Friday, September 24, 2010

Face Off: Cote-Rotie/Shiraz Viognier

Red - When we received a sample of the 09 Head Blonde Shiraz Viognier a few weeks back the temptation was to taste and review it straight away. Thinking on it a bit though, we realised that RedtoBrown hadn’t got around to a doing a Face-Off for a while, and that this wine could be a part of a very interesting Cote Rotie/Shiraz Viognier Face-Off.

Cote Rotie is the appellation in the northern Rhone Valley whose wines are typically a blend of Shiraz and a small percentage of Viognier. This addition of Viognier to the Shiraz tends to give the wine lifted aromatics. In the past decade an increasing number of Australian wineries have tried emulate this style of wine. In the Australian context it can on occasions be a bit of a polarising wine, and indeed this is somewhat reflected with myself and Brown.

I’ve generally been a bit of a sceptic when it comes to the blend, although just in the past 12 months I’ve had several examples, both Australian and French, which have demonstrated to me that at its best, this blend can undoubtedly produce beautiful wines. Brown on the other hand is a fan, with plenty of Clonakilla in the cellar to show for it.

So we had the Head Blonde, and thought we should get another Aussie example, along with a Cote Rotie. For the Aussie we decided on the 06 Turner’s Crossing Shiraz Viognier. Like the Head it’s an Aussie example that we have both been impressed by in the past, as well as being very reasonably priced at $25 RRP. For the Cote Rotie, it was basically a case of finding the least expensive bottle we could. With Cote Rotie generally being very small production, and factoring in import costs, you struggle to find any Cote Rotie in Australia for under $100. The 07 Les Vins de Vienne Cote Rotie Les Essartailles was found at Dan Murphys for $85.

While the three wines come from different years they are all from good to excellent vintages in their respective regions. We initially tasted the wines single blind before then going on to finish them over dinner.

Brown - It's Face-Off time again. As Red notes above, we roadtested 3 examples of arguably the red blend of the ‘noughties’ in Australia, Shiraz Viognier.

Shiraz Viognier is a blend that has arguably entered the tall poppy backlash zone for some, such is its relative ubiquity. The sticking point with the blend appears to be the occaisional use of too much viognier in some (many?) examples, which imparts a sweet dried apricot flavour and aroma. If you hate viognier or apricots, there may be quite a few SV blends that do not take your fancy. I love dried apricots, but not overtly in my wine.
Personally I am a fan (or definitely not a sceptic) of a good Shiraz Viognier blend, and I also happen to appreciate a good example of a straight viognier as well. My favourite bottles of SV tend to be ones that the winery have taken some care in making (eg: not just a wine to make up the numbers at the cellar door or tap into the demand), and also wines that have a relatively small amount of viognier in them to provide the aforementioned floral and spicy lift. With all this in mind I was intrigued to find out how these wines would shape up blind, and tasted back to back.

Wine 1 (07 Les Vins de Vienne Cote Rotie Les Essartailles, $85)

Red - this wine opened with a nose of spice and cinnamon and some nice vanillin oak, but then over the course of dinner the Viognier became more evident with apricot becoming quite dominant, and ultimately a bit distracting for me. It has good line and length on the palate with ripe, yet balanced fruit, supported by an interesting and appealing citric acid. Based on it’s nose while tasting blind (and before the Viognier started to dominate) I thought it might have been the Turner’s Crossing. 3.5 Stars

Brown – Same nose for me (vanillin oak the most obvious at first). Initally only a suggestion of apricot, though the palate was quite stewed and ripe with some meaty, olive flavours. With more air the wine came to life, and more vibrant black fruit and acidity, though as noted, apricot, white pepper and mixed spice were dominant. Assumed this was from a warm vintage / warm wine growing region. 3.5+*Stars - Good point of  difference to the Australian SV's, though the RRP was a bit steep, though that was the fault of the import duties, not the aspirations of the wine.

Wine 2 (2006 Turner’s Crossing Shiraz Viognier, Bendigo, $25)

Red - There’s a nice complexity to this wine. While tasting blind it appeared to have more evident Viognier on the nose when compared to Wine 1, but then over the course of dinner it grew in complexity and the lovely berry and five spice aromas came to the fore. There’s a lovely ripe, richness to the palate while still retaining a sense of restraint. The tannins didn’t seem completely integrated yet, but it delivered a long finish. Really enjoyed this and reckon it’s one for the cellar. 4 Stars

Brown – The nicest wine when tasted shortly after opening. More expressive nose, fruity, primary. Apricot was evident, though not obtrusive and in balance with the other fruit aromas and flavours. Medium bodied, with similar black fruit flavours to wine 1. Some sweetness and a bit of apricot and unobtrusive bitterness at the finish. With air some cinnamon and all spice became more noticeable, though the tannins remained quite robust. A very solid wine (especially for the price). 3.5 *

Wine 3 (2009 Head Blonde Shiraz Viognier, Barossa Valley, Sample, $30)

Red – During the blind tasting this was the least impressive wine, having a fairly closed nose and tasting almost dilute on the palate. It was completely different from the previous two wines, and as such I assumed it was the Cote Rotie. Suffice to say I was very surprised to find out it was the Head Blonde. Then, however, over the course of the next couple of hours it just built and built in the glass. In the end it showed itself as a beautiful wine. Berry fruits, chocolate, spice, and just a hint of apricot. Far from being dilute, once unwound it delivers beautiful layers of lovely fruit, supported by fine tannins and nice acidity. Looking forward to seeing how this shows up over the next 5-10 years. 4 Stars

Brown - The most intriguing wine of the night (noting Reds comments about it building with air), and a lesson for us in needing to decant certain wines for several hours to try it at its best. A clear point of difference from wines 1 and 2 when first opened. Subtle apricot on the nose, and initially lighter bodied, raw and generally thinner than the last two. Any apricot flavours were restrained and not over-ripe or dried. Strong, slightly edgy but balanced acidity evident. With air, the wine underwent an impressive transformation - really fleshing out. The elegant yet powerful black fruit was balanced with a nice, clean citric acidity. Like Red, assumed this was the Frenchie, purely for how different it was to the others, though I must say I had a smile on my face when I found out it was a wine from the Barossa Valley that had the balance and integrated acidity to suggest it would age as well as any tasted on the night. Maybe Andrew Jefford should tuck into some of these babies.


Red - Ironic that the overt Apricot style of Shiraz Viognier that I'm often critical of in Australian blends was in fact the Cote Rotie. The two Aussie examples are both excellent wines and excellent examples of the style. At their respective prices i'd highly recommend both the Head Blonde and the Turner's Crossing.

Brown - Another very interesting night where we both learned more about a wine (or a blend) and the different regions that they come from. Both Australian examples on the night were representative of the style of SV that I like drink, and I would recommend them both. Thanks to Red to a lovely meal that complimented the wines very well (roast rib of beef on the bone with a northern Rhone red wine jus).

We would be interested in everyones thoughts on the Shiraz Viognier blend, and also would love to get any recommended imports at a reasonable price.

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