Wow, I think I've found a New Zealand Viogner that expresses the delicacy that the variety promises - and shows in its best forms from the Rhone Valley in France.
Viognier has been on a bit of a roll in New Zealand since the first plantings arrived here in the 1990's and were planted in Hawkes Bay by Te Mata Estate. The first Te Mata Viognier was from the 1997 vintage but production was tiny. However the word got out and cuttings started to multiply. Today Viognier is planted in most parts of New Zealand and with 86 hectares in production in 2006 (according to the 2005 New Zealand Winegrowers Statistical Annual), the wines are no longer that rare.
However, of all the New Zealand Viogniers that I have tasted to date, none have really delivered what the best of the variety promises (except, perhaps, for the
Gladstone Viognier that I raved about last year). While some have been good, in fact very good with that gorgeous essence of apricot, they have still been either too fruity, too oaky, too yeasty, too oily or too neutral. To find out what I mean, put a New Zealand Viognier against even a simple Vin de Pays Viognier from the Northern Rhône - preferably a Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodianne from across the road or around the corner of the famed Condrieu appellation - and compare.
That 'to date' in the above paragraph was actually last Monday (19th June) because last Tuesday (20th June) I had a Viognier revelation. It was at a tasting of Villa Maria's Reserve and Single Vineyard wines and one of the wines was a new one. It was the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2005. It blew me away and caused me to write all sorts of wows and exclamations in my notebook.
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2005 is pale but clear and bright in the glass. It's a newly released wine and while aromatic and delicately musky with a hint of white pepper and pear it could, I suppose, at this early stage of its life, be considered a little neutral.
But there is nothing neutral at all about the palate - in fact, I thought it amazing. There's a musky floral character with a nutty undercurrent to the essence of apricot fruit, the texture has just the right amount of slipperiness and the dry finish is long and clean with a slightly bready note as it lingers.
And although fermented in barrel but there is absolutely no oak flavour coming through to compete with the delicacy and vinous sweetness of the simply ethereal fruit.
With a little time - or a bigger glass than what I had - the aromas will soon be as mesmerising as the flavours, I'm sure.
Viognier is a grape that has to be watched carefully in the vineyard and picked just as the acid starts to drop but before it drops so much acid that the flavours become flabby. With the Single Vineyard philosophy, winemaker Corey Ryan can pick just a fews rows on part of a block, even one side of a row on part of a block, to attain the flavours he believes will make the best wine. He seems to have achieved that, picking the fruit for this wine when the acids were low enough, when the phenolics were high enough and in balance and when the fruit flavour was at its best.
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2005 carries 14.5% alcohol by volume, is sealed with a screwcap and costs $36.95 a bottle at full retail. While you won’t find this at the supermarket you may find it at Fine Wine stores but you will definitely find it at the Villa Maria Cellar Door in Montgomerie Road in Mangere, near Auckland International Airport. Found out more from www.villamaria.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
25 June 2006