Condrieu – Exploring Treasures of the Northern Rhone

Condrieu Northern Rhone vin françaiseThere’s nothing quite like Condrieu.

I remember my first sip of Viognier. It smelled of peach and oak, was thick and heavy on my palate, a wine I was not eager to run out for again. It was not flawed, but a very ripe style. It caused me to avoid the grape for years. Then I tasted a Condrieu.

Just south of Lyon from Vienne to Valence, the Rhone River traverses the valley. The majority of the wine is red- Syrah. However, the tiny Condrieu appellation on the west side of the river (right bank) is dedicated to Viognier; this is where it’s rich, opulent and beguiling, and possibly the world’s finest expression of the grape. This article with the #Winophiles focuses on Condrieu.

From When to Where

Northern Rhone Valley appellations Condrieu

Map courtesy of: fernandobeteta.com

Viognier is planted all over the world, although thought to be indigenous to the Rhone, thanks to the ancient Greeks. It dwindled to just 23 hectares (57 acres) in the Northern Rhone by the mid-1980s. The early 2000s saw a reversal- as of 2018 the entire Rhone Valley had 1,448 hectares (3,500 acres) per France Agri Mer.

Now days it grows in several areas of France, although two appellations are one hundred percent Viognier: Condrieu and Château-Grillet, the later is a small, single property appellation. Both lie between Côte Rôtie and Saint-Joseph. You also find it in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and a few other areas.

From Vineyard to Winery

Vineyards in Condrieu and in many Northern Rhone areas are on steep to very steep, terraced hills. Many face south and southeast for a particular reason. This aspect protects vines from the cool northern Bise wind and Mistral winds, minimizing humidity, moderating temperatures and preventing frost. And it provides warmth and sunlight to help ripen grapes.

An issue with Viognier as a grape is the imbalance of sugars versus phenolic ripeness during the growing season. Harvested too young, it lacks aromatics and has a vegetal side. Too ripe, wines can be flabby, overly alcohol and lack freshness. Because it’s a lower acid grape, finding that optimal ripeness is key.

From Winery to Glass

This aromatic grape has gorgeous stone fruit characters, white flowers and creamy textures. Some are rich, full-bodied and rather viscous, coating your glass and mouth. A brighter, elegant side exists too with a medium body yet just as intensely aromatic. We opened a handful of gems that showed a bit of all these characteristics. Information about them follows.

Pierre Gaillard Condrieu 2014

Pierre Gaillard Condrieu french wineGaillaud and his family have farmed in the Northern Rhone since 1981, his first vintage was 1987.

  • Fermentation in used barrels, 100% malolactic fermentation.
  • Six months oak aging, 10% new with lees stirring (bâtonnage).

This wine is about intense aromatics and ripe textures with mineral bright freshness. A lovely mixture of white floral, stone fruits combined with a touch of citrus and pinecone aromas. In the mouth it’s precise yet fruity and refreshing, finishing with an undercurrent of granite-laced minerality.

Importantly, this has appealing acidity and freshness, not something Viognier exhibits everyday being a lower acid grape. Purchased for 34€ at the Domaine.

Vidal-Fleury Condrieu 2017

Vidal-Fleury Condrieu wine Rhone Valley

Guy Sarton du Jonchay, viticulturist and winemaker, and his wife Monika manage the estate owned by the E. Guigal family.

  • Fermentation in stainless steel tanks (50%) and used barrels (50%) with indigenous yeast, 100% malolactic.
  • Twelve months aging on lees with lees stirring; clarification by settling, one filtration; unfined.

This is a superb Condrieu. Delicate and elegant medium aromas of mango, pineapple, acacia, white grapefruit, and vanilla bean; medium acidity and body; a voluptuous rich mid-palate of apricot, citronella, and brioche lasting well into a long finish. There are layers of flavors here and effortless energy. Special stuff! Purchased for 39€.

Cuilleron La Petite Côte Condrieu 2015

Cuilleron Condrieu Rhone Valley wineThe Cuilleron family has owned this Chavanay estate since 1920. Yves Cuilleron is the fourth generation making wine and has been described as a modernist but not overly so.

  • Fermentation in used oak barrels with indigenous yeast, 100% malolactic.
  • Nine months aging in same barrels, no racking, periodic lees stirring.

Yves Cuilleron has four different cuvée from Condrieu. This one is fresh, bursting with honeysuckle, peach, guava and orange zest. These follow to the palate with green tea and honey hints. A refreshing bitterness lengthens the persistence of the wine on the palate. Great quality, super fresh and higher acidity than many Condrieu at 39€.

Find this wine in the States via Rosenthal Wine Merchants.

Maison Christophe Pichon Condrieu 2016

Maison Christophe Pichon Condrieu Northern Rhone Valley wineThe Pichon family is producing quality Viognier from about 5 hectares (12 acres) of vines in Chavanay.

  • Fermentation in 30% new oak barrels, the remainder second use. 100% malolactic.
  • Nine months aging in the same barrels with periodic lees stirring.

Characterful, precise aromas of apricot, nectarine zest and honey hints were a bit shy but opened up as I swirled. In the mouth it’s rich, round and coating with nectarine zest and apricot flavors and a mid-palate lift of brightness. A bit more oak detected and a savory vanilla quality. A soft lingering finish with bitter almond notes. That bitterness slightly detracted from the wine. I saved a glass to taste day two: bitterness gone, still bright! Mark and I concluded it was something in the food pairing. Nice at 33€.

Find this wine in the States through Voix de la Terre Wine.

Domaine Richard Condrieu 2016

Domaine Richard Condrieu rhone valley wineThird generation Herve Richard is a small producer working just 9 hectares (22 acres). A member of Vignerons Independants, I purchased this bottle at their Bordeaux salon.

  • Fermentation in large barrels (foudres), 100% malolactic.
  • Aged in new and used barrels one year.

Third generation Herve Richard produces a lovely and super example of an affordable Condrieu at 26€. Vibrant aromatics of floral, peach and honeyed tangerine zest follow to a silky and sharply focused palate; it offers citrus and honeydew flavors complemented by subtle chamomile creaminess. Balanced, medium-bodied and a lengthy finish. A nice representation for 33€.

In conclusion, each wine was fermented and aged in oak, and had a certain richness on the palate yet still bright. All except the Gaillard and Vidal-Fleury had mild savory notes. Condrieu is not like the heavy, oaky Vigonier I first tasted but crisp, creamy, elegant and savory. I’d happily sip any of these again. Bottom line- there is Viognier and then there is Condrieu. Everything is better with a few bottles of Condrieu in your house!

The French #Winophiles Talk Northern Rhone with host Rupal, from Syrah Queen.

Join us on Twitter Saturday, April 18th at 11am EDT, 17:00 in France using hashtag #winophiles.

17 thoughts on “Condrieu – Exploring Treasures of the Northern Rhone

  1. Lauren

    Amen! Condrieu is in its own category. It’s the wine that unleashed my inner oenophile, and I love it to this day. Your tasting notes made me realize how long it’s been since I had a Condrieu – and how much I miss it. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Rupal Shankar

    This is a fantastic primer on Condrieu. Love the wines, but I don’t drink enough of it. I now look forward to finding these wines. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I’d like to dive deeper into Condrieu after writing this higher level piece. And like you, drink more of them, cheers to that Rupal!

      Reply
  3. Robin Bell Renken

    I have always loved Viognier and the different expressions it can have. You love of Viognier ooozes off of the page. It’s amazing to me, how many nuances there are within these wines just within this small AOC…from “stone fruits combined with a touch of citrus and pinecone aromas” to “green tea and honey hints” to ” voluptuous rich mid-palate of apricot, citronella, and brioche”. Obviously this is a brilliant AOC to explore! As a Viognier lover who realizes this AOC is an investment to taste, you can bet I will be looking to you for guidance!
    Also…just noticed on your IG profile “optimism spreader”. Briliant! It certainly sums you up!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Ah, thanks for your nice comment Robin! On my reply to John’s comment I mentioned the differences I find between the traditionalist and more modern styles of Condrieu. From mouthfeel to finish… yes, so much to explore! I wish I could send you some bottles so we could do a virtual comparison tasting of them (both traditional and modern styles) alongside the Oregon bottles I have. I have my optimistic hat on, or as I joke, OHO baby!

      Reply
  4. John

    I’m drooling. Viognier is such a perfect mouthfeel wine. A refreshing departure from big brand varietals. Save me some for our trip to your area later this year….

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      For me there’s a distinct difference between the mouthfeel of the traditionalist versions and those making more modern styles. Always a joy to taste a variety of both from smaller producers. I’m absolutely saving you some 😉

      Reply
  5. Jane

    Okay, time to find some bottles of Condrieu to recalibrate my Viognier taste buds.
    Thank goodness you share the possibilities available from France and make me dream of travel to France again. In the meantime, I’ll hunt for some bottles here.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Ha, ha! Glad I’ve struck a Viognier/Condrieu cord with you Jane. You can find the Maison Christophe Pichon bottle through Voix de la Terre (vdltwine). And the Cuilleron bottle through Rosenthal. Let’s compare Condrieu notes!

      Reply
  6. MARTIN D REDMOND

    Viognier is one of Gigi’s favorite grape varieties. Ironically, we’ve never had Condrieu! I was ready to spring for a special bottle (a Chapoutier as I recall that was $80) for her birthday, but she nixed the idea for some reason (she wavering between we have too much wine, don’t buy anymore to back to I love this we need some more lol).

    Thanks for the in depth introduction to the region and these more reasonably priced producers! Now, I need to find some Condrieu!

    Reply
  7. Nicole Ruiz-Hudson

    I feel exactly the same way about Viognier. I tend not to love New World versions as much, but then Condrieu is a whole different ball game! These are some excellent examples. Hope you’re well!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Nicole, and you as well. It would be fun to get some of us together for an old-new world tasting. Last time I was in the States I had a few Oregon Viognier we liked so much, we drug a few bottles back to France!

      Reply
  8. Kathy Merchant

    Lynn, I’ve been trying to hit the “like” button on my iPhone and the platform refused to allow it! Nice piece, especially because I just visited that region six months ago. Cheers, Kathy

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks Kathy! Lucky you, any ‘have to visit’ tips? Hoping to get there later this year after I get my Permis de Conduire.

      Reply

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