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Saturday, 14 May 2022

The CWB Meta Aussie Viognier-Off

Four Viogniers from Australia's Yalumba - and what buying each one says about you

Viognier is a heat-loving, low-acidity peachy-apricotty grape whose spiritual home is the northern Rhône; Helena Nicklin describes it as the sun goddess of the wine world..

By the 1970s it was in danger of becoming extinct with just a little over 10 hectares in Condrieu, but it has staged something of a come-back ever since.

Australia's Yalumba adopted Viognier as their signature white in the Barossa Valley in the 1980s, after seeing its potential as an alternative to premium Chardonnay.

After a lot of trial and error to learn how to get the best out of the grape, Yalumba now makes a range of Viogniers from the entry-level Y Series up to the very serious Virgilius.

All four wines have a family resemblance - they are picked late for character, with freshness and contrast provided by phenolics from skin contact and little to no fining to maintain flavour and complexity.

The more ambitious wines are fermented in old oak with some lees aging; made somewhat oxidatively but with high phenolics, these wines have the potential to be aged. The 2003, for example, is sealed under screwcap and has hardly gained any colour.

They are all Good to Very Good wines, so to an extent, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

The cheerful one

Olly Smith recommends the Y Series Viognier, saying: Peachy and bright as honeysuckle, this is as good as Viognier gets for under £10.

Retailing at well under £10, this is complex and gastronomic beyond its price point. Buy this if you want something inexpensive but sophisticated.

The packing is nicely distinctive, but to me, the wine is better than appearances would suggest - the label says fulsome cheeky chappie, but its so much more than that

If you need to make a good impression and want to avoid the supermarket/entry-level vibe, I'd be tempted to put this into a smart decanter - it will benefit from the aeration in any case.

Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2021 (£8, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s)

white flowers, white pepper and stone fruit; waxy yet crisp with peach, apricot and pineapple fruit, some grapefruit and lemon pitch; honeysuckle and minerality with good, savoury underpinnings.

Match with spicy and rich dishes such as a Sri Lankan vegetable or chicken curry.


The smart supermarket one

Yes, it's still a supermarket wine, but it's from those bastions of middle-class Britain, Waitrose and M&S, so your colleagues and neighbours won't judge you if you serve it as a "house wine".

It looks smart and it's organic, too with wild yeasts and a commitment to biodiversity leading to better pest control.

This would be fine to bring along to a barbecue or informal garden party, but refer to it as a "Viognier" and serve it from a decanter if you want to quietly impress the sort of people who would raise an eyebrow at supermarket Australian wine.

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2021 (£9.99 Waitrose, Marks & Spencer) 

delicate white flowers, ginger and jasmine with apricot; creamy, rich and long with fresh apricot, almonds, bright stone fruits and sweet spices. Full and supple with good underpinnings.


The sophisticated middle-child one

This is actually my favourite of all the Viogniers here, but it risks being overlooked, being neither under £10, nor eye-wateringly priced.

The fruit is from old vines in Eden Valley, where Yalumba first planted Viognier; it is fermented with wild yeasts in some old oak and put into a cold room which prevents malolactic fermentation and therefore maintains freshness. It spends 10 months on the lees with battonage, resulting in a more open and earlier-drinking wine.

Only available from independent wine merchants, neatly presented with what could be taken for a European chateau on the front, it cites a European-style place of origin in an elegant script; you could easily put this sophisticate on the table at a dinner party and not feel the need for any explanations.

Samuel’s Collection Viognier 2018 (£16.99, Vinvm.co.uk, Flagship Wines, Taurus Wines) 

fresh apricots, ginger, saffron and fresh white flowers; stone fruits and freshness with savoury, leesy underpinnings, toasty sweet spices; deft, supple, full and complex.

Drinks nicely on first opening, improves with aeration and can be cellared.

Very Good.

Match roast pork, Moroccan tagine and spiced couscous, or falafel and baba ghanoush wraps.

The super smart one
At £40, this wine makes a statement even before you crack open the screwcap. Yes, it's good, but then for £40 you would expect it to be good.

Priced like an Old World wine and equivalent to 5 bottles of the already-very-good entry-level Y Series, it's hard to make a rational case for this wine.

But wine is never about being rational and Tom Cannvan picks this one out for special mention.

Is it a statement of intent, a price anchoring device, or a European-style wine at European-style prices? Probably a bit of everything.

It comes in an important-feeling weighty bottle with an embossed label and a script that flourishes elegantly like a monarch's signature.

Tom describes it as peachy, with a twist of confit lemon; full texture and a taut core of acidity.

To be absolutely honest, right now I'd rather take two-and-a-bit bottles of the Eden Valley over one of the Virgilius. But with potential future in-laws or a new boss to impress, this restrained and complex wine would make the right statement.

And if I were laying down bottles for my children or future grandchildren, I'd be confident of the Virgilius going the distance.

Virgilius Viognier 2018 (£40.95, Vinvm.co.uk, Flagship Wines, Soho Wine Supply) 

yellow stone fruits, leesy brazil nut sweet spice and citrus; fresh, concentrated and precise; full, supple and fresh with stone fruits, creamy-nutty underpinnings, complex, dense savouriness and toasty spice.

Drinks nicely on first opening, but needs cellaring and aeration to best show its superiority.

Very Good.

Match with Burgundian dishes, such as white fish in butter, lighter game, scallops or mushrooms.


For a more straightforward review of the wines, see Dave Cronin's non-meta write-up: Yalumba Viognier Tasting : VinoViews

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