Botrytis Viognier: Worth Hunting for!
In my last post, Part 2, The Riverina Shines with Some of the Best Botrytised Wines!, I talked about the wonderful botrytis semillons being produced in the Riverina, but I didn’t want to give you the impression that winemakers in different regions of Australia aren’t making excellent botrytised wines in other varieties.
In fact, at this year’s International Sweet Wine Challenge, the winner of both the Best Young Sweet – Other Varieties and Blends and International Sweet Wine of the Year was the Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier 2009 (rrp. $21.95), made by senior winemaker Peter Gambetta.
As was discussed in Viognier: A Difficult Grape makes a Great Wine!, viognier makes a very aromatic and full-bodied wine. In fact, Jancis Robinson refers to it as ‘the hedonist’s white grape variety’. No wonder it’s a perfect candidate for sweet, full flavoured botrytis wine. But as Robinson also rightly observes, it is often ‘the vitner’s headache’ – temperamental, low yields and slow development of its characteristic heady aromas challenge even the most experienced vitner. (Viognier by Jancis Robinson, JancisRobinson.com, 3 September 2008)
Yalumba, the first winery to plant viognier in Australia thirty years ago, has demonstrated that with ingenuity and persistence very fine viognier can be made in Australia even of the botrytised kind.
Wrattonbully in the Limestone Coast area in the south eastern part of South Australia provides the ideal climate for Yalumba’s botrytis viognier. Fruit ripens naturally with high sugar and flavours in the warm summer. Vines are grown to encourage a dense canopy, as it reduces air flow and encourages the infection and growth of botrytis cinerea, which is initiated and sustained by the dewy, cool mornings and sunny days of the long autumn. The grapes are difficult to press and several pressings are required to liberate all of the viscous nectar. High sugar juices are hard to ferment so a special yeast strain is used.
The result is a wine that offers an enticing, complex and fragrant bouquet with opulent flavours of apricots, peaches and spice, a luscious texture and a long and elegant finish.
Other fine examples of sweet botrytis viognier are not that easy to find. In New Zealand, the Trinity Hill Noble Viognier, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, 2009 (NZ$32), recently picked up the Trophy for Champion, Sweet Wine at the New Zealand International Wine Show. According to the judges, “this luscious sweetie has concentrated aromas of apricot, musk and orange blossom and nectar-like texture with concentrated apricot and a subtle smoky nuance.” Yves Cuilleron, considered a superstar of the Northern Rhone, makes a celebrated sweet example of Condrieu, the Ayguets cuvee, but most producers in this viognier appellation don’t focus on botrytis viognier.
So next time you buy a bottle of De Bortoli’s Noble One, also pick up a bottle of Yalumba’s FSW8B Botrytis Semillon and compare how two of Australia’s top producers have mastered the sweet botrytis wine style with quite different grape varieties!