Sunday, August 15, 2010

The thrilling scent of good viognier

Emily and Ron Laughton, Jasper Hill
Putting a wine with virtually no track record or reputation into a blind tasting alongside critically acclaimed, well-established examples of the same grape variety is either very brave or very foolish. But good winemakers love to indulge in this strange masochistic ritual; they are constantly benchmarking their wines against others, and bizarrely, they often invite wine writers along.

The latest vineyard to play the blind comparison game is Winbirra on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. As well as the regional staples, pinot noir and chardonnay, Winbirra also - unusually - produce a viognier. Vignerons Jo Pittendrigh and Marshal Caffyn wanted to see how theirs stacked up, so they tracked down ten other examples - including heavyweights such as Castagna, Yarra Yering, Jasper Hill and Yalumba’s Virgilius - and arranged a blind tasting.

Many of these other producers never enter wine shows or comparative tastings, so for me it was a great opportunity to have a good sniff and sip, to see how this most fascinating of white grapes is coming along in some of Australia’s top vineyards.

The good news for Winbirra is that their viognier compared very favourably with the big names: the 2008 had some lovely creamy apricot fruit, while the 2009 was finer, with more of a chewy cashew character - all flavours and tastes that I expect to find in good viognier.

The most fascinating thing about the tasting, though, was how remarkably diverse all the viogniers were - and how the best ones displayed characters that spoke less of the variety and more of the terroir of the vineyard. The 2008 Castagna Viognier, for example, had beguiling floral perfume - like lilies - but also a remarkable, firm spine of minerality so typical of other grape varieties planted in the cool granite soils of Beechworth.

The 2009 Jasper Hill Viognier had oodles of creamy varietal flavour and texture - an honest expression of the hot vintage and minimal intervention winemaking, too - but also had a eucalpyt and cedar tang that is found in so many wines from Heathcote. Likewise, the 2009 Tim Smith Adelaide Hills Viognier had an extraordinary delicacy and pristine brightness to its floral perfume and chalky acidity - characters I associate strongly with white wines from the Hills.

It was great to see that despite its overwhelming, heady varietal perfume and mouthfilling texture, viognier is also capable of expressing an identifiable sense of place in the glass.

UPDATE: This article first appeared in The Weekend Australian Magazine, July 3, 2010. I didn't have space in that article to point out that all my top wines in this tasting - Castagna, Jasper Hill and Tim Smith (made using fruit from Frank and Rosemary Baldasso's Kenton Hill vineyard) - were grown biodynamically.

No comments:

Post a Comment