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SWA 2011: NEW WORLD - VIOGNIER

Viognier
Still no Golds for Viognier, though certainly lighter, fresher, more food-friendly wines than in previous years

A decade ago, Viognier was being touted as the Next Big Thing, as everyone cast around
for Son of Chardonnay. So this year it has moved from the Other Whites category in the SWAs to a section all of its own. Sadly, the Pinot Grigio-isation of the UK, combined with winemakers realising that it was a tougher grape to get right than they initially thought, seems to have largely killed any grandiose dreams of world domination.

‘There hasn’t been a trajectory of improvement,’ sighed Ivan Dixon. ‘I can’t remember
the last well-priced New World Viognier I’ve found.’

Initial efforts with the grape, of course, tended to give wines with tons of fruit, high alcohol
and a somewhat sweet finish – three factors that, combined, act as a giant Do Not Touch
sign for the on-trade.

To the credit of the wineries, they have listened to the feedback and apparently acted
on it. There has been an obvious move among producers to lighten things up – to pick a little earlier to preserve freshness and drop the sugar levels.
All of this is welcome, but in many cases it seems to have come at the expense
of the grape’s exuberant apricot fruit character. ‘They’re keeping the acidity and losing
the Viognier,’ opined Gergely Szabo.

Having said that, when the producers got it right, the tasters were impressed, finding wines that had plenty of varietal character and also, vitally, a lot more zip than they predicted.

‘It’s not necessarily what you expect – that wonderful acidity,’ said Luigi Buonanno.

Certainly not at the upper end, where size still seems the key factor – huge fruit, burning alcohol and, worst of all, slatherings of oak. ‘At that price, they just stop focusing on the fruit,’ said Buonanno, ‘as if they are saying “this is our top Viognier so it must be oaky”.’

Although there were hints of apricot-love from South Africa and New Zealand, Chile and Australia provided most of the entries and picked up all of the medals. But, for now, this remains a variety that has yet to pick up a Gold in the SWAs.

“The best wines here are fruity, good value and easy drinking. ”  Alvaro Marcos Garcia, Home House

“It’s a difficult grape and quite a hard sell. I’m not sure that people are looking for Viognier at the lower price levels. ”  Charlotte Jonasson, Boxwood Café


SILVER 

Emiliana Organic Novas Viognier 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile
£6.20 @ Boutinot
  With floral and tropical fruit aromas, fresh peach and ripe apricot flavours, the acidity is perfectly balanced, giving a good finish. ‘Fine freshness, this is good for the price,’ said Charlotte Jonasson.

BRONZE

Deakin Estate Viognier 2010, Victoria, Australia
£6.29 @ Bibendum
Plenty of aromas to entertain on this light wine with its apricot and peach aftertaste. ‘Good for summer time,’ said Alvaro Marcos Garcia.

Willunga 100 Viognier 2010, McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills, Australia
£8.08 @ Liberty Wines
This has good varietal character and a juicy palate thanks to its well-integrated acidity. ‘White flowers, a touch of wax, plus plenty of apricots and tropical fruit give this wine great texture,’ said Gergely Szabo. ‘Good value,’ commented Team Leader Natasha Hughes.

Trinity hill gimblett Gravels Viognier 2007, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
£13 @ Enotria
Very aromatic nose of peach, apricot, pine kernel and honey blossom leads to a round, creamy palate supported by great acidity, a lick of minerality and finishing with a fresh flourish. ‘This is complex, weighty and multi-layered,’ said Ivan Dixon.


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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