Spotlight on Rhone Valley White Wine: Pierre Gaillard Condrieu 2005

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One of the trends in Condrieu over the last few decades has been a move from a fresh steel fermented style that often saw arrested malo-lactic fermentation to a heavier oak fermented and barrel aged style with full malo. For the not so geekily inclined, this is equivalent to a move from making freshly squeezed juice to milkshakes. However, in this case the move occurred because a number of top growers realized that Viognier – the raw materials – was much better when vinified in a heavier and denser way. Some argue that the prevalence of aging in new oak has come to hide the multiple terroirs of Condrieu, but the grower/producers answer to that is a now sustained attempt to reduce the amount of new oak while maintaining a solid oak influenced backbone. It is thus on the vinification side of things that Condrieu is now coming into its own and learning how to express its terroir.

Gaillard is one of the modernist producers who really pushed to use oak. He began in 1995 with 2.5 hectares on one plot and now works four vineyard sites, most of which have granite soils. Interestingly, the southern part of Condrieu – where Gaillard grows most of his vines – overlaps with St. Joseph and so it is possible to produce both white Viognier wines labeled Condrieu and red Syrah based wines labeled St. Joseph from the same vineyard sites. However, whereas Gaillard produces 4 different St. Joseph cuvees, he only makes a single dry Condrieu, labeled simply by the region.

In the vineyards, Gaillard looks for near-overripeness in his grapes, and in the summer he strips leaves and excess vegetation so that the grapes don’t get quite that far. Lately, Gaillard has withdrawn from the use of new oak, even though he was one of the first to use it.

The wine itself is both a year older and is lighter in colour than the Villard I just reviewed. The nose is also duller and less expressive, with dill, stone, lemon and peach, though all in a more restrained manner than the Villard. Peaches, cream and dill come forward on the palate, which is not as long as the Villard but is perhaps a bit more balanced. This is ultimately a very different wine from the Villard, being more contemplative and less opulent, but also very successful with food (I paired it with a lobster, pea, lemon and white truffle risotto). I do, however, think that the Villard is superior in both structure and expressivity, perhaps providing ammunition that Viognier should be consumed young.

Very Good+
$60 at Marquis

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