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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
VIOGNIER IN NEW ZEALAND AND BEYOND – AN EXCITING BUT DEMANDING GRAPE

Viognier is going to be a champion white grape for New Zealand.  Since last reporting on viognier 20 months ago,  even more exciting examples of the grape have appeared in New Zealand,  which really give one pause for thought.  And at the same time,  Yalumba's hitherto Australasian pre-eminence with the grape has come under intense challenge,  partly because their own wines have not all advanced beyond previous years,  but also because other Australian growers are quickly doing well with the variety.  For us in New Zealand,  some of these new Viognier growers are in critically cooler Australian zones than South Australia.  Whether they will be able to achieve the magic varietal characters New Zealand is already (at best) demonstrating with the grape remain to be seen.  At the same time,  it is hard not to conclude the conventional world yardstick for viognier,  the wines of Condrieu,  are far from being the universal guideline we need for this emerging grape.  And some of the viogniers from other southern French districts are modest in the extreme.

The Viognier Winestyle
Viognier is an interesting grape,  with a romantic rags to riches history reasonably well documented in the standard reference books.  Forty years ago,  it was near oblivion in its northern Rhone homeland of Condrieu,  in the northern Rhone Valley.  Robinson 1994 records the total hectares as 14 in the French agricultural census of 1968.  Today,  consequent on technically much improved standards of white wine-making which allow viognier's special beauties to better show forth,  it is burgeoning in both new world and old.  As a white grape from the northern Rhone,  it is best made and presented in a full-bodied dry white style akin to chardonnay from Burgundy a little further the north,  or marsanne and roussanne from the main Rhone Valley to the south.  Viognier is distinguished from its neighbours by the intensely citrus blossom,  mock-orange blossom,  custard apple / cherimoya,  citrus and apricots bouquet and palate qualities the fully ripe grape displays.  Such sweetness of character coupled with a full-bodied dry or 'dry' (less than 5 g/L residual sugar) finish makes it an enchanting food wine,  when matched with the right foods.  

Being so characterful (at best) a grape,  it is not however as versatile as chardonnay with food,  nor as populist as the tide of off-dry bland pinot gris.  Not that good pinot gris can’t have character,  but the market sector it caters to does not value character over sweetness.  So in all this there is a danger that in New Zealand viognier could go off the rails too,  and instead of being a noble variety with distinct flavour presented in a dry format,  it becomes something more wishy-washy,  off-dry and pinot gris-like.  Already some of our under-ripe examples incline this way.  The model for this regrettable trend is the American market,  where much commercial chardonnay is finished to 5 – 7 g/L residual sweetness,  rather than the more appetite-stimulating less than two grams (including unfermentable) which a full-bodied grape can so happily support.  Whether or not this is a counsel of perfection remains to be seen,  for being a sweetly-fruited grape,  3 – 5 g/L residual in viognier can be very seductive.

The temptation to indulge in more residual sweetness will be acute in New Zealand,  for like syrah we are a marginal climate for achieving full varietal expression in viognier.  But by the same token,  we therefore have the potential in the good years to make stunning examples of the variety,  via wines which retain freshness and nervosity and complexity on both bouquet and palate.  The issue is to achieve the depth of character,  and fullness of palate without residual,  to match the great French examples epitomised within the appellation Condrieu,  for they are mostly fully dry.  In general,  Hawkes Bay is the only place this is likely to be achieved at all reliably and happily,  but there have been good wines from several North Island viticultural districts,  and interesting ones from Nelson and Marlborough.  Given the latter,  Waipara must also warrant trials with the variety.

It is fair to say that thus far,  few of our wines achieve the depth of fruit character needed to be great.  The difficulty is compounded by the grape usually developing its full varietal expression very late in the ripening process,  so it is exceedingly hard to achieve the desired flavour characteristics at reasonable alcohols.  In a marginal climate,  the grapes may stubbornly not develop the desired flavours,  despite being sugar-ripe.  Leaving them to ripen or raisin further increases alcohol (and sometimes the risk of VA),  without necessarily gaining flavour.  

Role of MLF          
Since my last review (Kelly 2005),  the malolactic fermentation has emerged as the key issue likely to determine the ultimate world-ranking (or not) of New Zealand viognier.  Even cursory perusal of the wines of Condrieu reveal that most are 100% MLF wines,  but further,  many have not in fact benefitted from full MLF.  Too many have become blowsy,  and are then often over-oaked,  as if to firm them back up again.  Perhaps for this reason,  Australia seems to have decided that in their prevailing climate,  viognier in general does not need MLF,  for their wines already run a risk of being broad or heavy.

New Zealand in contrast offers a climate where only in the best sites in the good years are we going to achieve real depth  of viognier varietal character,  at pleasing acid balances.  Most of our wines are at this stage too light and fresh,  the key varietal descriptor for the grape – the apricot character – too often being palely yellow-green and acid in ripeness analogy,  rather than full orange,  ample and mouth-saturating.  Most of our wines therefore lack the sensual qualities of ripeness and sultriness coupled with freshness which the finest examples of the grape display (if rarely) in France.  The 2006 Church Road Viognier Reserve wine is a pointer to exactly what can be achieved in New Zealand with a more indulgent 'French-styled' approach.  Though not perfect,  it is a pivotal wine in the evolution of the variety in New Zealand.

It is worth noting that British wine commentators remark on the tendency to heaviness which many examples of the grape show,  particularly from Australia but also France.  It therefore seems to me that in exactly the same way that our syrah emulates the lighter northern Rhone style,  and not at all the simpler heavier shiraz style of Australia,  that likewise we have a glorious opportunity in front of us to make delightful viogniers which are both full of varietal character,  yet fresh in bouquet and palate,  and refreshing to drink.  But they must not be as narrow as many of our wines are now.  The key to achieving this resolution of rewarding varietal flavour on the one hand,  yet freshness on the other,  is I suggest the critical use of the MLF fermentation.

In the 2006 vintage,  it is becoming clearer that New Zealand wines from confirmed non-MLF producers such as Te Mata are now starting to look pinched and narrow,  alongside the softer and more pleasing palates of wine such as the Vidal,  with its 20% MLF.  Yet both of those wines are (in one sense) on the same side of the fence,  relative to the wonderful achievement of the Church Road wine,  where the winemakers have set out to make a wine that smelt and tasted as close to good Condrieu as possible,  without regard to the more technical and pH (for example)-dominated thinking and winemaking of more conventional wine-teaching establishments such as Roseworthy.  In a story that reminds me of earlier thoughts on ripening gewurztraminer in the Hunter Valley,  chief winemaker Chris Scott (at Church Road winery) likes to relate that some Condrieu winemakers believe one can only achieve palate texture in the wine at pH levels over 3.8.  Such a figure in a white wine would be anathema for many new-world wine-school graduates.  It can be argued that to make wine by the more risky approach Church Road have adopted in fact requires more technical control than a formulaic approach,  but that is perhaps another discussion.

Hawkes Bay excels          
Whether or not fine viogniers can consistently be achieved outside Hawkes Bay requires more time to assess.  Gisborne already has a critical difficulty in producing full physiological flavour maturity and harmonious ripeness in cabernet,  and to a lesser degree in merlot and syrah.  Since both syrah and viognier need a heat summation remarkably close to merlot to achieve appropriate physiological and flavour maturity,  Gisborne is likely to have difficulty with the grape,  in other than the best years.  The 'Wine of Gisborne' website notes viognier is prone to powdery mildew in damp or humid conditions,  further tipping the scales towards the drier Hawkes Bay region as the prime New Zealand location.  But that said,  there is a remarkable viognier from Marlborough in this batch of wines.  As always,  committed growers in favoured spots can achieve miracles.  Who knows what may be achieved in favoured drier spots in North Auckland,  the eastern coast of Great Barrier,  or Waiheke Island ?

Judging viognier          
In New Zealand,  our initial enthusiasm for the variety is such that really quite modestly succesful examples of the grape have been touted as of gold-medal quality.  This is understandable,  we have been through it all as recently as pinot gris,  but it is short-sighted and undesirable.  The magic of fine viognier is really quite sultry and perfumed and tropical-fruity (even though apricot is not a tropical fruit),  yet retaining freshness from the inherent fruit rather than from added tartaric.  As a broad generalisation,  New Zealand and Australia viogniers respectively incline to under-ripe,  leafy / floral and raw apricot examples on the one hand,  and broader and really orange canned apricot / over-ripened ones on the other.  In both cases,  the temptation is to use oak to boost flavour.  Barrel ferment and a little oak is magical with viognier,  but all too often the oaking can be injudicious,  or even counter-productive,  if fine varietal viognier is the goal.  Like pinot noir and syrah,  viognier is easily swamped by new oak.  Warmer-climate wines absorb oak more easily than the cooler ones.  

Wines like the 2007 Mills Reef show a delightful use of oak,  the wine being 100% barrel-fermented in all-older French oak,  the youngest barrel in the fermentation programme being 3 years old,  and most older.  Bilancia is achieving interesting things with their viognier,  and there the oldest barrels in the barrel-ferment programme are up to 15 years of age.  With its riesling-like floral components on bouquet (at best),  it seems safe to say that for viognier,  the older the majority of the oak is (provided it is exquisitely clean),  the better the results – in terms of bouquet complexity and total wine finesse.  Like subtlest chardonnay,  grand cru chablis for example,  a small fraction of new oak can then be seasoning.

Accordingly,  in this batch of reviews,  I have placed more emphasis on the quality and complexity of bouquet and palate,  and particularly the ripeness,  depth and deliciousness of the varietal flavours and character relative to acid and oak balances,  than previously.  Notwithstanding the above observation re judging,  my ratings can be accused of being too indulgent to the New Zealand style,  which is still pale,  crisp and under-ripe by world standards for viognier.  That's fair enough – it is my goal to encourage the development of the variety in this country,  but along a path that leads to comparability with best world practice.  In the meantime our wines already have the advantage of being fresh and 'refreshing',  a character which influential commentators such as Jancis Robinson place much emphasis on – even if this is a very Eurocentric approach.

By wine show standards however,  these reviews take a more conservative approach to marking Australasian viogniers than is fashionable.  That is perfectly understandable:  it is basic psychology that in the team approach which is Competition Judging,  there is a subconscious desire to produce 'winners',  and under great pressure of time.   Conversely the wine scribe working alone has more time to reflect on the extent to which any given sample does in fact match certain yardstick wines we all carry in our heads,  and sometimes,  the writer will in fact go and open one,  to check.  

Conclusion    
The exciting conclusion though,  is that just like syrah / shiraz,  both Australia and New Zealand are from time to time going to make great examples of viognier.  The Australian ones will tend to be weightier and closer to Californian examples of the grape,  whereas on present showings,  in a few years time the best New Zealand viogniers will be confusable with some of the best wines from Condrieu,  the grape's spiritual homeland in the northern Rhone Valley.          

Acknowledgements:  my thanks to many of the winemakers whose wines are listed below,  who were generous in providing information for this tasting and review.

Kelly,  Geoff 2005:  Some viognier wines currently available in New Zealand: 21 reviews  http://www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz/index.php?ArticleID=58
Robinson,  Jancis 1994:  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  OUP.  1088 p.





VIOGNIERS  REVIEWED:  

2006  d'Arenberg Viognier
2006  Babich Viognier
2006  Bilancia Viognier
2005  Bilancia Viognier
2006  Church Road Viognier Reserve
2005  Clonakilla Viognier
2006  Coopers Creek Viognier Gisborne
2006  Coopers Creek Viognier Hawkes Bay
2004  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets
2004  Guigal Condrieu
2005  Heggies Viognier Single Vineyard
2006  Hans Herzog Viognier
2007  Mills Reef Viognier Reserve
2006  Millton Viognier Briants Vineyard
  2005  Millton Viognier Clos St Anne
2006  Morton Estate Viognier Hawkes Bay White Label
2005  Saint Cosme Condrieu
2005  Tahbilk Viognier
2006  Te Mata Viognier Woodthorpe
2006  Trinity Hill Viognier Gimblett Gravels
2006  TW Viognier
2006  Vidal Viognier
2006  Villa Maria Viognier Omahu Single Vineyard
2005  Vins de Vienne Condrieu la Chambée
2006  Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley
2005  Yalumba Viognier The Virgilius
2006  Yalumba Viognier Y Series


2006  Villa Maria Viognier Omahu Single Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $38   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 1.5 – 2 t/ac,  100% de-stemmed,  3 hours cold-soak,  100% wild yeast,  100% barrel-fermented in seasoned French oak,  9 months lees autolysis and occasional batonnage,  40% MLF;  pH 3.75,  RS 3 g/L;  the Villa Maria winemakers rate this the best yet;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Bright lemon.  Bouquet is a little out of line with the other wines,  showing a quite astonishing volume of citrus and mock-orange blossom florals on highly varietal cherimoya,  lychee and fresh apricot fruit.  This is a remarkable bouquet,  paler than the French approach,  all the purity of the new world,  yet matching the best French in intensity.  Palate is delightfully rich,  oak detectable but not obtrusive,  the wine taut and youthful,  the apricots less ripe than the French wines,  but the intensity of fruit and the MLF balance are compelling.  This may cellar a little longer than most,  up to five years maybe.  It'll be great to see it in a year,  when it has mellowed.  One taster described this Omahu as 'a dancing wine,  divine'.  It is New Zealand's finest viognier yet.  GK 07/07

2004  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets   18 ½ +  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $75   [ cork;  Cuilleron makes four Condrieus:  the standard cuvee including younger vine material La Petite Cote,  the Chaillets label made from older vines and sometimes labelled Vieilles Vignes,  the extremely rare Vertige (only 1500 bottles,  from even older vines on a steep slope),  and in some years a botrytised late-harvest les Ayguets.  The standard wine is predominantly s/s,  but for the hand-harvested les Chaillets a significant part (at least 80%) and perhaps all of the wine finishes fermentation in oak including some new,  with lees autolysis and batonnage.  There is 100% MLF,  like Guigal.  For this wine,  Josh Raynolds in Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar had this to say in early 2006:  Smoky, ripe aromas of pear, apple and orange pith. Firm and juicy on the palate, with an intense bitter quinine note along with sweeter flavors of ripe tangerine and passion fruit. This has serious weight and velvety texture but also a strong backbone of acid to add focus and length. 92;  www.isasite.net/Cuilleron ]
Lemonstraw to straw.  Initially opened,  the wine is a bit disorganised,  with the oak slightly edgy / estery.  Once breathed a little,  it becomes magical,  displaying the interplay of florals,  fruit ripeness and seductiveness which lifts great viognier above the increasing number of correct but uninspiring ones.  Bouquet shows wild-ginger blossom,  canned properly-ripe apricots and cream,  and thoughts of baguette crust so delicious as to nearly suggest apricot shortcake.  Palate is equally flavourful,  oak beautifully balanced,  showing lingering fruit with apricot right to the end,  yet bone dry.  There is wonderful mouthfeel from MLF and lees autolysis,  yet neither component is too apparent,  clumsy or unduly weighty,  as is now all too frequently the case in examples of viognier from Condrieu.  Model wine,  at a peak of maturity,  right now.  GK 07/07

2005  Heggies Viognier Single Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Eden Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $31   [ screwcap;  Montpellier clone grown at 550 m asl,  hand-picked @ c. 2.5 t/ac;  whole-bunch pressed,  100% wild-yeast ferment,  100% BF in older French oak only,  sometimes trace MLF but none desired;  6 months lees-autolysis and batonnage 3-weekly,  9 months total in oak,  none younger than 4 years;  RS 2.9 g/L.  Parker 167:  … the 2005 Viognier is a barrel-fermented, neutral wood-aged cuvee offering a crisp, elegant style with plenty of tropical fruit as well as more minerality than one normally finds in Australian Viognier. Well-delineated, medium-bodied, dry … 90;  www.heggiesvineyard.com ]
Elegant lemongreen.  Bouquet is a complex interaction of nearly floral and very fragrant fruit,  with cherimoya,  vanilla wafer and canned apricot aromas,  plus almost baguette complexities.  Palate has great fruit weight,  with flavours extending from Lisbon lemon to apricot,  plus beautiful extended lees-autolysis complexities and acid balance.  This is a much more successful viognier than the latest Virgilius,  the lees-autolysis here reminiscent of (good) vintage champagne,  rather than old-fashioned Mosel.  The weight of fruit / dry extract gives the wine an edge over most New Zealand contenders.  Cellar 1 – 4 years.  GK 07/07

2006  Church Road Viognier Reserve   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  whole-bunch pressed;  70% of the wine BF in French oak none younger than 2003,  plus 3 months LA in oak,  30% wild yeast fermented in s/s,  plus MLF;  all blended then aged a further 5 months on light lees only;  Brix at harvest: 23.6 – 25.8,  wine pH 3.8,  RS < 1 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet has plenty to say,  in a clearly French style.  The high-solids components broaden the bouquet a little,  quietening the florals I look for in good viognier,  and there is academic VA.  Below those however are suggestions of citrus blossom,  excellent apricotty fruit,  and complex barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis and MLF components,  all with a degree of lushness and indulgence essential to really complex viognier.  The lees autolysis and MLF show up to advantage on the palate,  blending both texture and baguette-like complexity into apricot fruit.  Like the Cuilleron,  they produce thoughts of apricot shortcake,  though the fruit is not quite so ripe in the Hawkes Bay wine,  and there is a slight phenolic nip in the tail.  Nonetheless this wine is a marvellous achievement,  and the emphasis the winemakers have placed on achieving the right flavours in the winestyle,  rather than a technically 'correct' wine,  has really paid off.  It makes a great contribution to the emergence of this exciting variety in New Zealand.  With a little more attention to optimising the floral complexity on bouquet,  this will be even better,  for it has the generosity and complexity of palate needed for good viognier.  Many New Zealand examples fall short in this respect.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/07

2006  Bilancia Viognier   18 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-picked from the hillside la Collina vineyard,  whole-bunch pressed;  100% oak-fermented in very old barrels,  plus lees autolysis and batonnage 5 months,  no MLF;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Good lemon.  Freshly opened this viognier is a little raw.  With air the bouquet almost has a 'wow !' factor,  with nearly perfumed (+ve) florals reminiscent of wild-ginger blossom,  mock-orange blossom and citrus florals.  Below is both lychee and the full range of apricot characters,  from fresh and bitey to riper and canned.  Palate is gorgeous,  totally pure,  the weight of fruit excellent,  expanded by barrel-ferment in old oak,  but showing virtually no sign of that.  There is a freshness combined with mellowness and ripeness,  on perfect acid and phenolic balance and a near-dry finish,  drier than the TW,  which make this enchanting.  Like the Villa Omahu,  I suspect this will be much better in a year,  mellower,  even more exciting.  It may not be quite as finessed as the Vidal,  but it has more varietal character.  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/07

2007  Mills Reef Viognier Reserve   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $21   [ screwcap;  100% BF in French oak none younger than 3 years,  plus 2.5 months LA;  nil MLF,  RS 2 g/L;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is fresh,  fragrant and unequivocally viognier – mock-orange blossom and fresh Otago apricots,  piquant and superbly varietal.  Palate is delightful too,  the barrel fermentation superbly done and the alcohol well concealed,  cherimoya and pale apricot fruits with the citrus blossom thought continuing,  dry but lingering finish.  This wine is fresh and fragrant all through,  beautifully subtly oaked,  and showing all the finesse of New Zealand's temperate climate.  This should be a gold medal wine after a few months in bottle.  Cellar 1 – 3  years.  VALUE  GK 08/07

2006  Vidal Viognier   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $36   [ screwcap;  mostly whole-bunch pressed;  a percentage some skin contact,  100% BF in older French hogsheads (none younger than 3 years old);  lees autolysis and batonnage in barrel for up to 6 months,  20% MLF;  RS 1.5 g/L;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Bright light lemon.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrant,  but tending understated.  As with several other of the well-marked wines here,  there is a certain element of hedonism,  risk and indulgence needed to transform technically correct viognier into breath-takingly beautiful wine – as the Cuilleron best demonstrates in this batch (and the Church Road emulates).  Palate opens the Vidal out beautifully,  the fruit a notch riper,  the TA a little lower than many,  with pale stone fruits and fresh apricots extended into a pleasing mouthfeel via barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis,  and a wonderfully thoughtful percentage of MLF.  This is a great wine to define viognier in a blind tasting,  or as a sighter wine maybe,  in the sense that anything better than this is really exciting.  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/07

2006  TW Viognier   18  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $21   [ screwcap;  TW is Tietjen & Witters,  two noted Gisborne growers now with their own wine;  85% BF in 'mature' French oak,  balance s/s;  30% wild yeast ferments;  plus 4 months LA & batonnage,  MLF not revealed;  pH 3.7,  RS 3.5 g/L;  www.twwines.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is lovely,  clearcut fresh Otago apricots with that aromatic edge Otago fruit shows,  subtle oak including perhaps a barrel-ferment component,  and VA nearly invisible.  Together with a subtle honeysuckle floral component,  this is a great step forward for this label.  Palate doesn't follow up quite so well,  but the fruit richness is marvellous,  one of the best viognier palate weights so far seen in New Zealand.  The interaction between fruit,  oak and residual sugar is a little awkward at this early stage,  but the varietal character is excellent,  and long on the rich but slightly phenolic aftertaste.  The residual sugar balances that well.  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 05/07

2006  d'Arenberg Viognier   18  ()
McLaren Vale 80%,  Adelaide Hills 20%,  South Australia,  Australia:  13%;  $22   [ screwcap;  fairly cool BF in old French and American oak none younger than 4 years,  some solids,  no MLF,  9 months LA;  RS 2.7 g/L,  pH 3.3;  www.darenberg.com.au ]
Lemon,  almost identical to the 2006 Bilancia,  faintly deeper.  Bouquet on the d'Arenberg is every bit as fresh,  fragrant,  and floral as the Bilancia,  and it smells totally as if it were a New Zealand wine.  The floral component is beautiful,  with pure wild-ginger blossom spicy and floral notes as well as citrus blossom.  Palate likewise is remarkably un-Australian,  being fresh,  aromatic,  light on its feet,  not as rich as the Bilancia,  yet with a fascinating depth of flavour,  achieved at only 13%.  The Osbornes place much faith in their loose-bunch clone of viognier (re the Montpellier clone common in Australia),  but to judge from the Shiraz / Viognier,  there is a remarkable cool-climate aromatic quality to several of their 2006 red wines too.  This is intriguing wine,  which will be perfect in 12 months time.  It can be cellared 1 – 3 years.  GK 06/07

2005  Clonakilla Viognier   17 ½ +  ()
Murrumbateman,  Canberra ACT,  Australia:  14.6%;  $54   [ screwcap;  picked mid-April;  100% BF and wild yeast ferment at up to 25° with some solids,  in French oak 15% new;  11 months in barrel with regular lees stirring;  believed to be no MLF;  pH 3.5,  RS < 1 g/L;  2005 regarded as a great vintage in the more variable Canberra district;  Parker 168:  Clonakilla may fashion Australia’s finest Viognier. Their 2005 exhibits an extraordinary complexity along with a rich minerality interwoven with peach, litchi, and other tropical fruits. Boasting tremendous precision, stuffing, texture, and length, it is a stunning, but limited production Viognier.  93;  www.clonakilla.com.au ]
Elegant quite deep lemon.  Bouquet is a mixed affair,  benefitting from breathing / decanting.  Initially,  there are lemon essence notes on the one hand,  and a slight sackyness / cardboard note on the other.  Once breathed,  there is clear canned apricot of middling ripeness.  Palate is rich,  flavoursome,  but a little coarse,  with hints of older Australian riesling kerosene developing,  as well as good apricot.  Flavours are bigger and riper than most New Zealand examples,  clearly varietal,  subtly oaked,  long and dry,  but not quite the varietal purity.  As with New Zealand however,  viognier is a work in progress in Australia too.  This looks to be at peak maturity right now.  GK 07/07

2006  Coopers Creek Viognier Hawkes Bay   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from limestone-influenced soils on slopes south of Havelock North;  some of wine BF in second-year French oak,  plus 4.5 months LA;  RS  4.3g/L,  pH 3.5;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  This is a pure and high-tech rendering of viognier,  with everything paler,  purer and lighter than the top wines.  Bouquet includes attractive honeysuckle florals on slightly under-ripe canned apricots.  It is not so easy to see the winemaking complexities,  or at least identify them,  but the wine is clearly varietal,  if a little one-dimensional.  Palate shows good fruit weight,  both cherimoya and white stone fruits as well as less-ripe apricot,  all lengthened by autolysis and oak,  and fattened by a little residual sugar.  Acid is firm.  Ideally,  this wine needs just a little more indulgence,  to move it closer to the Church Road,  but the aftertaste is pretty good all the same.  Cellar 1 – 4 years.  GK 07/07

2006  Millton Viognier Briants Vineyard   17 ½ +  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  harvest late March;  whole-bunch pressed;  100% oak-fermented in 600L demi-muids;  less than 7 months in oak presumably with lees autolysis and batonnage;  pH 3.9,  RS 5.9 g/L;  www.millton.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is delightful,  fragrant,  fault-free,  instead showing lovely delicate white flowers,  honeysuckle florals and lychee aromas,  in a neat buttoned-down not quite ripe enough style.  In the blind tasting it is not immediately convincing as viognier,  gewurz being a possibility.  Palate is more viognier,  a fair concentration of aromatic yellow-green apricotty flavours in fruit of good weight.  The relative lack of oak (from the large old-oak fermentation vessels and storage) is particularly attractive.  From the accompanying literature,  I can't help noticing the fruit in this wine is not organically grown.  This viognier is tauter and drier though a little less varietal than the TW wine.  It shows much better technical control than the 2005 of this Millton label – a great improvement.  Like the Coopers wines,  it needs a little more ripeness and complexity to fatten / broaden the palate.  The given sweetness is well hidden by the TA.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/07

2006  Hans Herzog Viognier   17 ½ +  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $43   [ 50 mm supercritical cork;  hand-picked @ c. 1.3 t/ac,  100% whole bunch pressed,  100% BF,  100% wild yeast,  100% MLF,  lees autolysis and batonnage for 12 months in mostly older French puncheons;  RS <1 g/L;  www.herzog.co.nz ]
Straw,  just a hint of dullness.  Bouquet is a miniature,  alongside the Cuilleron,  yet there are suggestions of all the same features:  clear yellow florals,  canned apricots not quite so ripe,  subtle MLF and lees-autolysis,  all appealing.  Palate is clearly varietal but not as generous in flavour as the Cuilleron,  the apricots being less ripe,  the TA fractionally higher.  Remarkably,  the 100% MLF is invisible in good lees-autolysis and barrel-ferment complexity,  and the fruit weight is excellent.  This is exciting wine – one would never know it was from Marlborough.  It bespeaks a degree of attention to viticulture and ripening which is an eye-opener.  Cellar 2 – 3 years.  GK 07/07

2005  Bilancia Viognier   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-picked from the hillside la Collina vineyard,  whole-bunch pressed;  100% oak-fermented in very old  barrels,  plus lees autolysis and batonnage 5 months,  no MLF;  www.bilancia.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  Initially opened,  there is a shadow of sacky clog on this wine,  which is dissipated by simple decanting.  It then opens to clear-cut mock-orange blossom and yellow florals,  on canned apricot fruit.  Palate is soft,  rich,  the alcohol and oak well hidden,  all showing remarkable length and good varietal character,  off-dry.  At a peak now,  will hold a year or two only.  GK 06/07

2006  Coopers Creek Viognier Gisborne   17 ½  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  RS 4g/L,  pH 3.6;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Pale lemonstraw.  Bouquet is clearly varietal,  with some florals on cherimoya and under-ripe apricot fruit,  just a little narrower and less generous than the Hawkes Bay wine.  Palate is fresh,  pale stonefruits,  black passionfruit and under-ripe apricots,  with faint suggestions of wild-ginger blossom more apparent in mouth than bouquet,  and adding appeal.  Cellar 1 –  4 years.  GK 07/07

2004  Guigal Condrieu   17 ½  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork;  hand-picked,  33% BF in new oak for 8 months,  balance s/s,  100% MLF;  6 – 8 months lees autolysis and batonnage (not sure if all or just the BF fraction);  some contradictions in info available;  RS 1.2 g/L.  The reviewer for International Wine Cellar is a bit fixated on quinine currently:  Classic Condrieu perfume of fresh peach, apricot pit, pear, apple skin, violet and minerals. Lush and broad on the palate but showing strong minerality and dry, tangy orchard fruit flavors. The powerful finish shows a refreshingly bitter note of quinine along with sweeter tones of melon and star fruit. 91 (All one needs to know about star fruit is at: www.floridagardener.com/pom/Carambola.htm !)  Parker 170: … 2004 was a truly profound vintage for Condrieu … wonderful aromatics and flavor intensity … also high acidity … a longevity Condrieu rarely possesses. This wine has floral white peach and honeysuckle notes, some hints of mineral, full-bodied, powerful flavors, but enticing dryness and impeccable balance and purity. This is a beauty …  90;  www.guigal.com ]
Straw,  a little older than the Cuilleron.  The average of the French wines reveals much riper apricot characters than the New Zealand wines,  really orange apricots rather than the pale yellow-green of the local examples.  But in this Guigal example,  the bouquet is also more angular,  bits of oak and MLF,  all arms and legs.  In mouth the wine is overly oaky,  adding to the disjointed impression,  so even though there is a lot of apricot,  MLF softness and creamy flavour in the wine,  the nett impression is phenolic and tending coarse.  Need to say though,  that like the Virgilius,  every bottle of Guigal Condrieu (both '04 and '05) currently seems to be opening differently,  in the case of the Guigal under cork.  Because Guigal dominates Condrieu production-wise,  it tends to be regarded as the yardstick.  The standard label does not really justify this assumption,  but it is an interesting 'component' wine.  It does not really convince that 100% MLF in viognier is a good idea,  though their enthusiasm for oak clouds judgment.  But,  in this batch,  the Herzog has 100%,  and carries it so well.  Those who like lots of oak and flavour,  and apricots to the point of chewing dried ones,  will rate this Guigal more highly.  At its peak now,  or a little past.  GK 07/07

2005  Millton Viognier Clos St Anne   17 +  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $48   [ cork;  hand-harvested 21 March;  whole-bunch pressed;  100% oak-fermented in 600L demi-muids;  wild-yeast fermentation,  partial MLF,  c. 7 months in oak presumably with lees autolysis and batonnage; RS 5 g/L,  pH 3.5,  dry extract 25 g/L;  www.millton.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is less varietal and much less pure than the '06 Briants wine,  but more complex in its winemaking.  There are suggestions of high solids ferment,  and a little biscuitty development as in the prematurely-ageing chardonnays.  Nett impression is more marsanne than viognier,  on bouquet.  Palate clarifies the wine is in fact viognier,  some apricot characters,  some barrel-ferment,  the lees-autolysis and oak components all subtly done.  It is a pleasing full-bodied mild example of the grape,  but not explicitly varietal.  It reminds of some years of Yalumba's Virgilius,  with the emphasis on texture more than varietal specificity.  At a peak now,  cellar a year or two only.  GK 05/07

2006  Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley   17 +  ()
Eden Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $19   [ screwcap;  hand-picked Montpellier clone up to 25 years' age @ c. 2.5 t/ac;  whole-bunch pressed;  100% wild-yeast ferment,  60% BF,  sometimes trace MLF but none desired;  9 months lees autolysis and batonnage 3-weekly in French oak 4% new,  9 months total in oak;  40% s/s;  RS 2 g/L,  pH 3.4;  Virgilius is a barrel selection from within the barrel-fermented component of this Eden Valley label;  www.yalumba.com ]
Lemon,  fractionally deeper than Yalumba Y.  Bouquet is immediately more clearcut varietal fruit than Y,  a suggestion of yellow honeysuckle and wild-ginger blossom on pale canned apricots,  but it is noticeably spirity.  On palate the spirit lets the wine down.  The Eden Valley label is usually the textbook South Australian viognier,  but not this year.  Varietal character is reasonably clear,  the oak is subtle,  but it is all too raucous on the alcohol,  and thus short and hard.  Cellar a year or two.  GK 05/07

2006  Morton Estate Viognier Hawkes Bay White Label   17  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $19   [ screwcap;  young vines of clone 642 in second crop,  machine-harvested @ c. 1 t/ac – winemaker Evan Ward believes optimal quality will  be @  c. 1.8 t/ac;  nil wild-yeast,  BF,  LA,  MLF,  or time in oak – winemaker seeking pure varietal expression;  RS 9 g/L,  pH 3.2;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Lemon.  This is a light delicate presentation of viognier,  all the emphasis being on the fruit,  with little or no oak.  Bouquet is clearly varietal and floral,  with a lifted almost jasmine note through mock-orange blossom to a hint of wild-ginger in flower,  on pale stone fruits and some apricot.  It is subtle alongside the oak-influenced and richer Church Road example.  Palate is delightful,  the pure variety,  cherimoya and canned apricots,  little or no oak [see above],  a little lees-autolysis and fermentation complexity,  fresh acid,  noticeable residual.  It is a riesling-like and introductory presentation of the variety,  against the chardonnay-like styling of the more highly-rated wines.  Given the residual,  this may be harder to match with foods,  but some Asian should work.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/07

2005  Yalumba Viognier The Virgilius   17  ()
Eden Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $49   [ screwcap;  Yalumba first planted viognier in 1980,  the first in Australasia in the modern era;  The Virgilius is seen by Yalumba as their pre-eminent white wine,  to match Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay.  Hand-picked Montpellier clone up to 25 years' age @ c. 2.5 t/ac;  whole-bunch pressed;  100% wild-yeast ferment,  100% BF,  sometimes trace MLF but none desired;  9 months lees autolysis and batonnage 3-weekly in French oak 4% new,  10 months total in oak;  RS 2 g/L,  pH 3.4;  Virgilius is a barrel selection within the Eden Valley label;  Parker 167: … fermented and matured in neutral French oak barrels for ten months prior to bottling. This single-vineyard cuvee exhibits crisp acidity, projected aromatics of dried apricots, litchi nuts, honeysuckle, and passion fruit. Crisp acidity and a steely backbone provide good counterbalance to the lavish fruit and fragrance.  90;  www.yalumba.com ]
Lemongreen,  one of the palest.  This is a very confusing wine.  Despite being the first year for screwcap on Virgilius,  currently every bottle is opening damnably different.  Perhaps it should all be put aside for a year or so to marry up.  This bottle opened with an almost austere,  older-style Germanic Mosel overtone,  doughy rather than lees autolysis / bread crust,  almost reductive or maybe dulled by high-solids aromas.  Yet with decanting and air,  it opens up considerably to clear barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis complexity which is nearly baguette-like,  on under-ripe canned apricots.  In flavour the bready crustiness is almost excessive,  though such heavy-duty lees-autolysis has produced great texture and mouthfeel.  Some would say this is an over-worked wine,  too technological,  masking the beauty of the variety and substituting texture.  It needs to be checked in 12 – 18 months,  before concluding on that one.  Meanwhile,  it is hard to score.  Should cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/07

2005  Vins de Vienne Condrieu la Chambée   17  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $92   [ cork;  Les Vins de Vienne is a negociant firm and a domaine created by three leading winemakers of Condrieu and Cote Rotie - Yves Cuilleron,  Pierre Gaillard and Franηois Villard;  I understand la Chambée to be fermented in French oak,  with 9 months LA;  no website found ]
Straw,  old for age,  presumably oak-influenced.  And bouquet is indeed oaky,  but there is rich varietal apricotty fruit too.  Bouquet and palate both suggest a prominent MLF component in the winemaking,  as with Guigal,  and this softens and fills out the flavour and the very vanillin oak.  So though it is a bold winestyle,  even a clumsy and too-oaky one,  and with acid noticeable too,  in fruit and flavour it is a pretty good expression of viognier.  There is more varietal expression than the '06 Millton,  but less finesse.  It is already mature,  so cellar a year or so only.  GK 05/07

2006  Trinity Hill Viognier Gimblett Gravels   17  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  hand-picked @ c 3 t/ac,  whole-bunch pressed,  30% BF in older oak,  15% of this fraction wild-yeast ferment,  70% s/s;  3 months LA,  no MLF desired;  RS 4 g/L;  www.trinityhillwines.com ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet is pure,  fragrant and lightly varietal,  with some of the fragrance of under-ripe apricots.  Palate is  modest apricots,  subtlest oak,  seemingly mostly stainless-steel in elevation,  pleasant body and balance,  nearly dry to the finish,  just a little one-dimensional.  An introductory pale viognier,  to cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/07

2006  Te Mata Viognier Woodthorpe   16 ½ +  ()
Tutaekuri Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $28   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  80% BF low-solids in mainly older oak plus 10 months LA,  weekly batonnage;  balance s/s;  nil MLF;  pH 3.5,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemongreen.  Bouquet opens a little congested,  with a slightly hessian / maybe cardboardy note to it.  Decanted and aired,  there is new French oak more than stonefruits,  straightforward.  Palate likewise is too newish-oaky for the modest flavour and apparent weight of the under-ripe fruit,  but some body and yellow-green tart canned apricots do emerge.  The oak and acid interact though,  to detract,  and the strictly dry finish does not help that.  The palate therefore compares poorly with some of the other wines in the tasting,  particularly those with an MLF component.  It should cellar 2 – 4 years,  but is not likely to blossom.  GK 07/07

2006  Yalumba Viognier Y Series   16 ½ +  ()
South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $15   [ screwcap;  essentially a s/s wine,  though tone is raised by culls from the Eden Valley oak-fermented wine;  RS 3 g/L,  pH 3.4;  www.yalumba.com ]
Lemon.  Initially opened,  bouquet is a little congested / reticent,  and benefits from splashy pouring / swirling.  It opens to straightforward light viognier,  lightest apricots but some body,  ripe,  no great complexities,  a trace of oak maybe,  'dry'.  As always,  this is the most affordable introduction to the variety available.  Cellar a year or two.  GK 05/07

2006  Babich Viognier   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  2006 not on website,  if similar 2005 is c. 60% fermented in old French oak,  balance s/s,  the BF fraction LA 9 months;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Good lemongreen.  Bouquet is attractive,  showing light wild-ginger blossom and under-ripe canned apricots,  clearly varietal.  Palate is not as good though,  the under-ripe component coming to the fore,  the acid exacerbating the oak.  Despite the wine being juicy and quite rich,  and finishing dry,  it is just a little too cool-climate and acid for best viognier quality.  I wondered if there might be a touch of American oak in the wine,  adding aromatic flavour.  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/07

2005  Saint Cosme Condrieu   16 ½  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $84   [ cork;  not much detail known;  a presumption of BF,  LA,  MLF etc. 8 months in barrels,  30% new,  40% 1-year, 30% 2-year;  no website found ]
Straw,  a flush of brown,  much the oldest viognier in the tasting,  on colour.  Bouquet is soft and broad,  lots of MLF almost approaching butter or cream cheese,  with over-ripe apricot fruits.  Palate likewise is soft,  rich and broad,  varietal but lacking freshness / old for age,  oaky,  yet long and ripe.  Those who liked the wine mentioned analogies to creme brulée (though the wine is dry),  those who were less keen mentioned oxidation and bitterness.  Already past its prime,  for sure,  so a disappointment from this new-wave grower whose reds are so exciting.  GK 07/07

2005  Tahbilk Viognier   15  ()
Central Victoria,  Australia:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  machine- and night-harvested Montpellier clone @ c. 4 t/ac;   crushed,  minimal skin contact,  most of the juice cool-fermented in older French hogsheads;  a percentage 3 – 6  weeks LA and batonnage;  RS c 2.5 g/L;  www.tahbilk.com.au ]
Deep lemon.  Bouquet on this wine met with a mixed response,  some describing it as like an older riesling because of kerosene notes,  others finding it rubbery and unattractive to varying degrees.  Palate is broad and flavoursome with banana suggestions,  like commercial chardonnay fermented with one of the high-ester-producing yeasts,  quite rich,  dry,  but losing the subtlety of viognier the grape.  More a flavoursome coarse riesling QDW approach to the variety,  not worth cellaring.  GK 07/07