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Wine

Know Your Variety - Viognier

From near extinction, to a vibrant revival, Australian Viognier is going from strength to strength. To help us learn more about this elegant wine, we reached out to a few experts with winemakers from Yalumba, Soumah and Claymore Wines.

Marnie Roberts, Claymore Wines’ chief winemaker, sums up this luscious and complex white variety:
Viognier can be a bit tricky to get right as it has a tendency to have variable crop loads, favours warm, but not hot climates, and requires specific attention to harvest time as it provides a small window for ripeness,” she says. “In saying that, if you get it right, the perfume and aromatics, as well as flavour and delicate mouthfeel produce an absolutely stunning wine.”

Australian Viognier - An Infographic Guide

Origins

Viognier’s spiritual home is in France’s northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie, however, it is thought that it originated in Dalmatia (Bosnia) and was imported into France around 280AD.

While Viognier is popular now, it came close to extinction in the 1960s, largely because of its low yields and unpredictability in the vineyard. By 1968 there were only around 14 hectares growing in northern Rhône.

Luckily for wine lovers, by the 1980s a few Californian wineries and Australia’s Yalumba had become very interested in Viognier, ensuring its rescue and a new lease on life.

Viognier in Australia

Australia’s diverse climate results in a broad range of Viognier styles from the elegant, fragrant style to a luscious, full-bodied white wine.

While, Viognier is grown across Australia in regions including Barossa, Adelaide Hills, Hunter Valley, the Yarra Valley, Riverland and the Limestone Coast, it’s in the Eden Valley under the care of Yalumba, that it has really flourished and produces some of the world’s best white wines.   

Considered one of the world’s most influential producers of Viognier, Yalumba was responsible for the first significant plantings in Australia when they planted 1.2 hectares of vines in the Eden Valley’s Vaughan Vineyard back in 1980.

For over 40 years they have nurtured the variety in their Yalumba Nursery from the early Montpellier 1968 clones used for nearly half of the early plantings, to instigating a clonal development programme in consultation with the great Viognier makers from around the globe.

What the Experts Have to Say

Louisa Rose – chief winemaker, Yalumba

A leader within Australia’s wine industry, Louisa’s career with Yalumba spans over 20 years with her passion for Viognier and her developmental work of the varietal making her name synonymous with Viognier in Australia.   

“After many years of work and experimentation, we have six individual wines in our Yalumba Viognier collection,” explains Louisa. “In 2005, eight different clones propagated in the Yalumba Nursery were planted on the south-eastern part of the Yalumba Eden Valley vineyard in the Virgilius Vineyard. It’s now the most clonally diverse planting of Viognier anywhere in Australia – giving my team and I, the opportunity to create wines of great promise and diversity.”

“Viognier is exciting to drink and talk about – it goes so well with our food based lifestyle,” says Louisa. “There is still a long way to go to make the variety known to all the wine drinkers out there, lots of talking and tasting and spreading the world.”

Scott McCarthy – chief winemaker, Soumah

Located in the Yarra Valley, Soumah specialises in wines from eastern France and across to northern Italy and refers to their Viognier as Goldie Locks, “as it has to picked just right!”

“It’s the peaches and cream characteristics that we seek and in our quest, we’ve planted three distinct clones of Viognier,” says Scott. “However, it is not only about the creamy lusciousness of the wine, it is also about a refined yet nervous spine that leaves a fresh clean-cut finish.”
“If we pick too early we lose the peaches, if we pick too late we will deliver an oily, clumsy wine, so it has to be just right, a goldilocks temperament so to speak, and we endeavour to get it just right every year!”

Marnie Roberts – chief winemaker, Claymore Wines

Claymore Wines’ Shankly Vineyard is one of the very few plantings of Viognier in the Clare Valley.

“Our Viognier is grown in a small pocket in Watervale that provides ambient sunshine and daytime warmth but cool nights. This allows the delicate florals and juicy acid to gradually develop and gives us the opportunity to have a bit of a play with it. We pick at a lower end of ripening (about 10 baume) to retain the juicy acid and delicate nature to allow us to stop fermentation prior to complete dryness for an off-dry to sweet style of this grape,” Marnie explains.

“Our Skinny Love Summer Viognier is made with minimal intervention ensuring that the mouthfeel is super appealing, like biting into a red delicious apple. It’s an extremely pretty, delicate and approachable wine.”

Viognier Tasting Notes

The distinguishing characters of Australian Viognier include stone fruit, predominantly apricot, perfumed scents and high alcohol. Viognier responds positively to oak, adding richness to the texture and a nutty complexity that complements the apricots. Viognier is also regularly co-fermented, or blended with Shiraz to give further complexity and fragrance.

“When great, the wines are seductive, luscious, opulent, viscous, full-flavoured with exotic aromas of lychee, musk, rose, pear, apricot, peach, nectarine, ginger, spice, citrus blossoms and long silky rich textures,” explains Louisa Rose.

Food Matches

Similar in weight to Chardonnay and Rousanne, it pairs well with a great range of foods including rich seafood, red and white meats, and spicy dishes like Indian, Thai and Moroccan.

“In short Viognier is a fabulous food wine,” says Louisa Rose. “It goes with everything from the spicy northern African to Asian cuisine, from white meat to reds meat, and with all the earthy flavours and textures such as mushrooms, wasabi and root vegetables, plus it’s just at home with a cheese plate.”

“Viognier covers the foods and occasions that you would expect a white to, and then seamlessly moves into those that you would normally associate more with red wines and it is often called the red wine drinkers white wine,” she says.

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Words by Daniel Honan on 15 Oct 2017
The Italian varietal Vermentino is winning fans for its wonderfully refreshing characters and textural mouthfeel making it the drink for this summer. You heard it here first – Vermentino is the new white! There are fewer wines around that are as sexy to say, taste as good, and are perfect paired with a spread of fresh seafood on a summer’s afternoon. In fact, drinking a glass of Vermentino is like going on a Mediterranean holiday. Indeed, Vermentino hails from the type of places where warm sun and cool sea breezes, cellar doors and summer afternoons are in abundance. Just off the coasts of Italy and France are the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, which lie (almost) in the middle of the Mediterranean, split between the Balearic and Tyrrhenian Seas. Here you’ll find a melting pot of different soils (limestone, granite, sandstone and clay) and climates (maritime and continental) mixed together to provide the perfect growing conditions for this unique grape variety. Aussie Vermentino Just like its home in the Med, here in Australia, Vermentino seems especially at home near the coast, in regions like McLaren Vale , Margaret River , even the Hunter Valley . Yet, this grape variety is also finding favour, and flavour, in other places a little further from the shore, such as King Valley , the Barossa , and the Riverland wine region around Mildura. Inland wine growers, Chalmers, have been pioneering alternative varietals for over 15 years. The family first planted Vermentino back in 2000, and were one of the first wineries in Australia to make wine from the variety. 

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- Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Wines, Riverland
That is the great thing we’ve discovered about this (and other) Italian varietals recently trialled across the many wine regions of Australia - their adaptability. If you speak to a European producer of Vermentino, they’ll probably tell you that the grapes must be grown in close proximity to the sea, so that they can possess and express their inherently unique and refreshing sea-spray aroma and flavour. “Our experience growing Vermentino would suggest otherwise,” counters Kim. “We’ve only ever grown the variety very inland, and yet we still get that delicious sea-salt, briny character in all of our wines made from the variety. I think the closeness to the ocean rumour might be an old wives tale.” Key characters
The unique textural and sensual characteristics of Vermentino are what make this variety such a delicious alternative to your typical tipple of, say, Sauvignon Blanc , or Pinot Gris . The dominant aromas and flavours expressed by the grape include juicy lemons and limes, fleshy grapefruit, crunchy green apples and crushed almonds. Sometimes, you may notice the briny scent of ocean-spray drifting over fresh jasmine. At other times, you might smell a hint of beeswax and musk, or taste fresh tropical fruits, crispy pear, with a touch of salt. This all depends, of course, on where the grapes are grown, when they’re picked, and what the winemaker’s intent is when making Vermentino into wine. If the grapes are picked early you will, typically, note freshness and citrus, with bright, crunchy acids. If the grapes are allowed to ripen and are picked a bit later, you get a fleshier, juicier, more tropical style of wine. “The thing about Vermentino is it’s a very late picked varietal, for example, in the Hunter they pick it after Shiraz,” says winemaker David Hook, who has been specialising in Italian varietals for 30 years. “Some go for that lighter, crunchier style, which is picked earlier and is great for everyday drinking. But in Orange, where I source my Vermentino, I like to wait as long as I can to pick it as it gives a bigger, richer style that really highlights the varietal characters and the texture is ramped up.” Phil Ryan, co-Chairman of the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , echoes David’s preference for the fuller, riper style of Vermentino, saying that it offers so much more for the drinker. “The riper style of Vermentino offers far more complexity and intrigue to the wine,” says Phil. “It also allows those delicious stonefruit characteristics to come to the fore and plays to one of its major appeals, which is its texture.” Vermentino’s textual qualities (the way the wine feels in the mouth when you drink it) also boosts its food matching ability and is one of the reasons why this varietal stands out from the rest of the wine crowd.

Vermentino always goes down well by the glass, here. We’ll often get people sitting at the bar snacking on a bowl of salty, crispy white bait. Personally, I love it matched to a plate of grilled blue mackerel with fresh tomato, olives and chilli.

- Stuart Knox, , Owner and sommelier of Fix St James, in Sydney.
For renowned Vermentino producer Joe Grilli from Primo Estate in McLaren Vale, the big attraction of Vermentino is the combination of freshness and texture. “Our Vermentino has aromas of fresh melon fruits, then some intriguing almond notes, followed by the slightest touch of citrus to finish,” says Joe. “What makes Vermentino so delicious is when all these facets are wrapped up in a lighter bodied wine with still enough texture to really satisfy the tastebuds.” In fashion There is no doubt Vermentino is one of the hottest whites around. Its increasing popularity in wines bars and restaurants around the country is reflected in its growing success at wine shows, particularly the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, held each year in Mildura. Organiser, Kim Chalmers says that Vermentino is one of the most popular wines of the show. “It’s massive,” says Kim. “We’ve had a Vermentino class since 2008 and for a number of years only a handful of wineries entered wines into that class. Within five years, the numbers have boomed. Last year there were 93 entries, and now the class has split into two separate classes: one for the lighter and fresher styles, and one for the more fuller bodied, richer styles.” There’s even a third style to be found in Australia, these days. It’s said that the name Vermentino derives from the Italian word, ‘fermento’, which relates to the fizzy characters of the young wine and this might have inspired Fowles Wine, from the Strathbogie Ranges, to make a fun, sparkling style of Vermentino. “I’m a huge fan of the tangy lemon and light florals of Vermentino and thought it might be fun to see those characters sparkle,” says Matt Fowles. “We make our sparkling Vermentino in a Prosecco style, and, I must say, I’ve been surprised just how well it’s been received!” The tasting For this tasting, over 50 Vermentinos were submitted to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel . For a wine considered to still be an ‘emerging’ varietal, the pass rate was impressively high with around 75% scoring a medal. The top 20 wines were hotly contested and, as expected, the spread of regions was vast with multiple entries from the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale and Barossa, as well as Riverland, which doesn’t often get much kudos in wine shows, but is proving to be a real contender with Italian varietals. The styles were varied, which is to be expected, given all the variables, but the underlying characters remained true – delicious stonefruit flavours balanced with freshness and texture with subtle sea salt notes and energetic acidity. You just have to find the particular nuances that appeal to you. Yep, Vermentino is here. Whether enjoying a warm afternoon with a sumptuous spread of seafood or sitting in a cosy bar planning a potential Mediterranean sojourn, pairing your activity with a glass of your favourite Vermentino seems like the perfect thing to do. The Standout Vermentino from the Tasting Trentham The Family Vermentino 2016 (Murray Darling) Chalmers Vermentino 2016 (Heathcote) Stone Dwellers Limited Release Vermentino 2015 (Strathbogie Ranges) Lovable Rogue The Italian Jobs Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) Parish Hill Vermentino 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Seppeltsfield Cellar Door Collection Vermentino 2017 (Barossa) Tulloch Cellar Door Release Vermentino 2017 (Orange) Chalk Hill Wines Vermentino 2016 (McLaren Vale) Saddler’s Vermentino 2015 (Barossa) Alejandro Vermentino 2016 (Riverland) Alternatus Vermentino 2016 (Mclaren vale) David Hook Central Ranges Vermentino 2016 (Orange) First Creek Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) La Maschera Vermentino 2015 (Barossa)
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Peos Estate | Wine of the Season
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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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