Domaine des Amphores Viognier Les Iris 2016
Winegrower: Véronique and Philippe Grenier
Region: IGP Collines Rhodanniennes, North Rhone, France
Available: September 2018
We love Viognier, but from regions other than Condrieu it can often be boring and of little interest. This wine, from Véronique and Philippe Grenier, is elegant, outstanding and truly exceptional. Sourced from high-altitude vineyards rooted in the granite that distinguishes the best sites of St-Joseph and Condrieu, and blessed with an extra gear from the exceptional 2016 vintage, this Viognier is floral, focused, and an incredibly delicious expression of place. It comes from a vineyard that has always been farmed using organic methods (certified by Demeter in 2002) just south of the Condrieu AOC. This wine is well balanced, bright and refreshing with a great mineral backbone. This wine is extremely versatile and dynamite with a variety of foods as it has the creamy, round texture of a well-made Chardonnay (no oak) plus the balanced acidity of a great Sauvignon Blanc. This wine fits perfectly into our QPR mantra and is undoubtedly one of the best values we’ve ever offered from this region. After one sip I find myself craving more and before I realize it, and much to my dismay, the bottle is empty.
The story behind Véronique and Philippe’s authenticity, tenacity and talent makes them the kind of winegrowers anyone in my business would want to champion. In 1992, as a young couple just starting off, they took over an old, rundown house with a half-hectare of wild farmland that her grandfather had not lived in for 18 years. Initially they grew chickens and goats then in 1994 they converted their small plot to a vineyard. Since those humble beginnings they have added other vineyards and now farm nine hectares to produce wines of outstanding quality and terroir.
Véronique and Philippe’s tiny domaine is little known outside of the Northern Rhône Valley. Their vineyards are located just north of Chavanay at the top of the valley overlooking the Rhone and the Alps to the east and where the Saint Joseph and Condrieu appellations are intertwined. The Rhone Valley is primarily known for its red wines (think Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte Rôtie, Cornas) but it also produces some awesome whites of which this Viognier is one of them. Farming and cellar methods are traditional; hand harvesting, wild yeasts, and old oak rule the day. Extraction is gentle, with a basket press frequently used, and the wines are filtered lightly or not at all and only minimal, if any, sulphur is added before the wines are bottled. The resulting wines are beautifully perfumed and elegant, and utterly delicious!
I always perk up when I see the “Collines Rhodaniennes” IGP, as it covers northern Rhône vineyard areas that often fall just marginally outside more celebrated appellations such as St. Joseph and Condrieu. The idea behind the IGP, or Indication Géographique Protégée designation, is to create a bridge between the more rigid prescriptions of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Côntrollée) and the anything-goes feel of the Vin de France, or “table wine,” moniker. As the middle tier of the French wine quality pyramid, IGP (a.k.a. vin de pays) wines represent fertile ground for value-hunting and often they – as in today’s wine – over-achieve to the point of ridiculousness. These are often historic, well-placed vines that would fetch way more money if they were within the AOC boundaries, but such are the intricacies of French wine – they leave room for delicious discoveries like this one from Véronique and Philippe Grenier, a family estate whose vineyards spread across Saint-Joseph, Condrieu and beyond.
Today’s Viognier Les Iris 2016 is brimming with energy. It was aged eight months on its lees in stainless steel tanks and old oak before being bottled lightly filtered with only minimal added sulphur. It is classy, rich yet well balanced, with aromas of citrus, tropical fruits, pear, apricot, stone and spice. Medium bodied on the palate, it’s a wine with bounce; it’s juicy and lip-smacking but also has a mineral core. It is crisp, bright and refreshing with citrus and tropical fruit notes that lead to a medium long finish. This wine is ready to drink now but will develop more over the next couple of years. Delicious as an aperitif and great with Thai, Indian and Malaysian curried dishes, it’s also pairs exceptionally well all sorts of richly textured seafood (crab, lobster, and mussels), poultry and game birds, and mild cheese. Serve at 10˚ in Burgundy stems to fully capture the beautiful bouquet and put its tropical flavours to work alongside some jumbo lump crab cakes. This wine has no business selling for $30, but we’re not complaining – we’re stocking up. Santé!