For many years Condrieu was considered one of the great white wines of France. It is the birthplace of the beguiling Viognier grape and the home of its greatest expression. Lately, in my opinion, the appellation has suffered greatly from global warming, coupled with a trend toward more new wood and a general preference for riper, more obvious wines. The result has been an increasingly one-dimensional wine in Condrieu—decadent and unctuous but lacking in delineation, balance, and refreshment. The Condrieus of André Perret in Verlieu turn this unfortunate trend completely on its head. So does the humble and authentic Condrieu produced by Lionel Faury in Chavanay. Lionel and I share the same taste (I’d like to think good taste), and he is one hell of a vigneron and winemaker. Vintage after vintage, he produces highly perfumed, well-balanced, utterly delicious Condrieu that we are very proud to sell.
On the wines of the northern Rhône, Kermit wrote in Adventures on the Wine Route, “The best combine a reminder of the sunny Mediterranean with the more self-conscious, intellectual appeal of the great Burgundies farther north, which is not a bad combination.” Like the wines of Provence, Burgundy, and Beaujolais, Kermit was introduced to this region by Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters.
Though technically part of the same region as the southern Rhône and connected by the Rhône River, much differentiates the north from the south. The climate is continental and in general cooler than that Mediterranean climate of the south. The appellations are significantly smaller: Cornas has less than 300 acres planted to vine and Hermitage around 345. The area planted is minute when compared to Gigondas (3,000+ acres) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (nearly 8,000 acres). Many of the great wines come from steep hillside vines—terraced during Roman times. It was clear to the Romans that great wine could be made here and DNA evidence now shows that Syrah is in fact indigenous to the Rhône.
The terroir is predominantly granite and lastly, blends of the wines are mostly single grape varieties. Only four grape varieties are permitted in AOC blends: Syrah, Viogner, Marsanne, and Roussanne (as compared to the 19 permitted varieties allowed in Châteauneuf). The red wines are nearly all Syrah and Condrieu and Château Grillet must be 100% Viogner. The whites of Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Saint Péray, and Crozes-Hermitages may only be blends of Marsanne and Roussanne.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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