2008 The Ritual Western Australia Viognier

The Ritual is a partnership between two Western Australian wine entrepreneurs whose vineyards are located in the Peel Wine Region, south-east of Perth. The wines made under the Ritual label were intended for an export market.

Gradually gaining a foothold out west, Viognier has the mainstream varieties Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc to contend with in addition to varietals such as Chenin Blanc and Verdelho, which grow extensively in the soils and climate there to the point where Western Australia could reasonably be regarded as their spiritual home.

Having said that, Viognier has been a quiet achiever here but now appears to have become the trendiest of the Rhone Valley white wine trio as a stand alone, wanting a piece of the action as a reputable alternative variety. In recent years, small percentages of Viognier (usually around 5%) have been used to add fragrance and suppleness to the power of shiraz wines. Additionally, its use as a component in white wine blends, as a sparkling wine and as a late harvest variety highlights its versatility.

An ancient variety related to the Nebbiolo grape and possibly brought into France by the Romans, Viognier is the only grape permitted in the Northern Rhone appellations Condrieu and Chateau Grillet, two of France's smallest AOC's. Rescued from the brink of extinction in the late 1960's with the less than twenty hectares of vines planted in the world found in this region, it is documented that Eden Valley's Yalumba and its interest in the variety sparked its revival and the subsequent worldwide popularity. Yet despite its growth within France and the other major players California and Australia over the next four decades, it still remains a minor variety to this day.

There is a real mystique that accompanies this wine grape. The name may put people off, they'd rather stick to what they know. It's not only the facts that it was rescued from virtual oblivion, that Viognier has an unpredictable nature in the vineyard but also has unreliable yields that force winemakers to walk vinification tightropes to get the right balance between acid, sugar and alcohol levels. Adding to this headache is the fact that Viognier vines need a decade or two in order to develop and produce good wines. But when they do, the results are what Viognier is renown for: its stunning aromatics of fresh flowers, apricot and peach and the rich texture and tangy viscous palate that has been described as sensual.

The Ritual has restrained aromas of apricots and peaches with hints of honey and spice. In keeping with the age of the vines, it didn't have the palate richness but brought together a nice balance of citrus, stone fruit, pear and honey characteristics that lingered on the finish. The heat of the 15% alcohol content was disconcerting however.

With the ageing of the vines, it will be intriguing to follow up on future vintages. This was an inexpensive wine, good for its price that may get people interested in this variety as an alternative to the usual white wine suspects at the same price point. Viognier's aromatics and freshness are a great counterbalance to a diverse range of spicy as well as non-spicy foods. 

Source: Retail Purchase. Rating: 86 Points.

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