Condrieu is one of the world’s great white wines. The great shame is that there simply isn’t enough to go around. Viognier, in this tiny little growing area is rich and fat, exotically aromatic and capable of providing truly exceptional wines that are utterly unique. The best boast depth and concentration and ooze with flavours of fresh apricot and ripe stone fruit.
When you think of today’s appreciation for Condrieu, its reputation for fragrant and exotic wines has spanned copy cat plantings all over the world and seen its wines sell for eyebrow raising prices in trendy New York and Shanghai wine bars, it’s hard to imagine that the wine was all but extinct fifty years ago.
Much of the revival is focussed around Marcel Guigal who purchased much of the wine in the early 1990s and used the Guigal name and international client based to promote the wines around the world.
With over one hundred Lieux Dits battling for recognition, the idea that as recently as the 1990s only a handful of growers made reference to their individual terroir. While we might read little more that fashion into this concept, Condrieu is an example of how making good wine and sticking to traditions can radically transform an area for the better.
Condrieu is a village whose reputation has soared in recent years. Up until the 1990s there was hardly any mention for example of individual vineyards on the label. Only Chery and Vernon were see on the limited number of bottles in circulation. Today these are recognised Lieux-Dits along with around a hundred others.
Winters are generally not too bad while summers are hot and receive regular but not excessive rainfall. Condrieu, like many other appellations in the Rhône Valley is an area where winds play a big part. Vineyards are generally planted to face south to protect them from harsh northern winds. The warm southerly winds can often do a great deal of damage although they can also help to speed along the journey to maturity.
Oak is the big question mark in Condrieu. Many producers such as Domaine Pichon choose to induce a malolactic fermentation followed by a period of ageing in oak. The amount of oak used varies throughout the appellation. Consequently there are two distinct style son wine from the appellation. Some are crisp, dry and exotic while those that have spent time in wood are rich and round with a creamy texture and distinctive perfume.
Most of the vineyards are planted around the village of Condrieu but the appellation incorporates Viognier grown in the surrounding villages of Verin, Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, Chavany, Malleval, Saint-Pierre de Boeuf and Limony.