Text Size:-+
02.24.2010

2005 Chateau-Grillet Vin Blanc, Rhone Valley, France

05_ch_grillet.jpgWith just a quick glance at the bottle, you might think to yourself, "Oh, it's just some random little white wine from somewhere in France." After all, it's just a Vin Blanc with some unfamiliar name on it.

But look a little closer, and you might start to get the idea that this isn't just any wine. For starters, the bottle is somewhat unusual, resembling something you might see in Germany or Austria. Indeed, it would be easy to mistake this wine as coming from the Alsace region of France for that reason.

A slightly more studied glance at the label will reveal, however, that this wine hails not from Alsace, but from... Chateau-Grillet, which happens to be the name of both the winery, and the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), or appellation, where the wine is made.

This place, the winery that provides its name, and the wine produced there are part of one of the more unique stories in French wine. Just ask Thomas Jefferson, who played hooky from his diplomatic duties while in France in order to make a detour to the winery and it's 9 acres of vineyards and the little white wine that even then was regarded as one of the best in the world.

Just a few kilometers south of the village of Condrieu in the Northern Rhone valley lies the hamlet of Verin, backed up against some granite hills that have been worried at for millennia by the nearby Rhone river. Carved out of those hills, in steeply terraced rows, sits a small amphitheater of grape vines. People have been growing grapes in this spot as far back as Roman times. Presumably someone knows exactly when, but at some point someone figured out that the friable, sandy granitic soil was perfect for growing Viognier, the primary white grape of Condrieu, the wine region within which Chateau-Grillet sits.

Surrounded by the vineyards of Condrieu, Chateau-Grillet is its own separate appellation, and at 3.5 hectares, one of France's smallest, and also one of the few that are farmed and owned by a single producer. Since the time that Jefferson visited in the late 18th Century, Chateau-Grillet has been owned by a single family whose modern day descendants, the Neyret-Gachet family, currently display their name on the label.

Chateau-Grillet is both Condrieu and it is not. Like the larger region in which it sits, the wine is made with 100% Viognier grapes, but both the qualities of the wine, as well as its making are different than its neighbors.

To start with, the estate has some pretty old vines, averaging about 40-years-old across the vineyard, some of which have been bearing fruit since before the Chateau-Grillet appellation was officially sanctioned in 1936. Like the rest of Condrieu, but perhaps even more thanks to vine age and very nutrient-poor soils, Chateau-Grillet's yields are miniscule.

Needless to say, the fruit is harvested painstakingly by hand, and carefully destemmed and crushed. From there it is fermented and then aged in old oak casks for well over a year before being bottled. This cask aging is a significant departure from the relatively insignificant aging that most Condrieu gets, and is no doubt partially responsible for the character difference between Chateau-Grillet and those wines. Chateau-Grillet does not have the explosive intense aromatics of Condrieu, nor quite the intense honeyed fruit flavors. More reserved in character, Chateau-Grillet also tends to be longer lived than its neighbors.

Only roughly 2000 cases of wine are produced each year, to a demand that far outstrips the estate's supply. It is one of those wines slavishly cherished by those who love the white wines of the Rhone, though thankfully with less fanfare and cash than the red wines of the region. Consequently it is not impossible to find, nor prohibitively expensive to buy, considering it is one of the wine world's treasures.

Tasting Notes:
Pal gold in the glass, this wine has an electrifying smell of lemon... cocaine. Something ethereal and intense and distinctly lemony, but not exactly of this world, so to speak. On the palate the wine has a gorgeous, silky, texture and the viscous weight that often accompanies Viognier. The magic of this wine comes from its fantastic balance between a creamy lemon curd and lemongrass-scented richness and a bright crystalline acidity that hang in a taut balance that resonates through a long finish. The barest hint of peachiness peeks through this citrus matrix as a reminder that this is indeed Viognier. This interplay between fruit and mineral, lushness and crispness simply just makes you want to drink more, and more, and more. Which I highly recommend you do.

Food Pairing:
This wine will match an incredible array of foods, from shellfish to starch to salads. I drank this recently with cold antipasti plates and found it a stunning match with grilled octopus salad.

Overall Score: around 9.5

How Much?: $85

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Buy My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Instagram Delectable Flipboard Pinterest

Most Recent Entries

Vinography Unboxed: Week of May 4, 2015 Vinography Images: A Shaggy Guardian Vinography Unboxed: Week of April 26, 2015 Vinography Images: Above the Coast 2015 Seven Percent Solution Tasting: May 6, San Francisco Imagining a Better Future for the Soils of Champagne A Brief Video Lesson in Champagne Disgorgement Vinography Images: The World of the Leaf Book Signing on May 9th, at Raymond Vineyards in Napa Doorman: Changing My Wine Delivery Life

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune

Archives by Month

 

Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud