of 1999 Condrieu, La Vigneronne, 15th February 2001
Condrieu almost became extinct.
Back in 1965, there was a measly 8 ha of vines left in the appellation. Now, thanks
largely to the increasing popularity of Viognier (the only grape variety permitted in this
exclusively white wine appellation) -- and probably also to a resurgence of interest in
wines of the Northern Rhône in general -- more than half of the 200 ha of Condrieu are
Yes, far from going the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo and the great Auk, Viognier's
super trendy status has caused an explosion in plantings. Although Condrieu itself is
still expensive and quite rare, varietal Viogniers from the South of France can now be had
for a fiver from your local supermarket, and for a little more you'll get Viognier from
California, Australia and even Argentina. Although it is supposedly a difficult grape to
grow -- prone to rot and giving miserly yields -- with its trademark flavours of apricot,
peach and spice, together with high alcohol and low acidity, it has proved easy to
appreciate and fashionably different from the ubiquitous Chardonnay. But I have to admit
that I've been rather unconvinced by most non-Condrieu Viognier. Many of the new world
examples I've tried have been clumsy and too alcoholic, whereas the Southern French
interpretations have been rather neutral and bland.
The Condrieu appellation sits at the top end of the northern Rhône region, some 10 km
south of the town of Vienne. There are seven communes within the appellation, and maximum
permitted yields are a rather low 30 hl/ha (plus an extra 10% in abundant vintages). In
fact, average yields over the last two decades have been a measly 15 hl/ha. The recent
Condrieu renaissance is evidenced by the observation that the area under vine here rose
from 8 ha in 1965 to 20 ha in 1986 and then soared to 108 ha in 1995.
So what of the 1999 vintage? In the neighbouring red wine appellation of Côte Rôtie
it is being hailed as one of the most successful ever. Not so for Condrieu, I suspect, at
least on this showing. While there were some very attractive wines here, I was unconvinced
by quite a few of them. There were none that I'll be rushing out to buy. Overall, I found
them a little light on fruit, and the high alcohol in many stood out in a rather
disjointed fashion. Could it be that I'm not actually that keen on Viognier per se?
Wines were served single blind (we knew which wines were in the tasting, but not the
order). I immediately looked for evidence of the tall, thin bottles that Gaillard and Yves
Cuilleron use, but the La Vig staff are smarter than this - they'd decanted these wines
into bottles of a standard shape. Notes are presented as written, with comments added
later in italics.
1999 Viognier, Domaine du Grangeon, Vin de Pays Coteaux de L'Ardeche
Tight, fresh peachy/spice nose with a touch of boiled sweets character. Good
density on the palate: full flavoured, rounded and spicy, with some more of that confected
boiled sweets character (for the benefit of US readers, I think this is what you call
'hard candy'). Very modern styled, and I'm not too keen on it. Very good
1999 Condrieu, Francois Merlin
Lovely smoky, burnt/rubber nose: complex and spicy. Good concentration, with a
lovely smokiness to the fruit on the palate. Very interesting. Good balance and a dry
finish. Very good/excellent. Probably my favourite wine of the evening. I've never
heard of this producer before.
1999 Condrieu, Phillippe Faury
Pure nose: fresh and floral with spicy notes. Medium density on the palate with
quite an alcoholic finish. Very good: shows nice varietal character but lacks a bit of
flavour density, and finishes a little bitter.
1999 Condrieu, Robert Niero
Attractive smoky/spicy nose with ripe apricot fruit. Rounded, balanced palate of
good weight, with ripe spicy fruit and high alcohol. Quite impressive. Very good+ With
vines in the Côteau de Chery, this is an expanding domaine. The 1999 sees some oak.
1999 Condrieu, Pierre Gaillard
Rounded fruity/floral nose with some burnt rubber complexity. Pleasant,
thick-textured palate with ripe fruit, spice and alcohol. Peachy. Very good+ Probably
my third favourite of the evening. Pierre Gaillard is one of the stars of the
region; he has 2.5 ha in the appellation.
1999 Condrieu, 'La Loye' Jean-Michel Gerin
Odd slightly volatile nose: appley and a bit unclean. There's an odd balance to
the palate -- the fruit has a strange edge to it. I'm not keen on this. OK/good I don't
like to give a wine a bad write up, but this was clearly the weakest of the line up. A bad
1999 Viognier, Faccin, VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes
Typical Viognier nose with peachy, spicy fruit. Quite delicate. Light, fresh
palate with some spicy fruit. Good balance, but a bit light. Very good+ Stands out as
being a VdP by virtue of its lightness. Still attractive.
1999 Condrieu, Faccin
Rounded, spicy wine with some herby, peachy fruit on the nose. Nicely balanced
palate with a touch of honey. Interesting, and not too alcoholic? Very good+
1999 Condrieu, E. Guigal
Exotic, slightly stinky nose, with notes of burnt rubber and cabbage. Spicy and
rich. Nice palate: real interest here with complex flavours and almost vegetal notes. Very
good/excellent, but odd. Oaky? I liked this wine because it was different. Aged one
third in barrel, two thirds in tank. Guigal buys in some of these grapes, but also owns
some vineyards in Condrieu.
1999 Condrieu, 'Le Grand Vallon, Francois Villard
Sensational nose: full, rich and spicy, with peachy fruit. New oak here? On the
palate this is dry, quite tight and spicy, with lean, savoury fruit. Needs time? Very
good/excellent Villard, one of the stars of Condrieu, was a chef before starting
his own domaine in 1991. Now has 7 ha of vines.
1999 Condrieu, 'La Petite Côte', Yves Cuilleron
Quite restrained nose: rounded, with honey and peaches. Good varietal character.
Nicely balanced palate with good texture, fruit and some acidity. Very good+ Yves
Cuilleron took over from his father in 1987, and has established quite a reputation for
himself. He has built up the vineyard holdings from 4 ha to 20 ha. This is the early
1999 Condrieu, 'Les Terrasses de L'Empire, George Vernay
Exotic, fruity nose: sweet and spicy. The palate displays sweet fruit with good
density and concentration, but this comes across as a bit too technological and modern for
my palate. Very good. Second largest producer of Condrieu after
(See also the 1999 Rhône tasting
at Bibendum, which includes the Condrieus from Niero and Dumazet)
La Vigneronne, 105 Brompton Road, London SW7 3LE