In one of the many memorable scenes from the 1988 baseball movie Bull Durham a groupie is asked about the sexual prowess of a certain baseball star. “Well,” the bimbo says chewing gum, “the guy fucks like he pitches – all over the place.”
This is pretty much how I feel about Viognier, the Rhône white that is, well, all over the fucking place. Want to add it to some Shiraz to blossom out the big redness? Well go right ahead. A dry, spicy single varietal wine of no distinct identity or origin? Plenty of them Viogniers around. Viscous and sweet and apricot? You bet your socks.
But one day, and this is one day, we in South Africa are going to make a kick-ass Viognier, a wine with the depth and the complexity of Chardonnay, the brightness of a fresh Chenin Blanc and with the mysterious dimensions of Riesling.
I got close to one last week at Noble Hill, the farm on the Paarl side of Simonsberg. It was ordered as an afterthought to match the superb Mexican cuisine dished up in Noble Hill’s Cosecha Restaurant and had me pushing my tamales and guacamole to give the Noble Hill Viognier 2014 a decent going-over.
Bleached cornflower-stem to the eye, the wine has an intriguing nose of cut hay, pine-nuts and mulched fallen peaches with a charming whiff of spring flowers. The juice had some decent time on the lees in big French oak barrels, but as Viognier is known to do, the tendency to a high alcohol and the abrasive ester-volatile acid balance walks over most wood. This can bring either searing, grippy spirit flavours or sugary sweetness to the fore. But when you get it right, it is just superb.
Here, on the Noble Hill, the Viognier has a long, haunting riff of cardamom, raisined sultana stems, ripe pear and a cheeky, lively streak of Portuguese green plum. Superbly, wonderfully refreshing, the wine has both a personality of substance and assertion as well as a wonderful whimsical charm. All play, no work. Jack may be all over the place, but he sure ain’t a dull boy.
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