A Couple of Condrieus
Head to Head with Villard and Cuilleron
As Sauvignon is to Sancerre so Viogner is to Condrieu, often copied but rarely accomplished. The combination of being a tiny appellation which uses a grape which requires relatively severe restrictions on yields make Condrieu expensive, and limited. In fact, I bet most people have encountered more Northern Rhone Viogner when assembled with Syrah in Cote Rotie than in it’s pure Condrieu form. It also has the sole particularity of being the most expensive white in France that is best appreciated in youth, when it’s almost inexistent acidity is still perceptible.
Francois Villard and Yves Cuilleron are best buddies and partners with Gaillard in ‘Les Vins de Vienne.’ Both in their early 40’s, they are considered among the rising stars in the Northern Rhone. On Tuesday, I had an opportunity to drink their 04’s with them…and get a mini clinic on the finer details of making great Condrieu.
Condrieu 2004, Deponcins, Francois Villard ($85...importation)
The winner of the tasting, this is Condrieu at it’s finest. It had a delicate yet remarkably complex nose of honey, peach, pear, flint and with just the right dose of fresh oak (45% new barrels). The mouth was rich and creamy, and I was surprised how it’s minerality added to it’s freshness. I won’t even talk about length. Purity was the word that kept coming to mind. I guess the kids will have to eat lentils for another week.
Condrieu 2004, Les Chaillets, Vieilles Vignes, Yves Cuilleron ($85..importation)
Cuilleron’s vineyard is just south of Villard but the soil composition has a touch more clay. They both work in similar fashions in the chai and use almost the same barrels (though Cuilleron uses a touch more new oak), yet the style of Les Chaillets is markedly different. With less schist in his granite soil, his wines do not have the same minerality and thus feel a little heavier in the mouth. I found this bottle didn’t support the new wood as well. Nonetheless , this is still a magnificent beverage. It has much more smoke with riper fruit, moving into dried apricots and with an impression of residual sugar. I had an opportunity this summer to drink a bottle of the 03 with everything from cold fois gras to a truffle-laced veal chop (it was best with the beurre montée lobster).
Condrieu 2004, Petit Côte, Yves Cuilleron ($60..importation)
No new oak and while at first I found the Cuilleron smokiness distracting, it all comes together in the mouth. Like les Chaillets, it had a sweet wine feel without the sugar and while it lacked the fruit of his grand cuvee, it had a creamy almond taste that went on and on. Great length and depth and very, very ripe.
Condrieu 2004, Grand Vallon, Francois Villard ($60..importation)
At first I found the aromas of pears, honey suckle and peaches a step above that of Cuilleron, but without the grounding minerality of the Desponcins, it lacked a touch of depth and thus comes in a close second to La Petit Côte. Still a beautifully crafted wine, I fear it might lack the substance to do the job with a plate of food in front of you.