Condrieu in northern Rhone confers only one kind of wine an AOC — the Viognier
There are a few steep hillsides on the banks of the Rhone that form a miniscule appellation that produces some of the most intriguing white wines in the world. Condrieu in northern Rhone confers only one kind of wine an AOC — the Viognier.
Fleshy, viscous and riotously floral at its best, Viognier has been planted more widely in recent years, with some success in places such as California and parts of Australia. But it still remains something of a premium niche grape, because of the difficulty in growing it and because it is best drunk young.
Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc remain the principal Indian whites, but I am going to stick myself out and hazard a rash prediction. Viognier is set to become the next big thing.
This is not merely because more and more wineries are putting out Viogniers. Surprisingly, they seem to be doing this rather well.
The other day, Abhay Kewadkar, business head and chief wine maker of the UB Group, invited me to lunch to introduce me to the 2012 vintage of the Four Seasons Viognier, which he said was bottled only a few days ago. Interestingly, unlike earlier vintages, 25 per cent of the wine is oaked, in the style of those made by some French wineries.
What did I think of it? The good thing was it was dryish, as Viogniers go, with the white peach aromas present but structured and nicely reined in. It was also extremely easy to drink, the somewhat high alcohol content, masked superbly by the fruit and tempered by the oak. The downside? The wine was, even by the standards of a varietal known for its low acidity, lacking in the necessary bite at the finish, leaving a somewhat limp aftertaste.
Abhay promises me it will be better after a few months in the bottle, and offers me the 2011 unoaked vintage which, although as light-bodied as the former, has a much better fruit / acid balance. Exported by Four Seasons under the brand name Ritu, the Viognier has won a medal in an international competition and is stocked by Waitrose, where it apparently does very well.
Grover Vineyards has been making a Viognier-Clairette blend for as long as I remember and has recently added a pure Viognier as part of its art collection. Sula’s Dindori Reserve Viognier is very interesting alternative, even if a little more difficult to procure, to its ubiquitous blancs — sauvignon and chenin. Viognier is being made and grown by other wineries in India as well. If it does become the next big thing in the country, it will be partly because it does — like Gewurztraminer, that other opulent aromatic white — go down very well with spicy Indian food. And partly because, despite its reputation for being difficult and demanding, the grape — for reasons that are not entirely clear — seems to be doing pretty well in this country.