Thank you to Selector Magazine for selecting our 2010 Shiraz Viognier as one of the top 20 Australian Shiraz Viognier's. Read the full article below, a very interesting read indeed!
A splendid blend
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Words Mark Hughes
Published Autumn 13
There are some things in life that just go together – I was going to suggest fare like chicken and avocado for instance, or duck and Pinot if you want to go for a food and wine match, but I am more talking about two things that you wouldn’t think might work together, but do, like an ADD child and Ritalin. You’d think that giving amphetamines to a boisterous young lad who finds it hard to focus would send him spiralling through the roof – but it actually has the miraculous effect of calming him down (not that I am an advocate for medicating children). But you get what I mean. And while not as dramatic as that example, I reckon you can add Shiraz and Viognier to that list of seemingly opposites that work well together.
While plenty of you might see the logic in blending different red wines likes Shiraz and Cabernet, many might question the sense in blending a big beefy red wine like Shiraz with a fruity, fragrant white wine like Viognier. But it works and for many reasons that I will go into later in this piece. However, I feel we need to get some grounding about this wonderful blend before we start to sip its delights. After all, a large comfy rug is essential to enjoying a well-packed picnic.
The history of Shiraz Viognier
Like so many of Australia’s great wines, Shiraz Viognier’s origin is French, the Rhône region to be exact, specifically Côte-Rôtie in Northern Rhône. As many of you might know, the Rhône is famous for Syrah, or Shiraz as us Aussies like to call it. Which brings me to a side point – the pronunciation of Shiraz.
Some say Shir as in Shirley, my mum’s name, and raz as in razzamatazz, although there are some wine folk who pronounce it Shi – as in ‘shhh, he might hear you’, and ra as in ‘ra ra’ the slang term for rugby. But I reckon this is a bit posh, as if they are trying to speak French but can’t quite get their Aussie tongues around it.
Whatever the pronunciation, you know the wine I am talking about and it stands to fact that up in Côte-Rôtie (which translates to roasted hills - apt considering most of the vineyards face south to bask in as much sunlight as possible) the rules and regulations of the appellation d’origine contrôlée stipulate that you can add up to 20% of Viognier (pronounced Vee as in bee with a v, on as in on, yay as in, ‘Yay, I am happy to be here’ – Vee-on-yay). Most blends these days see around 2% to 10% Viognier in Shiraz.
This process of blending these two grape varietals has happened for centuries in Côte-Rôtie, perhaps even millennia, and the region is one of the few wine appellations that actually allows red wine to be blended with white wine. Now, while the Shiraz Viogniers from Côte-Rôtie have been enjoyed by everyone from pilgrims to royalty over the years, it has often been relegated to skulking around in the shadows of the big star from the Northern Rhône region, the world famous Hermitage (Shiraz).
However, all this changed in the mid 1980s when Côte-Rôtie producer Marcel Guigal grabbed the wine world’s attention with his La Mouline (Shiraz) and La Landonne and La Turque (Shiraz Viognier blends). More specifically, it was esteemed American wine critic Robert Parker Jr who caused the commotion when he handed the La La’s (as they are colloquially known) perfect scores of 100, which was virtually unheard of for wine ratings. Guigal has continued to impress with the La La’s garnering a total of 21 perfect scores over the years. Consequently, Shiraz Viognier became pretty bloody popular around the world, and was touted as the sexy new wine of the future.
It didn’t take long for producers in Australia to start having a go at the blend. The first was the late Dr Bailey Carrodus from Yarra Yering winery in the Yarra Valley, who actually released a Shiraz Viognier, known as Dry Red No.2 in 1984, just before the Guigal hype.
But perhaps our most famous SV pioneer is Canberra District wine producer Clonakilla. Winemaker Tim Kirk produced his first Shiraz Viognier in 1992 and it has ‘done a Guigal’ in Australia, garnering critical acclaim and winning awards such as NSW Wine of the Year for the 1998 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier and Penguin Wine Guide Wine of the Year for the 2011.
“We took our inspiration from the Côte-Rôtie,” Tim tells me when we sit down for a chat about the origins of the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. “My dad did some research on soils and climate and comparisons in France and found that we matched the conditions of the Rhône Valley, which is continental with warm days, cool nights and a long dryish autumn.
“We planted some Viognier in 1986; they were really feeble little things and they took forever to get established, 1992 was the first year they produced a crop. I had been to the Rhône in 1991 and I said to dad, instead of a white Viognier, why don’t we do this Côte-Rôtie idea and do this Shiraz Viognier? We did our first Shiraz Viognier blend in ‘92 and it took off like a rocket. The reviews were great, then everyone started doing it.”
Why do it?
There are now around 40 wine producers in Australia doing a Shiraz Viognier, so there must be something in this blend. But why? What qualities does Viognier bring to Shiraz? The answer is plenty, including colour, aromatic lift, drinkability, structure and length. Let me extrapolate.
Most initial comments about a Shiraz Viognier focus on the depth of colour that seems to be added to the wine. The jury is out on this one because some people think the colour is really down to the Shiraz itself, but the common belief is that Viognier brings a combination of brightness and depth to a Shiraz.
Secondly, and more noticeably, is the aromatic lift. The primary characters of Viognier are apricot, honeysuckle, spice, ginger and blossom and when you take a good sniff of a Shiraz Viognier, you can find a gorgeous floral lift to the nose with hints of apricot and ginger which seem to blend beautifully with the Shiraz aromas of dark fruits, dark chocolate and peppery spice.
Drinkability – Viognier seems to ‘freshen up’ and make Shiraz more approachable when younger. We all know that some of our bigger Shiraz are best with some time in the bottle, but with Viognier blended they can become a ‘drink now’ proposition, which is perfectly suited to the majority of drinkers out there who consume their bottle of wine the same day they purchase it.
Viognier can really add structure to Shiraz, especially when Shiraz, like those from Northern Rhône, are lean and a bit austere. Viognier works really well to plushen the mid-palate and make it a bit silkier and softer. Cool climate Shiraz, like those from the Canberra District, are similar to these Côte-Rôtie examples, which is why the Shiraz Viognier blend has been so successful with these wines. Shiraz from the Southern Rhône is bigger and juicier, more like a South Australian Shiraz, and the addition of Viognier can make the palate overblown and flabby. That is not to say it the blend can’t work with bigger reds, it most definitely can, but the conditions for both the Shiraz and Viognier need to be very precise, but more on that later.
Finally, the addition of Viognier to Shiraz helps draw out the wine on the end palate, lengthening the wine. This is due to the all important process of co-fermentation.
Before we can continue further I need to explain just exactly what we are saying when we talk about the idea of Shiraz Viognier being a blend. While other blends are just that – a finished wine being added to another finished wine, Shiraz Viognier is not like that. The varietals are actually co-fermented. The techniques for this process can vary. For instance, grapes from both varieties could be picked together and then crushed into ‘must’ before they start to co-ferment, or the skins of Viognier grapes might just be added to de-stemmed berries of the Shiraz. Whatever the process, co-fermenting means the grapes are together before yeast gets to work converting the sugars into alcohol. This is incredibly important in Shiraz Viognier as our special guest for this State of Play tasting, Chester Osborn, fourth generation winemaker at d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale explains.
“The co-fermentation of Viognier is important because of the white wine tannin from the skins,” he says. “It adds a fine tannin to the length of the wine, which is minerally and chalky and draws out the wine a bit, which is quite nice, it helps to integrate the oak a bit too. If you are just adding Viognier to Shiraz it really doesn’t work because you don’t get the white wine tannin in there. You need to co-ferment.
“We co-ferment all of it so Viognier is about 15%, then we blend Shiraz into it to bring the Viognier level down to what works – anywhere between 5 and 10% depending on the ‘lift’.
“We then taste a few weeks later and work out if any more Shiraz needs to go in there until we feel it is right.”
As mentioned earlier, the Shiraz of Côte-Rôtie is lean and austere, much like the cool climate Shiraz of Canberra, the Yarra Valley and Mornington. But Shiraz Viognier can work with the bigger, fruity styles of Shiraz like those from South Australia, or the plummy, savoury style of Shiraz from the Hunter. It is just important to make sure the Shiraz is top quality and that the Viognier is picked fairly young to keep that apricot character fresh and vibrant, rather than too thick.
“I think styles from the Hunter to the Barossa and McLaren Vale all have a place,” says Chester. “If you’ve got beautifully floral, cool climate Viognier, with more ginger and blossom and then you mix it with cool climate Shiraz you’re going to have more flowery characters and it’s going to be a really floral and fruity style of wine.
“In the warmer areas you’ll get Shiraz with a real density of flavour and richness, which can still work as a blend. For instance, we make our Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier in a style that is very perfumed and has leaf-like notes, but you get the ginger and the blossom and the palate is very structured and long.
“The Shiraz we use is high quality from very old vines and low-yielding, so Viognier juices up the palate. Additionally, I’m not picking the Viognier too ripe so it’s not thickening up in an apricot thick way, it’s just helping to support some blossom and fragrant length.”
For the tasting we took cues from Chester who outlined the delicate balancing act to get a great Shiraz Viognier.
“One of the problems you find with Shiraz Viognier is that they are too juicy and full and lack structure. You need substantial Shiraz with brightness and structure to work with,” he explains.
“Also, there is not much point putting the blend together if you are not going to see some Viognier in there, but it doesn’t have to be loud. I know in some shows they have gone for one with the loudest Viognier, but I don’t think this blend is about that.
“You want the lift but you don’t want it to stand out, and you certainly don’t want it to dominate which is a problem when you get overly juicy ripe examples; balance and structure is the key to this blend.”
The Panel sipped through 35 different Shiraz Viogniers from all over the country and the overall results were quite impressive. The quality was very high and there were a lot of medals awarded.
“There’s no doubt that you see a big difference to the Shiraz once you’ve got Viognier in there in that it juices up the middle palate, cuts through quite a lot of the boldness of the Shiraz so you can drink them a bit younger, but there’s also some examples there that will age for quite a long time as well,” says Chester.
“Obviously, you get that complexing lifting element, a little bit of ginger and other stonefruits, but they were really integrated. There were a few examples that were a little bit high in Viognier levels, but most of the time they really helped to support the Shiraz fruits. There weren’t any really enormous, big, gutsy Shiraz with Viognier added, which is a good thing.”
Even though the Canberra/Hilltops region was highlighted with seven of the top 20 scoring wines coming from that cool climate zone, the fact that the other top wines came from as far afield as McLaren Vale, Fleurieu, Barossa, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, Central Victoria, Bendigo, Clare Valley, Orange and the Perth Hills confirms that this blend can be made anywhere as long as you have good Shiraz and a complementing style of Viognier.
Back in 2005 when Selector first did a State of Play on Shiraz Viognier it was touted as the sexy, new wine and the next big thing. But it really hasn’t gone on like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris/Grigio has in recent times. Eight years ago we had about the same amount of producers doing the blend, so why hasn’t Shiraz Viognier grown to become a major player on the Australian wine scene? Chester has some answers.
“The name itself is a stumbling block. It’s hard to say Viognier, people find it difficult to pronounce so that scares them off,” says Chester. In fact, some producers, including quite a few in this Top 20, leave the word ‘Viognier’ off the label which is totally fine as long as the percentage is less than 15% of the blend.
“The next thing is quality,” continues Chester. “Ten years ago there was a real export boom and there was not enough Shiraz around so people were using any Shiraz for Viognier, which really didn’t have enough structure and the Viognier just made it soft and fruity and it put people off a little bit.
“In addition there were some quite average Viogniers. As a white wine it was a real fad thing for a while, but with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, Viognier’s been forgotten about a little bit. But Viognier vines have aged and matured and there are some really good examples of Viognier out there now.
“I actually think there’s every reason for people to drink Shiraz Viognier,’ says Chester. “It is more complex, interesting and fleshier then Shiraz, so you can enjoy it a little earlier and it has great length, so it really is a beautiful drink.”
The Top 20
Madeleines Pudding Stone Syrah Viognier 2009 (McLaren Vale)
A really beautiful wine with apricots and floral aromas on the nose leading to a gorgeous savoury character, some spice with lovely balanced oak and a divine mouthfeel. Persistent line and length with a terrific textural finish. Made by Vincognita Wines, this delightful McLaren Vale Shiraz Viognier will age gracefully.
Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier 2009 (Canberra District)
Attractive ripe red fruits and ginger on the nose. An elegant palate with a silky oiliness giving way to strong fruits of yellow pear, peaches, ripe plums with a spice lift. The structure is tight and ordered with the Viognier lining up nicely, leading to a developed, textural finish. A real keeper
Yalumba Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier 2009 (Eden Valley)
Lovely floral, mineral lift on the nose, the entry is mid-weight and elegant at first then develops with a flood of fresh, juicy fruit with perfect line and length. Delicious restrained textures from a noticeable, but not forward, white wine tannin finish.
Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Adelaide Hills)
Attractive deep rich colour with flowery spice and aniseed on the nose. Flavours of plum, mocha and rich black fruits on the palate with appealing texture, good tannin structure and great weight. Good now but will probably be at its best in a few years.
Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Canberra District)
This could be how a Côte-Rôtie Shiraz Viognier would taste. Fresh red berry and perfume aromas with a plush palate of ripe blueberry flavours, spice and a long warm, velvety mouthfeel. A generous wine with good supporting charry oak line and length, long and persistent with a lovely texture.
d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2009 (McLaren Vale)
There is a rustic element to this wine. Ginger, plum blossom and nectarine aromas with characters of blackberry leaf, blackcurrant leaf, plums and an underlying earthy minerality. Tight and grainy, this wine will age for many years.
Yering Station Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Yarra Valley)
A bit of funk about the nose with inky blue and black fruit sweetness. A luscious, plush structure with cherry fruits, spice and savouriness with persistence and balance. A fantastic food wine.
Sieber Rd Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Barossa Valley)
This full-bodied Barossan delivers a tight and layered Shiraz Viognier with mass appeal. Deep red colours, with black fruits on the nose lifted by oyster shell and ozone aromas. A plush, ripe juicy palate, terrific texture and a structured finish.
Salomon Estate Syrah Viognier 2010 (Fleurieu Peninsula)
This proved to be a unique and very appealing wine. Ginger and vanilla aromas with a sweet fruit lift. The palate showed milk chocolate characters with some spice. It is wound up tight but is in balance so it allows for a natural freshness and for the tertiary characters to come out very young. A real keeper.
Moppity Hilltops Shiraz (Viognier) 2009 (Hilltops)
Nice fruit lift of apricots and cherries on the nose with a soft, plush, fruity mid-palate complete with a savoury lift. Elegant creamy texture, well balanced with a firm finish.
Terra Felix Shiraz Viognier 2008 (Central Victoria)
Very developed deep red colour in the glass with aromas of berry fruits and apricots. Rich and inky on the palate with primary fruit and dark chocolate characters and a soft plushness from the Viognier. Subtle textural mouthfeel with good length and a firm finish.
Turners Crossing Shiraz (Viognier) 2010 (Bendigo)
Full flavoured and mouth filling. This is a bit of a contrast to the other wines in that it is bigger. Coconut fruit and oak on the nose with lots of dark chocolate and vanilla. Big and dense with a dark, plummy fruit spectrum and a plush mouthfeel. A crowd pleaser.
Willunga 100 Shiraz Viognier 2010 (McLaren Vale)
Fresh plum and liquorice on the nose with a juicy, vibrant palate of red fruits and spice. An open and relaxed finish, which would suggest this is a great ‘drink now’ proposition.
Lerida Estate Shiraz Viognier 2009 (Canberra District)
A wine with plenty of potential. Elegant red berry spice spectrum on the nose, medium to full-bodied with layered red berry characters on the palate. A velvety mouthfeel with appealing white wine tannin textures. A real keeper.
Millbrook Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Perth Hills)
The Panel was immediately seduced by this wine as it has all the characters of a Shiraz Viognier. A rich inky colour, complex floral perfume lift, plush sweet plum characters and a ripe, light tannin grip with good length. Well balanced with a silky feminine appeal.
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2009 (Canberra District)
Plenty of Viognier lift on the nose with ginger and plum aromas giving way to a silky palate featuring lots of dark fruits with some earthiness and an appealing spice lift. Lovely fine tannins and a long textural finish. Easy to drink – consumers will love it.
Brindabella Hills Shiraz (Viognier) 2009 (Canberra District)
Attractive deep red colour in the glass with an appealing mix of peaches, spice and savouriness on the nose. Gorgeous smooth palate with meaty, savoury and dark fruit characters. Perfect balance and a smoky persistence that carries on and on.
Taylors Eighty Acres Shiraz Viognier 2011 (Clare Valley)
A simple but very appealing wine. Dark berry plum and coconut on the nose with noticeable oak support. Peach-like notes from the Viognier with flowery aromas, silky persistence and seamless texture. A bigger style of wine that would work well with food.
Angullong Fossil Hill Shiraz Viognier 2009 (Orange)
Amazing vibrant colour for a four-year-old wine. Earthy red fruit, floral and leather aromas with a bright, juicy plush dark fruit core. Soft tannins and an easy finish. Great commercial appeal.
Grove Estate The Cellar Block Shiraz Viognier 2010 (Hilltops)
This black sheep of the Shiraz Viognier family has hints of musky funk on the nose with a sweet and sour palate of plums, mulberry and peach flavours mixed with herbaceous stalkiness. The structural tannins are firm, but perhaps a bit green, which means the best is yet to come for this Hilltops treasure.
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