The Rhône's most famous white wine appellation, Condrieu makes wine exclusively from the Viognier grape. Viognier is good all across the world, but here it makes its most dynamic and scented wine. Wine is made in seven villages in the furthest north portion of the Rhône, particularly the village of Condrieu itself; there are only 300 acres of vineyards. About 50,000 cases of wine are produced each year. The red wine appellations tend to produce much more, making Condrieu one of the most exclusive regions in the Rhône.
Located inside the region of Condrieu, the Château-Grillet appellation makes only one wine per year. Owned by a single producer, it is a monopole vineyard, one of the few famous ones outside of Burgundy. The resulting wine is among the most exclusive in Condrieu, but several exist in the regular appellation to rival it. As a result of this exclusivity, prices are very high, with good Condrieus often going for $75 or more. However, Condrieu advocates correctly argue that for those who like the wines' style, these are relatively good values, since white Burgundies are so much more expensive.
Having existed since at least Roman times, the Condrieu region has been producing wine of its style for a long time. The wine became internationally renowned at least as early as the 19th century. The appellation was officially created in 1940. Condrieu wine fell out of favor in the 1950s and 1960s, but in recent years it has rebounded in popularity.
Climate and Viticulture
Except for the unusual Costières de Nîmes region, Condrieu is probably the coolest region in the Rhône Valley. As a result, its climate is significantly more conducive to the production of white wine. Another of the shaping factors in the wine is the soil, which is a one-of-a-kind combination of porous, drainable granite, chalk, mica, and deposits of gneiss.
The only legal grape in Condrieu is Viognier, which makes up 100% of the varietal white wines. An ancient grape, Viognier is mainly known for the wines it makes in this appellation, but it is also terrific in the rest of the Rhône, and interesting in some very unusual, often expensive boutique examples in California. But nowhere other than Condrieu does it produce a wine of such majestic, elegant flavors, such powerful peach and dried fruit scents, and such floral power. These are rich, full-bodied wines, but most authorities agree they lose much of their verve if aged for too long and should be consumed young. However, a few critics disagree, saying that a good Condrieu will improve with age, and pointing to Château-Grillet's more ageable wines as examples.
The small size of this appellation means that it is among the most qualitatively consistent in the Rhône. Out of 80 producers in the region, we have selected a total of seven.
- Domaine Yves Cuilleron: The basic Condrieu here is excellent, but the cuvées are on a world-class level. The Les Ayguets is the best, with phenomenally thick, rich peach and honeyed fruit flavors. The Les Chaillets, La Petite Côte, and Vertige cuvées vary in style, but always express the region's charms convincingly.
- Delas Frères: The basic Condrieu and cuvée Le Galopine are good here, but the Clos Boucher is the better wine. With a notably fresh, intense combination of floral scents and fruit flavors, and a thick texture, it takes its place among the best wines of the appellation.
- E. Guigal: The basic wine here is great, with deep nectarine, citrus, and floral flavors. But cuvée La Doriane is world-class, with much heavier, smoky flavors. Rich and layered, this wine is full of brilliant fruit flavors.
- Domaine du Monteillet: The basic Condrieu here is good, but in addition this domaine makes three remarkable cuvées. Chanson is full of raw power, while the Grain de Folie is more refined and tropically flavored. Les Grandes Chaillees is precise with flavors of yellow fruit and saline minerals.
- Andre Perret: Both the Coteau de Chery and the Clos Chanson cuvées have drawn rave reviews from critics for their rich, incredibly powerful expressions of Condrieu.
- Domaine Georges Vernay: Vernay is one of the most established producers here, making a number of cuvées. Coteau de Vernon is the indubitable #1 wine of the domaine, and possibly the best in Condrieu, with amazingly thick yellow and floral fruit flavors combining for a huge finish and Chablis-like power and clarity. The Les Chailles d'Enfer and Les Terrasses de l'Empire cuvées are only slightly inferior, still among the best wines of the appellation.
- Domaine Francois Villard: Villard makes many cuvées here; four are especially important: the spicy, very complex Coteaux de Poncins, the rich, tropically fruited Le Grand Ballon, the more floral, modern Le Grand Vallon, and the classy, complex top wine, called Les Terrasses du Palat.
Most of the vineyards here are owned by only one producer, making vineyard-based classification a rather pointless practice here. However, Condrieu does have one officially designated subregion: Château-Grillet.