26 September 2023

A Nod To Viogner

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By Christine Salins.


Viognier grapes

Yalumba Family Winemakers has dedicated more than 40 years to Viognier, a white variety that a lot of people still have trouble pronouncing (say it now, ‘vee-on-yay’).

Yet despite the fact that all those decades of hard work and acquired knowledge have gone into producing a stunning collection in a range of styles, at least 80% of the Viognier produced by Yalumba is exported.

I have to admit to being surprised by that statistic when senior brand manager, Jessica Hill-Smith, mentioned it during a tasting of wines to celebrate International Viognier Day which is coming up on Friday.

It seems that while Aussie consumers are still very much in love with fresh, aromatic, high-acid whites, people in the US and the UK have recognized the beauty in the more textural, fuller-bodied Viognier.

Yalumba’s Y Series Viognier, which sells here for around $15, is the top-selling imported Viognier in the US. “It’s a little giant, the Y Series Viognier, and sometimes we forget about that in Australia,” says Hill-Smith, who is heartened by the fact that Aussie chefs love Viognier.

The variety is perfect with food, according to Yalumba’s chief winemaker, Louisa Rose, who says its pairs beautifully with an incredibly wide variety of dishes (as you’ll see in this week’s recipe column).

Rose is one of Australia’s leading winemakers and has been there every step of the way in Yalumba’s journey with Viognier. Hill-Smith credits her with providing the turning point in achieving excellence.

“I often talk about how lost we were in our Viognier journey until Louisa Rose came along and fell in love with the variety with us and really started trying to treat a Viognier like a Viognier instead of trying to make a Riesling which we did for many years, or like a Chardonnay which we did for many years, but letting Viognier shine in its own right,” she said.

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier

For Rose, the turning point came in understanding and respecting the variety’s lower natural acidity, that it loves being in the sunshine and not protected like other whites, and that the wine was best made with natural yeast from the vineyards. “That was when we really started to see the flavours and complexities come into these wines,” she said.

Yalumba now produces five Viogniers, four of which are profiled here along with two blends produced by partner companies. (We’ll look at the Botrytis Viognier in an upcoming column.)

Langmeil has produced its Viognier blend for the past 5 years and co-proprietor James Lindner says it’s great to see more Barossa vineyards planting the variety. “When we’re talking about long-term future varieties that could work with us in our climate and deliver on quality, Viognier is certainly a really good path forward for us,” he said.

Hill-Smith is particularly encouraged when she sees a Rhône wine/Viognier section on restaurant wine lists. “There’s definitely more interest in moving beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay into something that’s a little more left of field for most Aussie drinkers,” she said.

Yalumba 2021 Y Series Viognier, $15: Great value for the price, this unoaked wine is flavoursome with fresh apricot characters and a hint of citrus zest. It is sourced from various South Australian regions but predominantly the Riverland where Viognier thrives in the warmer climate. The wine has been very successful globally since its introduction in 1998.

Yalumba 2021 Organic Viognier, $22: This is made in much the same way as the Y Series albeit from organically certified fruit, mostly from the Riverland. With spice and citrus aromatics, along with apricot and subtle ginger flavours, it has good body and length. “It shows the lovely richness that the Riverland can give,” says Rose.

Yalumba 2020 Eden Valley Viognier, $28: Fermented in old French oak, this opulent wine has notes of stonefruit and spice, and a deliciously long, refreshing finish that demands to be taken notice of.

Yalumba 2019 The Virgilius Viognier, $50: Yalumba’s flagship from its stunning Eden Valley vineyard, this one is a beauty. It’s quite restrained, with Rose expecting it to open up over time. She loves aged Viognier and says that a recently opened 2009 was “still incredibly fresh, beautiful and intense”. Perhaps cellar this one if you care to wait?

Langmeil 2021 Three Gardens Viognier Marsanne Roussanne, $20: A blend similar to those from the Côtes du Rhône region of France, this should perhaps be called Four Gardens since it also contains a small portion of Clairette. A blend of both unwooded and barrel-fermented, it’s a fresh, harmonious and very appealing blend.

Guigal 2019 Côtes du Rhône White, $35: A similar blend to the Langmeil, but with a tiny amount of Grenache Blanc as well. It has a slight nutty bitterness, pear and stonefruit notes, and a touch of honey. Pairs very nicely with a wide range of food.

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