. The taste, however, seems at odds with the way the wine smells, brightly acidic and with a midpalate reminiscent of a general store pickle barrel, the wine is strangely fascinating, with a spiky, velvety texture that spreads out to a long finish of patent medicines and schmoozingly-textured tannin. This is a real odd duck of a wine: far from elderly, it seems to be holding on just fine eight years after harvest. I’m not sure if I like it, but I respect it: this is a fairly crowded category (South Australian shiraz) and this is one of the most unique bottles I’ve tasted. It’s not jammy raspberry motor oil, it’s not archaeo-funky Rockford, and it’s not Côte-Rôtie light, but something entirely other. I imagine this would pair very well with Japanese food that features grilled mackerel and other umami-intensive foodstuffs: there’s a certain cogency nere with savory, grilled, fishy, salty foods that’s intensely appealing once you get over the shock of it not being like something you’ve had before. Whoever made this wine should be damn proud of what they’ve achieved here. Yalumba
Price: $28
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Mulyan Block 9 Shiraz Viognier 2007

Some wines tread a fine line between angular and offputting. This wine (or this bottle) is certainly a good example; at least at first, where the overriding impression is one of tacky New Zealand geothermal theme parks (“Craters of the Moon!”) and mud. But just as I was about to reach for the term “European” to describe what felt like a borderline faulty wine, it has zapped into focus, becoming a peppery, meaty expression of Shiraz Viognier that is decidedly improving with air.

Full-on pepper steak aromas smother core of dense berry fruit, quite dark in character and brambly in expression. The aroma is actually quite fascinating in its cacophony; I can’t decide whether it’s disjointed or a radically different interpretation of coherence. I suppose that it prompts such aesthetic flights of fancy is a point in its favour, irrespective of taste.
The palate is also curiously styled, with a plump apricot presence alongside red berries and more cooked steak. It’s flavoursome for sure; the entry has good immediacy and zips along in the mouth, thanks mostly to some fairly prominent acidity. The middle palate relaxes a little, though it’s still bright. Medium bodied, this wine’s mouthfeel is slippery despite the acid, and reminds me a little of the way apricots feel when you bite into a ripe one. Fruit character is quite sweet, which is a provocative counterpart to the funky, meaty notes and makes for a flavour profile that is full of contradictions. Good continuity through the after palate, and a nice flourish on the finish helps berry flavour to linger on for a good while.
Despite its oddity, I’m fascinated by this wine. Its profile is far from conventional, and tends towards exaggeration. But it’s also more beautiful than many conventionally styled wines. 

Mulyan Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample