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New World: Viognier

A failed X Factor contestant of a grape variety, New World Viognier’s search for a first-ever Gold Medal continues

When considering New World Viognier, it’s hard not to be reminded of a middle-aged, failed musician. This was a grape that started off 15 years ago in the New World with genuine aspirations of one day being a star. Perhaps it had a good review of some early vintages in the NME, or a near miss on X Factor.

But after promising early indications, it never quite made it, and, with new acts in town, it’s reduced now to weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and the club circuit, playing other people’s hits and dreaming of what once might have been.

Part of the problem seems to be one of identity. It’s rather lost its confidence. Where 1990s Viognier was all big, blowsy fruit, too much sugar and rampaging alcohol, there’s a feeling that the New World winemakers might have just gone too far the other way, rather losing what might have made the grape special in the first place. From brazen Bet Lynch to mousy Deirdre Barlow in a decade.

Interestingly, the idea that this was a grape that hasn’t really found its feet yet was further enforced by the fact that submissions came in from literally every New World country. Yet nowhere dominated the medals table, and no single wine made it above Bronze.

‘What we were looking for was a clear varietal style that gave us, and the customer, a reason to try something less usual while leaving them with a clear impression of the style,’ said Bread Street Kitchen's Nigel Lister. ‘Some of these wines stood out as being good quality and typical, with good aromatic peach and apricot notes, but the rest of the flight seemed to have a confused identity as if the wines were trying to be something else.’

‘I expected a lot more interest in the wines, and a lot more varietal character. Some of these wines were far too rich or lacking definition. And, at the highest prices, these would be difficult to sell against Condrieu.’ Michael Harrison, Henley Hotel du Vin