Every so often I break my rule – after all why make a rule unless you can break it! The rule is that every week the 'Wine of the Week' shall be a New Zealand wine.
I've only broken the rule a couple of times before but after I tasted an exquisite French wine made from Viognier grapes, I knew I couldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t break the rule again. For this beautiful wine touched me in an almost magical way.
The stories I've heard about great French Viognier make it sound mythical. It started with a tiny appellation called Condrieu in the Northern Rhone, producing wines so rare that you only ever read about them but they never pass your lips. According to the website enjoyingviognier.com, 40 years ago there was only 8 hectares of viognier growing in this tiny appellation that was characterised by steep hills and gnarly old vines that produced almost uneconomical low yields. But the result was wonderfully concentrated wines of exquisite flavour. In 1965 Viognier was 'rediscovered' and since then the production from this hallowed ground has been slowly increasing.
This new interest in Viognier meant it eventually spread to other parts of France and then to other countries as well. Though none of these spawns would ever have the status as those from Condrieu. Which also meant these none of the others would ever be as expensive as those from Condrieu.
But could the wines be as good?
Quite possibly, judging by the Domaine Barou Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Viognier 2002, not that I have any Condrieu to compare it with.
This wine is obviously not from Condrieu – but it comes from pretty close by, in fact as close as across the road from the appellation. But as it is not part of the appellation it is, by French law, a Vin de Pays, which evidently means a higher quality 'ordinary' table wine. As because it is not an 'appellation' wine, it is thus allowed to carry the name of the grape on the label. And it is megabucks cheaper.
Pale straw gold in colour with an aromatic scent reminding me of toasted nuts and lime zest, the acids are soft in the palate that has a creamed nut and melted butter texture. Lifted, floral and spicy, subtle, delicate, clean and beautifully balanced with tantalizing flavours of fresh ripe apricot and orange water, a soft neutral warm finish and a lovely aftertaste with hints of lemon grass and nutmeg as it lingers with understated power. It is dry to just off dry, the apparent sweetness may be coming from the fruit and there could be a smidgen of older oak adding complexity to the whole.
The producer, Domaine Barou, produces Viognier from the Condrieu appellation as well and cultivates his all his vines, as well as the fruit and vegetables that he grows and sells in the local markets, using organic practices.
This wine is available in New Zealand from www.organicfrenchwine.co.nz and costs $32 a bottle, though multiple bottle purchases are required. When it comes to the Viognier, it will be worth it.
Try this Viognier with a pan fried fillet of John Dory, a delicate wine for a delicate fish, nicely complementary, neither overpowering.
I should also mention that this wine had one of the new vogue synthetic corks making it a TCA-free zone, which is something that you wouldn't want near such a delicate wine.
© Sue Courtney
13 February 2005