Languedoc Viognier

1202 marks one of several noteworthy junctures in the lively history of the Cazal Viel estate and the nearby market town of Cessenon-sur-Orb in southern France. In that medieval year, the titled landowner, Hugues de Cessenon, gave charge over portions of his Languedoc property to a Norbertine order of monks. In turn, the gifting of the land tracts also ushered the construction of their Abbey de Fontcaude — becoming a guiding landmark for religious pilgrims en route to Spain and the famed walk along the Camino de Santiago. Over the ensuing six centuries, the winemaking monks experimented with cultivars and diligently expanded plots that are dotted with the 2,000-year-old ruins of a previous Roman settlement. Unsurprisingly, the estate’s name is derived from a Latin origin, Cazevieille (‘old house’). The moniker remains a succinct and apt description for the unbroken chain of 8 generations of the Famille Miquel who’ve also made worthy contributions to this ever-more-productive enterprise. In the case of their lineage, they’ve been at it since the tumultuous days of the French Revolution in 1791!

What’s far more contemporary is the decision by the Miquel family to plant Viognier vines in the early 1990’s. This grape and its varietal wine style are one of the wine world’s great stories for the recovery of a Vitis Vinifera (European wine grape) that was threatened with near-extinction. In the early 1960’s, a mere 30 or so hectares of these vines were still actively being tended, worldwide — all in a tightly clustered area of the Northern Rhône Valley. 30 years onward from the starting point of cultivation by the Miquel’s, their vineyards now contribute to the thousands of hectares that are being harvested throughout France and from the burgeoning plantings in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

Viognier is a challenging grape to grow with consistency; yielding highly variable harvests from season to season. Since its berries are thick-skinned, the clusters require a great deal of sun exposure to coax them through to full maturity – though, not too much, as the wilting heat can provoke excessive sugar levels, potentially leading to an overly ‘hot’ content of alcohol during fermentation. This week’s DéClassé recommended, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2015, strikes a well-crafted balance. The final blend offers a bright and refreshing fruit character that reflects its time spent in stainless steel tanks, while the wine’s rounded body and flavour profile benefit from some smaller batches having been barrel-matured in French Oak.

Arguably, in spite of Viognier’s newfound popularity as a varietal bottling, as well as, its ongoing use in blends with varieties such as Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, it remains a niche choice by underexposed, North American consumers. This characterful offering, available at a very modest price-point, is not such an enormous gamble for the delightful rewards that will come from broadening your palette with this mid-weight white wine.

VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #673236 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc, France
By: Laurent Miquel
Release Date: April 14, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with Viognier’s characteristic floral and stone fruit aromas, the sweet citrus character of this version adds a zippy brightness to the expected peach and apricot flavours. Enjoy this somewhat more fulsome white as an apéritif offering with soft cheeses, herbed bread crisps, vegetable pasties or along with poached freshwater fish, white-sauced pasta, roasted poultry, lamb tagine or mild curries.

Viognier Alert

With a 160-plus-year history, this is Australia’s oldest family owned winery being
founded in 1849 by English brewer Samuel Smith in Barossa Valley. Located in
South Australia’s most famous wine-making region, the winery’s name Yalumba
roughly translates to meaning “all the land around” – in one of the local aboriginal
dialects. Originally, a mere 30 acres of vineyard has grown in diversification and
scale, drawing on the output from choice parcels around the town of Angaston,
also known as’ German Pass’: pioneered largely by German immigrants in the
mid-nineteenth century. 50yrs. onward, the Smiths began development of the
flourishing viniculture that now marks the South Australian region as a whole.

The Viognier grape and its resulting varietal wine, is one of the great stories of
recovery and reemergence from near-extinction. In the early 1960’s, only about
80 acres of vine plantings were still active world-wide, all in a cluster in France’s
Northern Rhône Valley. This week’s DéClassé featured vintner was one of a small handful to re-establish the variety in the Eden Valley in the late 1970’s. Arguably,
in spite of a new-found popularity on its own along with its use as a very common blending component with other varieties such as Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, bolstering texture and deepening colour – it remains a niche variety. 

It’s a very difficult grape to grow with consistency, offering highly variable yields
from season to season. Since it’s thick-skinned, it also requires a lot of sunshine
exposure to bring it through to maturity, though not too much, as this results in
an overly ‘hot’ alcohol content. This week’s recommendation strikes the balance
just right: some steelyness, refreshing, while also fuller-bodied and fulfilling.

Get off the bandwagon of the current stars of often less-characterful, white wine
such as the inexpensive versions of Chardonnay and the like. Get a bottle and try
this fairly well-chilled and while it’s young, before heading back for another.

Yalumba Viognier

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #624502 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: South Australia, Australia
By: Negociants International
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2014

Tasting Note
This bottling is classically typical of the variety. Light, floral aroma and flavour
with notes of stone fruit such as apricot and hints of peach, pineapple and spice
blended into a supple, textured body. Enjoy this somewhat bigger white as apéritif
or with seafood, salads and white-sauced pasta.