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When I think of French Viognier I think of the region Condrieu in the Northern part of the Rhône Valley and of course the minuscule appellation, Grillet, home to only one winery, Château Grillet. Viognier is an incredibly sensual variety. The textures are extreme. At one end lies wines like Guigals La Doriane, low acid, high pH, an unctuous almost oily wine with an incredible scent, employing 100% barrel ageing, at the other a suite of wines with less phenolic extraction from the skins and a more acid driven line, often tank fermented. In the middle, Yves Cuilleron, striking a beautiful balance.

The Viognier vines from Yarra Yering made their way from Château Grillet. I devoured my last bottle of 2001 YY Viognier at 16 years of ages a few months ago. We’d bottled it with sulphur levels on the high side, it had maintained the colour of a 5 year old wine, the straw character of aged Viognier was showing, and the colleague I was tasting it with saw notes reminding her of Château Grillet! Only 200L of this wine were made, and only when there was sufficient fruit to avoid detracting from the No.2 Shiraz Viognier and friends. Studying the Viogniers of Condrieu and Château Grillet was always a pleasure.

Studying the Viogniers of Condrieu and Château Grillet is always a pleasure. It’s a curious beast, often drinking beuatifully for a few years, going into a hole for 5-10 and then bouncing back with a new level of secondary, age related characters. Good Viognier has a heady perfrume, apricot, peach, spice, ginger, jasmine, flowers, citrus and beyond often used to describe it.

I first visited Yves Cuilleron back in 1999, primarily seeking his whites, soon discovering he made reds of great personality too. Beyond his stunning Condrieu he maintains holdings in Saint Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Côte Rotie. Making Rousanne, Marsanne, Marsanne/Rousanne blends, Syrah and Syrah blended with a splash of Viognier. Côte Rotie was the inspiration for Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2 and in turn Clonkilla’s Shiraz Viognier!

About Yves Cuilleron

Yves Cuilleron represents the 4th generation of Cuilleron vignerons even though he started his career as a mechanic. He caught the wine bug when he did is military service in Alsace and after a year’s training at Lycée Viticole de Mâcon, Yves took over his uncle estate in 1987. Since then he has built an entirely new winery in Chavanay and acquired additional vineyard in St. Joseph, Côte Rôtie and Condrieu. Yves is also very implicated in the community: he set up the ‘Vins de Vienne’ in 1996 with Pierre Gaillard and Herve Villard to re-introduce vines on the forgotten terroir of Seyssuel (located a few kilometres north of Vienne).’

The top Cuilleron wines are planted 8000-10000 vines per hectare. There are no insecticides (for the last 20 years) or herbicides used in the vineyards. Yves Cuilleron rejects off-the-shelf ideas. His vision of vine cultivation is highly personal: not conventional, not organic, not biodynamic. And his philosophy is simple: “Produce the best possible grapes”. He practises “viticulture raisonnable”, an integrated, eco-friendly approach in which observation is key. All vine work vital to grape quality is conducted: planting of Viognier vines deriving solely from the family’s own yards (“selections massales”), and of Syrah vines from high-quality clones and from “selections massales”.

Where in the World are Cuilleron’s Wines Made?

Yves Cuilleron’s vineyard holdings are spread through the Northern appelations (regions) of the Rhône Valley between Valence and Lyon. These are the home of whites made from Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane and blends of the three, with reds made from Shiraz and blends of Shiraz and Viognier from Côte Rôtie. The sites on the banks of the Rhône River are calf snappingly steep. Pulley systems and vineryard sized monorails often used to haul fruit and earth up the hills. In many vineyards, terraces lined by stone walls as tall as a man are used to hold the mountains back!

The 2015 & 2016 Vintages

The vignerons of the Rhône Valley, and, in turn our mouths, have been blessed with a pair of great years. The 2015’s I’ve tried to date have been rich oppulent wines with lovely ripe tannins, maintaining a freshness and vibrancy. Yves Cuilleron has said 2015 was simply the BEST RED vintage of his 30 years making wine. 2016 was another cracker and ’15 & ’16 are the pair of vintages together since 1998 and 1999. In short we’ve seen two great years from a vigneron who’s at the top of his game.

Having had a glimpse of the 2015 Northern Rhône reds a year ago while in the region last summer, I’ve been counting the nights to get back to taste the wines in bottle. They did not disappoint during our quick trip in early July  to the region to taste about 170 wines and visit a handful of producers. The take on the vintage is universally great and, while the good are elevated, the best just get better. It is a vintage in which the whole region has moved up the curve. 

In Condrieu  a clear contrast between the ripe and unctuous 2015 vintage wines and the more composed and even-handed 2016 wines is more than evident.  Both have their place. For white wines in particular, if there’s one appellation that can celebrate richness and density, it is Condrieu. Winemakers Villard, Cuilleron and Vernay have excelled in both harvests and crafted wines that take different stances equally well, while the swagger of Guigal’s 2015 La Doriane is undeniable and seems slight more tame and less woody. Nick Stock

*Many of these wines are available in extremely limited quantities with only 24 bottles of many of the wines available to the entire country. We will do our best to meet your requests.

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Viognier Master Yves Cuilleron + His Rhône Friends

  • The Viogniers
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About the Wines

The Viogniers all 2016

Cuilleron Viognier

A ‘baby Condrieu’ from vineyards above the appellation on the flatter slopes. The perfect starting place for anyone wanting to try Viognier.

Cuilleron Condrieu 'La Petite Côte' Viognier

Alcoholic-ferment in barriques, no racking, regular stirring. Malolactic fermentation also done in barriques, with native yeasts.

Pure

Bright straw. Vibrant, mineral-accented aromas and flavours of fresh peach and melon, with a delightful floral element gaining strength in the glass. Shows very good focus and energy thanks to tangy acidity and a hint of ginger. The floral note builds through a long, taut finish that leaves a subtle orange skin note behind. This is a brilliant pure expression on Condrieu.

WWE

Cuilleron Condrieu 'Les Chaillets' Vieilles Vignes Viognier

The best and oldest vines on the estate, on south/southeast-facing terraces overlooking Chavanay.

95 Points

‘Complex mealy aromas are laced into ripe white peach and fresh gingery spices. There's a very vibrant and fresh feel to the concentrated white peach-flavored palate. This has elegance as well as plenty of flesh and length. Drink now.’

The Roussane & Marasanne Whites all 2016

Cuilleron Roussanne

The Roussanne is sourced from vineyards in Chavanay and in St. Michel sur Rhone, essentially granite-infused soils. The fermentations (alcoholic and malolactic) are done in stainless steel; then, the wine is racked into a mix of barrels and stainless steel cuves for a six-month elevage before bottling.

Cuilleron Marsanne

This cuvée is sourced from vineyards in Chavanay that sit on granite-infused soil. The fermentations (alcoholic and malolactic) take place in stainless steel; then, the wines is racked into a mix of stainless steel and small barrel for six months before bottling.

Cuilleron St. Joseph 'Lyséras' Marsanne/Roussanne

50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne. From sandy and Granite soils. No new oak used.

91 Points

'Limpid yellow. A bright, highly perfumed nose features scents of fresh melon, nectarine and lemon pith, and a honeysuckle nuance builds in the glass. Suave and seamless on the palate, showing good depth to the mineral-laced lemon curd, white peach and pear nectar flavors. Plays power off finesse with a smooth hand and finishes very long and precise, displaying a resonating floral quality.’

Vinous

Cuilleron St. Joseph ‘Lombard’ Vieille Vignes

100% Marsanne. From 45+ year old vines planted on sandy and Granite soils. 9 months in barriques (old) no lees stirring and no racking.

92 Points

‘This has a very fresh, vibrant peach and nectarine nose. Extremely pure. Some apricot kernel and fresh almond blossom. The palate has seamlessly composed, gently fleshy and balanced pear and stone fruit flavors. Drink now.’

Cuilleron St. Joseph ‘Digue’

100% Roussanne. This is a new single vineyard Cuvee which replaces ‘Coteau St. Pierre’. Made from south-facing vines. Aged in 30% new oak.

93 Points

Bold and concentrated ripe peach fruits with a flinty edge. The oak adds warm and toasty oak spice. The palate is boldly flavored and structured, and firmed up by oak with stone fruit flesh rolled in biscuity spice. Drink now.

Cuilleron St Peray ‘Les Poitiers’ Marsanne/Rousanne

50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne. From a plot with a mix of limestone over granite. One third matured in new barriques.

92 Points

‘Of the 2015-Green-hued yellow. Lively citrus and orchard fruit, jasmine and mineral aromas are complemented by deeper notes of toasty lees and honey. Densely packed Meyer lemon, tangerine and pear nectar flavors are sharpened by a suggestion of chalky minerals. Finishes juicy, sharply focused and very long, displaying resonating floral and mineral notes and noteworthy clarity.’

Vinous

Cuilleron Crozes-Hermitage Les Rousses Marsanne

From a 2 hectare vineyard located south of Tain l’Hermitage.

91 Points

'Brilliant yellow. Ripe citrus and pit fruit scents are enlivened by a snap of juicy acidity. Juicy peach, pear and Meyer lemon flavors show very good depth and a hint of candied ginger that lends spicy lift and bite. Lingers with strong tenacity, leaving a suggestion of honey behind.’

Vinous

The Reds All 2015 bar the 1st

2016 Cuilleron Syrah

Made from vines grown around Chavanay.

Vivid purple.  Lovely lifted bright perfumed scents of fresh red berries, flowers and white pepper.  On the palate offering juicy raspberry and bitter cherry flavours and a hint of licorice.  Nicely delineated and tangy on the finish, which betrays just a hint of tannins.

WWE

Cuilleron Crozes-Hermitage 'Laya' Syrah

From a 2 hectare vineyard located south of Tain l’Hermitage. 10% New Oak.

90-92 Points

‘Vivid ruby. Intensely perfumed, spice-accented dark berry and cherry aromas, along with a subtle floral quality. Silky and open-knit, offering expansive black raspberry and candied cherry flavors complemented by notes of cracked pepper, violet and allspice. This is quite elegant for the vintage. Finishes sweet and long, with smooth tannins adding shape.’

Vinous

Cuilleron St. Joseph 'Les Pierres Sèches Syrah

Pierres Seches refers to the dry stone walls that hold up the terraces. This wine is aged for 18 months in older barriques.

90-92 Points

‘Deep ruby. Smoke- and spice-tinged blackberry and dried cherry aromas are enlivened by a suave floral topnote. Nicely concentrated cassis, bitter cherry and spicecake flavors are complemented by a touch of succulent herbs and a building floral pastille note. Finishes chewy and long, with dusty tannins coming in late to add shape and grip.’

Vinous

Cuilleron St. Joseph 'Cavanos’ Syrah Vieille Vignes

An old vine cuvee from some of the steepest terraces on the domaine. This vineyard is more akin to Côte-Rôtie than your average St. Joseph.

91-93 Points

‘Lurid ruby. Highly perfumed aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry cola, floral pastilles, licorice and woodsmoke. Plush, seamless and sweet, offering concentrated black and blue fruit flavors accented by cracked pepper and violet qualities. Broad, appealingly sweet and lively; velvety tannins lend grip to the clinging finish. This bottling was formerly called L'Amarybelle.’

Vinous

92 Points

One of Cuilleron's better reds, this has vibrant dark cherry and blackberry fruits with spicy elements as well as cedary oak on the nose. The palate delivers a plush, even and dark-fruited core with plump and attractive tannins. Drink now.

Cuilleron St. Joseph 'Les Serines’ Syrah

Made from a selection of Cuilleron’s oldest St. Joseph vines from 18 different plots. 50% new oak. Serines is the local name for Syrah. This wine is a perfect expression of St. Joseph and is one of the importers favourite wines. (raised in new and used barriques for 18 months)

92-94 Points

‘Dark purple. Smoke- and pepper-accented black and blue fruit aromas pick up suggestions of candied licorice, violet and star anise with aeration. Sweet and expansive on the palate, offering intense, mineral-laced cassis, bitter cherry and floral pastille flavors that smoothly combine richness and vivacity. Shows excellent clarity and floral lift on the finish, which features building tannins and an emphatic echo of smoky minerals and peppery spices.’

Vinous

93 Points

A bolder and more assertive St Joseph from Cuilleron with more oak-derived, exotic and fragrant spices as well as dark chocolate and rich dark plum fruits. The palate has plush, flavor-drenched tannins that deliver a succulently appealing

Cuilleron Côte-Rôtie 'Bassenon' Syrah 10 % Viognier

Note: 90% Syrah/10% Viognier 1.5 ha of south-facing terraced vines on Coteau de Semons, in Tupin-Semons commune. “Bassenon” is not the district but the stream at the foot of the hill.

91-93 Points

‘Glass-staining ruby. Intensely perfumed aromas of ripe dark fruits, potpourri and olive; a zesty mineral nuance adds vivacity. Deeply concentrated blueberry, spicecake and floral pastille flavors take on suggestions of cola and candied licorice on the back half. Finishes on a suave note of candied flowers, delivering mounting tannins and superb energy and focus.’

Vinous

Cuilleron Côte-Rôtie 'Madiniere' Syrah

Note: 100% Syrah.

92-94 Points

‘Brilliant violet. Heady, assertively perfumed aromas of ripe black and blue fruits, incense, vanilla and woodsmoke acquire a suave floral topnote in the glass. Spice-laced blackberry, boysenberry and fruitcake flavors unfold slowly, picking up mineral and cola nuances on the back half. The sweet, supple, extremely long finish is framed by velvety tannins that sneak in late to add gentle grip.’

Vinous

2014 Cuilleron Côte-Rôtie 'Lieu-Dit Bonnivières’ Syrah Vieille Vignes

Note: 100% Syrah. In the centre of the Côte-Rôtie appellation, in the municipality of Ampuis ‘Bonnivières’ is a handsome east-facing, old vine, vineyard of mica schist. The ‘Terres Sombres’ cuvée was made chiefly with wines from this vineyard.

93-95 Points

‘Bright purple. Complex, highly perfumed aromas of blackberry, potpourri and smoky Indian spices, accompanied by olive and black pepper nuances that build in the glass. Sappy, palate-staining black and blue flavors gain energy from a suggestion of smoky minerals and pick up a violet pastille quality as the wine opens up. The mineral element carries emphatically through the impressively long, gently tannic finish, which leaves behind sweet dark fruit and floral notes.’

Vinous

91 Points

Very ripe, dark poached plum and plum paste with dark chocolate and wild herbs, star anise and clove. The savory complexity is impressive. The palate runs the same. Cedary and sappy oak has a big impact, red plums are tightly coiled, tannins assertive. Powerful wine that needs time. Best from 2022.

Cuilleron Cornas ‘Le Village’ Syrah

Vines from three plots (behind Cornas village church, and in the districts of Les Cotes and Reynard).

91-93 Points

‘Dark ruby. Sexy dark berry, violet pastille and incense aromas are sharpened by black pepper and mineral notes. Displays very good focus and intensity on the palate, offering sweet boysenberry, violet pastille and allspice flavors that show no rough edges. Supple tannins build slowly through a very long, floral-accented finish, where the floral note echoes emphatically.’

Vinous

Cuilleron Ripa Sinistra

Ripa Sinistra is an ancient vineyard dating back to the Romans. Yves Cuilleron replanted the vineyard in the 1996. A densely planted vineyard (8,000-10,0000 per hectare) grown over schist soils. Only organic treatments are used in this vineyard. Grapes are handpicked, partially de-stemmed and undergo a natural fermentation before spending 18 months in barriques (225L barrels).

92 Points

'Glass-staining ruby. Intense black and blue fruit aromas are complemented by hints of olive, pungent flowers and smoky minerals, and an exotic hint of star anise builds with air. Juicy, focused and pure, offering sappy black and blue fruit flavors and a deeper suggestion of candied licorice. Closes with excellent focus and mineral-driven punch, leaving behind peppery spice and floral notes. Drink: 2020 - 2028'

Vinous