Essence of Condrieu

Viognier is a difficult grape varietal to deal with. When ripening, the grapes rapidly build up high sugar levels, often before the grapes reach phenolic, or ‘flavour’, ripeness. The challenge is to achieve this phenolic ripeness before the grapes develop too much sugar, which would result in an unpleasantly alcoholic wine.

The appellation of Condrieu in the Northern Rhône, France, is one of the few locations around the world that can successfully balance these two phenomena in the viognier grape. As such, Condrieu wines have achieved near-mythical status, especially for a Rhône white wine, and as such are rather expensive. I was fortunate enough to sample a bottle of Jaboulet Les Cassines Condrieu 2009 with a friend recently. This wine is, I understand, typical of the very essence of Condrieu.

Although the wine was rather cold when I first approached it, it was still incredibly aromatic. These aromas only intensified as the wine warmed in the glass. I had a powerful aroma of ripe, almost dried, apricots, along with walnuts, citrus blossom and talc. As I left the wine in the glass, subtle licorish and toasty aromas developed – the wine is fermented in oak barriques, 15% of which are new wood.

The body was notably oily. This is a rather ambiguous descriptor for a wine, and is perhaps overused. However, more than any other wine I’ve had, this is the best word for the texture of the wine on the palate. The wine was full-bodied, with low acidity and moderately-high alcohol (the label has 13.5%). The flavour profile was very engaging; indicative of a well-made wine using excellent fruit, the flavours were complex and no one flavourset dominated. I perceived apricots, nashi pear, a slight stalkiness reminiscent of grass going to seed, citrus pith, toast and a subtle pepperyness. This wine had a fairly long finish, fading away to peach and hay – certainly reminiscent of a hot summer in the south of France!

One of the best things about such a full-bodied, ‘oily’ white wine, is that it is very versatile for food pairing. It went admirably well with both the crayfish and salmon terrine, and the grilled steak with dauphinoise potatoes we had for dinner!

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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