- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $0
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
If you know Ampuis, you know Georges Vernay. Sometimes, it is just that simple. While Guigal might dominate the production in town and the wine publication headlines, Georges Vernay has simultaneously been a force and steady hand that has guided the area for the last 30+ years. You want accolades you say? How about he was president of the Condrieu AOC for 30 years? Or that magazines in the 1980s said that he was the pope of Condrieu? But don’t worry - he doesn’t need to rely on his past laurels as the wines he and his daughter produce today are also fantastic and need to be tasted.
Domaine Georges Vernay was established in the 1950s, soon after the AOC Condrieu was established 1940. Georges spent much of his time cultivating Condrieu and set the bar high for his colleagues to match. For example, wineries normally have 1 worker for each hectare they own in Condrieu (by contrast, Bordeaux has around 1 worker for every 10 hectares). At Vernay, they have 1 person for every 0.5 hectares, ensuring that the quality of the grapes they raise is always at the highest level. It’s no wonder he was made president of the AOC.
But maybe you are thinking that you aren’t really into Viognier and prefer red wine (Cote Rotie) instead. What is the domaine’s track record with Cote Rotie? Fear not, because that is where the expertise of his daughter lies. I forget if it was the same magazine that declared Georges the pope of Condrieu, but recently a famous magazine declared his daughter, who has been making wine for 20 years, the Queen of Cote Rotie. That sounds like a fantastic father/daughter combination to me! Almost as good as having one of the Condrieus to open a meal and one of the Cote Roties to end it.
Between the two winemakers, the domaine boasts 10 wines in all (4 whites and 6 reds). Unfortunately, several labels of the current vintage had already sold out (or were on the verge of selling out), so I was able to taste 6 wines in all. And what a great lineup of 6 wines they were. Being the lone person tasting at the time also granted me the ability to ask all the questions I wanted and take my time enjoying each wine.
Before I dive into the wines, I wanted to drop some uncommon knowledge about the area here, since I recently learned it myself and thought it was interesting. In wine class, you may hear/read that up to 20% Viognier is allowed in Cote Rotie wines (the rest being Syrah). Yes, the Viognier does help to soften the wine and give it nice aromatics, but that isn’t the reason it is officially allowed. It is because both Syrah and Viognier vines were co-planted together back in the day, so the rule is more about allowing field blending than actually having varietal Viognier and Syrah blended at the winery. As people are re-planting the old Cote Rotie vineyards, they are not putting in Viognier anymore, just Syrah. So in the future, all Cote Rotie wines will eventually be 100% Syrah. With collectors being willing to let their wines age and wine reviewers granting higher scores to wines with ageability, it’s no surprise things are trending this way.
Now, the part you have been waiting for! NOTE: If you are interested in the technical specifications of the wines, it’s easiest to scroll through this page: The Wines. You’ll notice there aren’t any prices next to the wines below or on their website - if you are interested in purchasing bottles, you’ll likely need to go through the closest distributor listed on their website.
- 2016 Viognier Le Peid de Samson
- Produced using stainless steel and a foudre, with the grapes coming from 30+ year old vines at the top of the mountains, just north of the boundaries of the AOC Condrieu. Georges could have probably gotten this area classified but his dedication to quality wouldn’t allow bending the rules, especially for himself. The nose is lighter in intensity than other Condrieu, but still has the same floral/fruit profile. The palate surprises you with the power you were expecting on the nose. The weight and acidity were balanced, but the next wine took it to the next level.
- 2016 Condrieu Les Terrasses de l’Empire
- The nose on this wine is much more powerful, but still light on perfume character and in balance with the ripe fruit. On the palate, a wave of minerality hits you and any sense of candied perfume goes away. It leaves you in a bit of a shock/awe state with its salinity on the finish as well. This is a dry wine that should win over even Chablis drinkers as the acidity is crisp and pairs well with the strength of the varietal character.
- 2016 Condrieu Les Chaillees de L’Enfer
- The vines used for this wine were planted in 1957 on northeast corner of Condrieu. Aged a year in barrel with 20% new oak, the nose is reminiscent of ripe oranges without the spikey hints of citric acid. On the palate, this wine is just electrifying… The racy acid doesn’t hurt the cheeks - rather, it hits them like a tuning fork and keeps them stimulated all the way through the finish. The minerality on the finish just goes on as well. This wine is very cerebral and makes you think about just how and where these grapes were grown. It was my first time experiencing a Viognier like this.
- 2016 Condrieu Coteau de Vernon ()
- As soon as I write all of the great things about the last wine, I am poured a Viognier made from vines that were planted in 1936. Yes, 80 year old Viognier vines - you read that right. Their recommendation is to wait 2 to 12 years to drink this wine and I can see why in the palate and acidity profile. I must say this wine is the most unlike Condrieu out of all the wines I have tasted. The palate doesn’t quite get to ripe stonefruit, but there is a complex blend of white flowers, sweet white spice and fresh light apricot. The mouthfeel is the most complex of the four Viogniers with the structure to age quite a while. I’d drink the Les Chaillees tomorrow, but would be very interested in watching this age. Who knew there existed Viogniers you could age? I certainly didn’t!
- 2016 Blond Du Seigneur Cote Rotie
- The 5% Viognier in this wine is just the right amount to get the nose to blossom with a precise balance between the garrigue, fruit, and spice character. It’s said that the Queen of Cote Rotie emphasizes finesse in her wines and the nose is all I need to confirm that statement. It doesn’t hurt that the wine is a beautiful medium purple too as all of the vines are in the Cote Blonde, just south of Ampuis. Even at 2 years old, the tannin and the acid are already in such balance. I don’t feel the garrigue on the mid-palate, but it’s there on the finish in a light, but lasting way. Wait 5-15 years to bring out that terroir character even more but you’ll need to hide it from yourself as it’s drinking so well right now…
- 2015 Cote Rotie Maison Rouge
- Have you had a wine where you thought “yeah, this wine could age forever”? There is a lot of tannin here, though it is smooth already. The nose is closed down at this stage, but the palate is already expressive with its juicy red fruit before the tannin grips you. There is also a wild (animal fur) character on the mid-palate through the finish that is indicative of the area. This is the wine that you put in your cellar and wait to see what happens to it. Unfortunately, I’m not that patient and walked away with a bottle of the Blond Du Seigneur instead, haha.
True to form, consumers/distributors were most interested in the reds, leaving me with the ability to taste all 4 whites, for which Georges was famous for. At the beginning, I thought that was fine by me! After tasting 6 fantastic wines though, I really wonder now what the other 4 reds were like. Their distributors in the USA are DNS Wines and Simon-N-Cellar, so I guess I will need to find out by going through them…
Again, please do not assume you will be able to get a tasting here if you visit, but if you do get the opportunity, it’s worth planning your itinerary around (with maybe Guigal being the only place that should trump it). I have a much better appreciation for Viognier and will look for more opportunities to procure quality examples (including searching for the best of the best in Virginia). Cheers!
Rating: 96 out of 100