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Canberra Today 11°/13° | Wednesday, October 20, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

How we saved a French wine from sinking

“Complex and interesting, this wine gave my bland, midweek vegetarian risotto a lift and I lamented that a quarter of the bottle had ended up in the cooking,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

THE French are mad at us about submarines. I say, what the heck, we weren’t Lyon, we just got a bit Pissy, we have nothing Toulouse and just tell them to go away and have a Nice day.

Richard Calver.

This vomit of French mispronunciation was, in part, inspired by my being corrected on how to say “viognier” by Russell, of Vintage Cellars Manuka, when I went to buy a comparator to better consider why I had so taken to a Mount Avoca 2019 organic viognier. 

This wine had a wondrous bouquet of fresh stone fruit and mandarin peel and, on the finish, was as if you had been sucking a peach stone, in the best possible way. It was a complex and interesting wine with great depth. It gave my bland midweek vegetarian risotto a lift and I lamented that a quarter of the contents of the bottle had ended up in the cooking. 

It is made by a Halliday five-star winery located in the Victorian Pyrenees, obviously a name we’ve stolen from the French. The winery was certified organic in 2016. 

I went to Vintage Cellars to get a Canberra District equivalent. I asked for a “v on eh”. Russell said: “Do you mean a ‘vee-oh-nee-aye’?.” I immediately thought of another French town, Bitche, but suppressed any negative thoughts and agreed that was the varietal I sought. 

I asked about the Clonakilla viognier because two years ago I had shared the taste of a splendid 2016 Clonakilla with the editor of this august journal when he hosted me on 2CC’s “CityNews Sunday Roast” program. 

The Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau.

As with the Clonakilla shiraz viognier of that same year, this was a wine that popped. The 2016 was mouth filling with a peachy delight, a taste sensation, which we shared with the hopefully envious listeners of that show. But, alas, the shelves had no 2016. I focused on a current release Clonakilla viognier at $55 a bottle and the Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau at $30 a bottle. Given that the Mount Avoca had cost me $25 through a wine club (I checked and it’s still available at $26 a bottle from the same source, if I were inclined to re-join). I bought the Nouveau. 

I thought I would further consult Russell and asked why is it “nouveau”? He said that it meant “new” and I started to count backwards from 10. He said most viognier is made using French Oak, which was expensive. So, not only does the nouveau come from new vines but it is fermented in stainless steel. 

I put it to the taste and found that it was fresh and fragrant, with much less punch than the Mount Avoca but also with a stone fruit finish. This medium-bodied, semi-sweet varietal is a food wine and the Clonakilla went well with that night’s dinner of spicy barramundi. 

I called the winery to get further information but just got the answering machine and left a plaintive message about follow up. I didn’t hear back but quel dommage.

According to a couple of sources, viognier nearly disappeared in the 1960s. It occupied a small corner of the Rhone around Condrieu where “cult wines” were made, but was saved by Yalumba in this country and by a number of Californian wineries. Yalumba still makes a highly regarded viognier, the Virgilius. The 2018 sells for around $50 a bottle. But the point is we rescued this varietal. We now own it and make our own world-class wines from a grape variety that was almost lost to the French lexicon 50 years ago. Let’s drink more of it. 

And, perhaps, a mean-spirited bon debarras to our French colleagues both regarding the liquids we drink and those we sail (or sink) in.  


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Richard Calver

Richard Calver

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