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François Villard Condrieu Quintessence 2000

Snow returned to Scotland this weekend. Thankfully not in the thick drifts that we saw in December, not in the lowlands at least, but nevertheless it was snow. It took me by surprise a little, in the same way the villagers were surprised when they realised the boy really had been eaten by the proverbial wolf. This week was the third time this year that I have heard a weather forecast declaring "snow at the weekend", and on the previous two occasions both weekends came and went without the fall of so much as a flake.

The vagaries of weather forecasting shouldn't surprise us of course. Nor, I suppose, should the arrival of snow; after all, this is Scotland and we haven't long said goodbye to February. As for this week's wine, though, this does have the right to surprise. It is a most particular style of wine and, although I have long been aware of its existence, I do not think I have ever tasted an example. This is a late-harvest and botrytised wine from Condrieu, the distinctive white-only northern Rhône appellation forever associated with that most perfumed and fleshy of varieties, Viognier. It's not the appellation or the grape that provides this new experience though, but the sweetness in the wine; this is not the usual face of Condrieu, as most of the Condrieu vignerons are aiming to make their wines in a dry style. Sweeter styles are certainly not commonplace.

Francois Villard Condrieu Quintessence 2000Condrieu is a wine that divides opinion; some adore this unique expression of Viognier, whereas others see only problems, usually ascribed to the disconnect between technical and physiological ripening in Viognier. Consequently those vignerons awaiting the arrival of physiologically ripe fruit can end up with high-sugar and low-acid grapes, resulting in fat, blowsy and alcoholic wines. My opinion tends to lie between the two extremes; I have tasted plenty of examples of the blowsy style, which naturally I don't like, but equally I acknowledge that when Condrieu is good - such as those from André Perret for instance, in particular his Chéry cuvée - the wines can provide an extraordinarily exciting experience. Of course, these wines are intended to be dry, whereas this week's wine brings something new to my tasting history (an increasingly rare event these days), a sweet, botrytised example of the appellation, this being the 2000 Quintessence cuvée from onetime chef François Villard.

François is no stranger to extremes; unusually for the appellation he favours botrytis, with even his dry wines including a percentage of botrytised grapes, and some cuvées see as much as 40% new oak in the cellar. As for Quintessence, this late-harvested wine comes from the lieu-dit Le Grand Val on the slopes behind St Pierre de Boeuf. Although not made every year the gaps are not that frequent, with 1995, 1998 and 2001 being early notable exceptions. As for the 2000 this wine, at ten years of age, has a deep colour in keeping with its botrytised origins, with a rich, burnished orange-gold hue in the glass. The nose of the wine is similarly expressive, with the apricot and sweet, toffee-tinged aromas of noble rot giving the wine a very determined suggestion of sweetness but also depth. On the palate it has a great breadth, with a toothsome weight and sweet texture immediately apparent. It is soft and certainly mellifluous in its tone, although not with any notable acidity running though the middle of the wine. There are more elements of grip and bite towards the end, helped by some rather firm and baked characters to the fruits, all orange and sweet with dark-crunchy caramel, bringing the wine into slightly better focus, but it never shows the bright definition that a more acid-etched wine would achieve. Very long though, stacked with barley sugar and a light but intense, pastilley sweetness, slowly fading into a soft, fuzzy-edged point in the distance. This is certainly a fascinating wine to taste, intense and characterful as it is, but for me it is missing the balancing components to make it truly desirable. 14.5/20 (14/3/11)

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