Yalumba – a Viognier-fest with Louisa Rose

Yalumba pioneered Viognier in Australia, first planting it in 1980.  They’ve since subjected the variety to considerable experimentation, with a mix of clones and cuttings (the latter from Condrieu, Cote Rotie and California), which have been planted in the Eden Valley and Riverland.  Others have followed and, by 2006, there were 360 Australian wineries growing the variety.

Louisa Rose, Yalumba’s hugely talented Chief Winemaker (winner of the Australia’s prestigious Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year in 2008) is acknowledged as the country’s Viognier guru.  And she’s the first to admit that Viognier can be challenging:

“Viognier ripens quite differently to most of the white varieties…the flavours develop only late in the season, and quite quickly when they do.  Generally, it is a combination of patience; risk management and prayer that finally see the flavours accumulate in the fruit.”
This late accumulation of flavour means that alcohol levels can be high and fruity purity more difficult to attain because ripe fruit has higher skin phenolics.  She says whole bunch pressing helps maintain fruit purity, while flavour and texture are enhanced through a range of techniques including a relatively oxidative style of winemaking via barrel ferment, a slow fermentation with natural yeasts and post-ferment lees ageing and stirring.

Oxford Landing Viognier  2007 (South Australia) – an unoaked Viognier from the Riverland Oxford Landing vineyard first planted to Viognier in 1993. It has good typicity and appeal with a sherbety nose and palate with lychee, white flowers and fennel; no residual sugar so relies on good natural balance which Louisa attributes, in this case, to big yields.

Yalumba  Viognier 2007 (South Australia) – sourced from growers in the Barossa, Mildura (Riverland), the Adelaide Hills and Wrattonbully this has a little more complexity and richness with candied citrus, smoke and nuts and Viognier’s trademark muskiness.  Unoaked.  Good.

Yalumba  Eden Valley Viognier 2007 (Eden Valley) – a long ripening period thanks to elevation and pronounced diurnal temperature variation results in a great value Viognier with good typicity, length and balance.  And the winemaking respects this balance, with a 50:50 stainless steel and barrel ferment and ageing in large old barrels.  A great vintage for Eden Valley white rachets up the lifted, exotic factor – a musky, blossom nose which notes follow through on the creamy fruit salad palate together with a hint of fennel.  Lovely mouthfeel, long and complete.  Very good.

Yalumba  Virgilius Viognier 2007 (Eden Valley) – wines for the flagship Virgilius are selected from the best barrels, though this typically tracks back to specific vines, the oldest in fact.  And it shows greater restraint, texture and intensity of flavour, delivered in onion peel layers of greengage, lychee, fennel/aniseed and flint.  More length and structure with a judicious lick of cedary oak.  Very good and more than held its own against 3 Condrieu.

Yalumba  Botrytis Viognier 2007 (Wrattonbully)
– fog and dew in Wrattonbully in the Limestone Coast region create the conditionsfor botrytis.  This is a luscious but well balanced sweetie with waxed apricots and a honeyed finish with well balanced acidity.

Yalumba  Shiraz Viognier 2005 (Barossa)
– Yalumba’s first Shiraz Viognier had 15% Viognier though today 5% is nearer the mark – “we’re not trying to make wines like apricots” though Louisa explains that more Eden Valley Shiraz finds its way into this co-fermented blend because its aromatic lift compliments that of the Viognier.  This has lovely fruit vibrancy, with red and black berries with liquorice spice.  Well done, definitely red and not apricots but for me the Viognier adds lift, both aromatic and textural – a leavening if you like. 50% French oak.

Yalumba Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier 2006 (Barossa)
–  again, lovely vibrant fruit of great purity with crushed raspberries and richer, ripe plum, that liquorice lift again and fine grained tannins; still, more tightly structured, a keeper.  Sees 100% french oak for 18 months.

Sarah Ahmed
The Wine Detective

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