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What am I tasting?

Tasting Note

Posted April 06, 2018 Ripe, with nectarine, tangerine and peach flavors pumping along, lined with bitter almond and orange notes that lend tension and drive through the finish.

And the answer is...


Varietal

Today's white features a complex mix of stone fruits and tropical citrus flavors. These are hints to solve our mystery, but we have to activate our know-how to identify the correct answer.

We can eliminate Gewürztraminer and Albariño first. Gewürztraminer is an easily recognizable Alsatian grape: Its perfumed aromas of rose water and lychee are hard to mistake for anything else and are not found in our note. Albariño, a grape indigenous to the Iberian Penninsula, is known for its lemon-leaning citrus fruit that's a little less ripe than our note suggests, as well as mineral character and a distinctive brininess.

Melon de Bourgogne is a grape grown primarily in France's Loire Valley, where it makes Muscadet, a light, refreshing white wine with stony minerality, great for pairing with oysters. Melon is a relatively neutral variety and does not express the tropical and ripe stone fruit flavors found in our note.

A Riesling might seem like a perfect fit at first. The examples from both Germany and Alsace feature notes of ripe citrus and peach or nectarine. However, Riesling flavors are almost always buoyed by powerful acidity and lots of mineral elements, and almond notes are not typical.

Lastly, Viognier makes full-bodied, aromatic whites marked by stone fruit flavors, with lots of ripe citrus and floral notes. It's made in a range of styles depending on where it's grown, but one telltale characteristic is the expressiveness of Viognier wines. When made in a moderate climate, they are elegant, with acidity that gives good tension to the bold fruit.

This wine is a Viognier.

Country

Looking at our options, we can easily cross out Germany, since Viognier hasn't made an imprint there. In Italy and Spain, there is a negligible amount of Viognier plantings. We can eliminate all three choices.

One hypothesis of Viognier's origin is that it came from the Dalmatian coast-today's Croatia-and was brought to the Rhône Valley by the Romans, but there is no historical evidence to support this. Some also believed Viognier was the same variety as the Croatian Vugava grape, but more recent DNA tests suggest this may not be the case. Regardless, today, Viognier is not a prominent grape in Croatia's wine scene.

Viognier is hard to grow, and making high-quality wine out of the grape is challenging. It requires a lot of sunshine and only takes well to certain soils. Due to its lack of natural acidity, it can also make wines that are flabby and out of balance.

France's Rhône Valley is widely believed to be the actual birthplace of Viognier, and is its main champion today, due to the region's terroir being conducive to great examples. Viogniers from France can be complex and aromatic, with ripe citrus and stone fruit notes, and at times interesting textural components. This sounds like our wine.

This wine is from France.

Age

Viognier wines are not particularly known for their longevity. Because of their expressive nature and refreshing character, most people enjoy them in their youth. That means we should keep to the first two age brackets.

Both the fruit and acidity seems to still be fresh, lending to the tension on the finish. We can safely assume that this is a young wine.

This wine is 2 years old, from the 2016 vintage.

Appellation

Since we know our wine is from France, we can eliminate Croatia's Pelješac, Germany's Mosel, Italy's Alto Adige and Spain's Rioja, leaving all but two options: Condrieu and St.-Péray.

Both of these appellations are in the Northern Rhône and make white wines exclusively, but they differ in location and soil type. St.-Péray is at the southern tip of the Northern Rhône, where the soils become heavier in clay. Condrieu is farther north; the soils here are rich in granite and arzelle, a crumbly topsoil layer of decomposed mica. Because of the differences in terroir, these areas grow different grapes. St.-Péray wines are made from Marsanne and Roussanne and wines in Condrieu are made entirely from Viognier.

This wine is from Condrieu.

Wine

This is the Pierre Gaillard Condrieu 2016, which scored 93 points in Wine Spectator's Oct. 15 & 31, 2017, issue. It costs $42 and 450 cases were imported. For more information on the wines of the Rhône Valley, read senior editor James Molesworth's latest tasting report on the region, "Rhône Boom," in the Nov. 30, 2017, issue.

—Aleksandar Zecevic, associate tasting coordinator

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