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White Heights of the Northern Rhandône

White wines of the Rhône

Condrieu - that fulsome, exotic white wine from Côte Rôtie's neighbouring and almost equally precipitous commune in the northern Rhône Valley - is a like-it or loathe-it kind of a drink. And I fall into the latter camp…or, at least I do in the normal course of things. Let me explain.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Condrieu - and the Viognier grape more widely - is a tricky thing to get right. And I have a massive problem with those wines that I consider to be "wrong" i.e. fat, overblown, greasy wines that smell like someone has scraped granny's hair product onto a piece of well-buttered toast and then added Turkish Delight, melted nougat and the essence of rather sickly blossoms. If I may be frank, yuk.

Yet nowhere does one figure bestride an appellation as in Condrieu: one individual who, for decades, has produced wines that eclipse everything else made there. Intrigued? You should be. Read on…

Georges Vernay pretty much single-handedly brought Condrieu back from the brink of extinction. And it is from his house at the foot of the Côteau de Vernon that emanates a range of mono-varietal Viognier cuvées that put all others in the shade.

Domaine George Vernay
The Domaine Georges Vernay sitting beneath the Côteau de Vernon

2015 Condrieu Les Terrasses de l'Empire, Georges Vernay
£294 in bond per 6  Drink 2018-24

There's a wonderful clarity and purity to aromas that include stone fruits and citrus. I can find white peach and oranges, perhaps small oranges i.e. tangerine. The palate holds itself conservatively at present, the line of acidity lending the wine great direction and verve. A long thing and delicious with it.

"The palate is elegant, wiry. There are salty notes on the debut, with crystalline properties, clean as a whistle. This is a series of interlocking compartments." John Livingstone-Learmonth

2015 Condrieu les Chaillées de l'Enfer, Georges Vernay
£420 in bond per 6  Drink 2018-24

This comes across as denser: a wine of greater power on both nose and palate. With the peach and exotic citrus aromas comes orchard fruit - apples and pears - that keeps the whole thing in control. There is great density across the tongue. This crackles with energy along its considerable length. There are floral bits and pieces here and there. Rich, fresh and dashing.

"There is a lip smacking finish; this is weighted wine, with fine edges, and its oak is interesting, since it adds a definition along the sides, a useful role." John Livingstone-Learmonth

2015 Condrieu Côteau de Vernon, Georges Vernay
£480 in bond per 6  Drink 2019-26

This is like grape silk, within which is a bright thread of freshness. A wine of considerable charm, showing incisive orchard and citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavours. Such definition here and it has a great deal more to give. There's a mineral freshness about this that lends it great energy and entirely fascinates the taster.

"This has luxury and hidden moments, a very good potential to draw in considerate drinkers." John Livingstone-Learmonth

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