Yalumba’s Viognier Voyage

Without Yalumba, Australian Viognier would not exist. It’s a bold claim, but one I would certainly endorse. I first came across the top wine in Yalumba’s Viognier portfolio, The Virgilius, back in the late 1990s, a time when the variety was more or less confined to its Rhône homeland. My note on the 1999 vintage (only the second vintage) notes too much oak and the wine being little too hot and alcoholic for my taste. Yalumba’s Head of Winemaking, Louisa Rose, has honed and polished the wine to an outstanding level, the most recent releases shining as great examples, on a world stage.

On the left, Jessica Hill-Smith of the owning family and Louisa Rose.

In this Zoom tasting, Jessica explained that Yalumba first planted Viognier in 1980, just three acres on a neighbouring property on the elevated slopes of the Eden Valley. This was the first significant planting of Viognier in Australia, and the next decade was spent studying the vines’ cropping patterns, in an experimental phase with this new variety. Those original vines are now amongst the oldest in Australia. Today Yalumba grows 16 different parcels of Viognier on five vineyards across the Eden Valley, as well as sourcing fruit from additional sites in South Australia. All of the wines are wild-fermented, and spend time on the lees.

Louisa made several references to Viognier being a white wine for red wine drinkers because of its texture and phenolics, and indeed her top tip is to serve these wines not too cold – around 10 to 11 degrees is her sweet spot.

The wines

(2022) Sourced from several South Australian wine-growing regions, this is made with wild fermentation and lees ageing. Very attractive Viognier aromatics, lightly floral and herbal, which gives an attractive edge to the more ripe and tropical fruit. The wild yeast ferment no doubt adding to the quite complex aromatics for a £7.50 wine. In the mouth it is quite oily-textured and weighty, and there is a sour lemony acid that drives the mid-palate and finish. That gives a savoury character, quite orangy, the sweet peach fruit just balanced on the mid-palate.
(2022) Coming from Riverland vineyards in South Australia, and Certified Organic vineyards, winemaking is similar to the Y Series. This has a very fragrant and delicate aromatic, peachy and ripe pear aromas, to me a little more purity than the Y Series. Really lovely sweetnes and ripeness on the palate, again a rich but not quite such an oily texture, but again that light phenolic grip of the skin contact and citrus acidity drives on. Very good value at under £10.
(2022) There are some used barrels (barriques and 500-litre puncheons) used for fermentation and aging of this wine, which comes from the home vineyards in the Eden Valley. Virgilius is in fact a barrel selection, this wine effectively being the remainder of the wine. Louisa says she looks for the more 'open' barrels for this wine with bold fruit character. There is a tiny bit of almond nuttiness, a hint of ginger spice, and apricot and peach fruit. The palate is medium- to full-bodied, with plenty of ripe apricot fruit, but a bit of fruit skin grip and again that dry, quite pithy acidity of the finish.
(2022) Louise Rose's flagship Viognier was harvested over a two week period, presumably to balance acidity and the unctuous ripeness Viognier can achieve. That's done ever so successfully in this 13% abv wine, which spent 10 months in French oak. It is rich, the nose crammed with white flower and apricot notes, a creamy almond oak quality beneath. The palate has such lovely weight, textured and full, succulent with ripe, ripe fruit, orange acidity adding lovely tang and brightness. It's a wine that risks overloading the senses, but thankfully never does thanks to its precision and refinement.

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