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What our expert thought of Gerovassiliou Viognier




about this wine About this wine
 
Viognier can be something of a Marmite grape.  Its extraordinary perfume of honeysuckle and apricot only develops when the grapes have got really ripe, so the downside can be a flabby, oily and over-alcoholic wine, often with some residual sweetness, whose low acidity makes it tiring to drink and prone to premature oxidation.  New World winemakers typically add acid to compensate but this rarely works: you can still taste the fat and clumsy wine, only now someone has put a squirt of lemon juice in it.
 
I fear my prejudices are showing!  On the other hand, in its homeland of Condrieu on the right bank of the northern Rhône valley, Viognier can be fabulous.  The knockout perfume is there, but it has layers and depth; the wine tastes balanced and fresh; and the finish is dry, minerally and long.  Alas, there is a significant downside: the price.  Condrieu starts at around £25 a bottle and goes up from there.
 
Part of the problem for other producers is that their vines are so young.  Even as late as the mid-Eighties there were only 32 hectares (80 acres) of Viognier in the world, virtually all of them in Condrieu.  The grape’s rise to fame has been meteoric: today there are around 15,000 hectares of Viognier vines worldwide.
 
Some of the oldest outside Condrieu are to be found in an unexpected place: Thessaloniki in Greece, where Vangelis Gerovassiliou planted them in 1993 on his estate at Epanomi.  Vangelis is the man who almost single-handedly saved the Malagousia variety from extinction, and we tasted the wonderful results back in May.  With such a track record of supporting local varieties, I’m inclined to forgive his growing such an über-trendy international grape as Viognier.  Besides, it wasn’t trendy when he planted it.
 
It’s reliably sunny in Epanomi, which Viognier likes, while the Aegean Sea surrounding the peninsula moderates the temperatures, allowing a long, slow ripening season.  This is vital for great Viognier, allowing it time to develop its perfume without over-ripening.  When Vangelis judges that the perfect moment has arrived, the grapes are hand-picked and taken immediately to his state-of-the-art winery at the centre of the vineyards, where they are chilled down to undergo a few hours of cold maceration (skin contact) after crushing.
 
The juice is then run off and fermented in French oak barrels (85% new, 15% second use) at low temperature (18°C) before being aged on its lees for five months in those same barrels.  Batonnage (lees-stirring) is performed every week to add texture and complexity, while malolactic fermentation is avoided to preserve as much acidity as possible.
 
The wine is then bottled in one of the biggest and heaviest bottles I have ever seen: bigger than most champagne bottles, even.  The label claims “great aging potential” which Viognier, even Condrieu, is not known for.  But this would be the bottle to do it in, with its thick dark glass protecting the wine from light and its sheer bulk absorbing temperature variations.  I only hope our courier doesn’t charge us extra for delivering it.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
Viognier has thick yellow skins, so with that pre-fermentation skin contact I was expecting a really deep colour.  Surprisingly, this wine is a lovely medium greeny-gold – positively pale for a Viognier.
 
The nose… oh my!… the nose is amazing.  It soars up out of the glass, and there’s so much in it.  Viognier’s trademark honeysuckle and apricot are present in spades, but there are also piercing sweet citrus scents of pineapple and lime peel.  A lick of ginger adds to that impression of freshness, while tropical fruit notes of lychees and mango reinforce the ripe apricot.  There’s fresh green herbs in here too: oregano and thai basil.
 
Underpinning all of that is smoky, toasty oak.  If I had to describe this nose in a single sentence I’d say it smells like Rose’s lime marmalade on buttered toast.
 
Despite the sweetness implied by the nose, the palate is dry although sweet-fruited.  It’s full-bodied but not heavy, thanks to the surprisingly zingy acidity which can be felt, along with the alcohol, on the sides on the tongue and the corners of the mouth.
 
With this intense mouthfeel come bold, pure flavours of peach, lychee, ripe pear and, curiously, sweet chestnut (like marrons glacés).  That nuttiness is probably derived from the lees aging, along with the creamy texture on the afterpalate.
 
The warming finish is long, spicy and smoky, with an intriguing hint of bitters.
 
Assessment
 
If I were to make a list of characteristics that I don’t much like in a white, this wine would tick most of them.  It’s very perfumed, quite heavily oaked, high in alcohol (although 13.5% is right in the sweet spot for this grape) and, well, it’s Viognier.  So consider my prejudices well and truly overturned because I don’t just like this wine, I love it.
 
This is world-class Viognier.  The night before I opened this bottle I was at an en primeur  tasting of Rhône wines from the excellent 2015 vintage.  There were four delicious Condrieu whites, from top names like Ogier, Niero and Rostaing, with pricetags ranging from £30 to £52.  Only one of them was better than this.  I’m going to buy lots – even if I can’t fit the darn bottles into my wine rack.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium lemon, definite hints of green
Nose

Intensity pronounced

Aromas floral (honeysuckle, jasmine), stone fruit (apricot), piercing sweet citrus (pineapple, lime zest/marmalade) hinting at botrytis?, pungent spice (ginger), tropical fruit (lychee, mango), lees (sweet chestnut, butter), herbal (fresh oregano, thai basil), oak (toast, smoke)

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness dry, but sweet-fruited (sweet alcohol, too)

Acidity medium+

Body full-

Intensity pronounced

Flavours stone fruit (peach), tropical fruit (lychee), ripe pear, nuts (sweet chestnut), lees (creaminess)
Finish

Length long

Flavours warming, spicy, smoky, hint of bitters (like Angostura)
Other notes
Heavenly nose! Very textured mouthfeel (acidity/alcohol/flavour intensity). Remarkably elegant, given the power.


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