Ahhh, the Viognier paradox.
How can such a fabled grape be such a hard sell?
Jess Hill Smith was exasperated about Viognier’s challenges at the Yalumba The Caley vertical a few months back, noting that Yalumba had even contemplated taking a step back from the variety.
Viognier’s peculiarities are well known. The grape is low yielding in the vineyard, prone to mildew, and has a famously short picking window (Louisa Rose has called it no more than 2-3 days).
It’s tricky. Stir in the hard-to-pronounce name (vee on yay seems an odd way to say Viognier when you think about it) just for complexity too.
Long term readers will know that I also have a love-hate relationship with Viognier – aka the V weed. I hate how badly it has been used in local Shiraz blends (ripe McLaren Vale Shiraz with low acid Viognier = gross fruit juice). But love it’s crafted into full throttle, apricots and cream, hedonistic (but balanced) white wine.
I can clearly remember being seduced by a Cuilleron Condrieu twenty years ago now, and I’m still haunted both by how good that wine is and how many other ornery Viognier I’ve opened since.
Still, if anyone can get Viognier right, it is Yalumba. And with these four wines, we see the best face of the grape in Australia, from cheap and cheerful, to complex and involving.
If anything, I want just a bit more seduction from the Virgilius, which gives a nod to the balance here.
All are available direct from the Yalumba website.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2018
Right now, I’d prefer to drink this rather than the much more fancy Virgilius, but arguably this is the more varietally representative wine. Give it a year or so, and the stakes will reverse too. But for now, this is my pick from the Yalumba Viognier range. A big part of the appeal is that it wears a badge that says, ‘this is what a Viognier grape tastes like’. Classical apricot skin, peach, and palate width. It’s not oily, but there is flesh here, and complemented by pithy phenolics to tighten up the slightly tart finish. I don’t mind this, especially the late apricot flourish. Enjoyable. Best drinking: over the next three years. 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $28. Would I buy it? An absolute steal at this price. A bottle, yes.
Yalumba Virgilius Viognier 2018
Easily the best ‘serious’ Viognier in the country, even if the Eden Valley is the pick for now. That hesitation, and the plus sign, is because of the understatement, with more textural layers but less obvious Viognier charisma (which you really want). It’s more textured white than Viognier, in a way that you see in other top barrel matured whites (like some Bordeaux blends). It smells and tastes of hay and lemon barley sugar, with quite tangy phenolics, the stonefruit varietal characters just peaking a nose out here and there. Classy, but angular, and still unravelling in bottle – which is also what marks this as less Viognier-esque. I like it a lot, and the quality is there, but I’m just looking for the emotional payback. Best drinking: likely better next year, and will mature for at least five more years. 18/20, 93/100+. 13%, $50. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Yalumba Organic Viognier 2019
Now, this is a rarity – a well priced organic white wine (don’t get me started on overpriced organic releases) that is also delicious! Gently rich, yet on the leaner side of the fence, and still with enough gently viscous varietal texture. This South Australian Viognier is a pretty good go at the variety. Maybe not noble, or that intense. but it’s not priced that way either. Good, enjoyable Viognier at a fair price (which you won’t hear me say very often). Best drinking: now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $22. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2020
This is an incredible bargain. is a wine that would, and should, be much more expensive, except it’s not, largely because Viognier is such a tough sell. Varietally correct, it’s a wine driven by apricot flesh, the palate round and plump. It’s buxom, even. Maybe a bit apricot jammy and very low acid, but ultimately a fleshy ripe white wine of obvious appeal. Best drinking: nowish. 17/20, 90/100. 13.5%, I’ve seen this for just $9.90, which is absurd. Would I buy it? A glass or two, easy.