In yesterday’s post, Wine of the Week: Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier I talked about how Clonakilla had transformed perceptions of Australian Shiraz with its ingenious blend of Shiraz and Viognier – inspired by a style of wine associated with Northern Rhône’s Côte-Rôtie. By co-fermenting just a small percentage of Viognier with Shiraz, Tim Kirk of Clonakilla lifted his wine’s aromatic profile and added a new dimension to the palate structure, creating a wine that was lighter and more elegant than traditional Australian Shiraz.

So what are the attributes of Viognier, an enigmatic rare white grape variety, that made its addition to Clonakilla’s Shiraz so special?

A little bit of research revealed that Viognier, the only permitted grape of the tiny Northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Château-Grillet, was almost extinct in the mid 1960s. In fact, the revival of the grape’s fortunes has much to do with the efforts and persistence of Australian and Californian winemakers!

In Australia, Viognier was first planted by Yalumba in 1980. At the time, Peter Wall, Yalumba’s Director of Wine, had just returned from a trip to Condrieu where he became convinced that the exotic grape variety was suited to the winery’s vineyards in the Eden Valley. Yalumba used clones from three vines of 1968 stock, which they believe were imported by the local Nurioopta viticultural station in 1968.  Even by the 1980, only 20 hectares of Viognier were left in Condrieu, so sourcing new clones directly from France was not a viable option at the time.

Managing Director Robert Hill Smith calls Yalumba’s 30 year relationship with the grape a “labour of love”.  At its best, single variety Viognier is a brilliant clear golden yellow with intense flowery (violets) and fruity (apricot, white peaches and citrus) aromas interwoven with honeysuckle scents and minerality. A complex, layered palate and viscosity are other hallmarks of great Viognier.

The variety, however, is really tricky to grow. Yields are typically low and unpredictable, and in order to get those intense apricot flavours to shine through, the grapes need to stay on the vine for a very long time… [Read More]