The Ultimate Guide to Viognier – 5 Facts Worth Knowing
By Cathy Howard • 12.12.2021
By Cathy Howard • 14.12.2015
With Christmas approaching, my thoughts turn to what special dishes will I prepare for Christmas lunch this year, and more importantly, what wines will we have on the day?
Sparkling Shiraz and Christmas lunch for me go hand in hand. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a glass or two of red bubbles. Sparkling Shiraz is a style that is uniquely Australian – no-one else in the world has grasped this style and proudly made it their own like we have in Australia.
I made my first sparkling shiraz in the late 1990’s whilst working at St Hallett Wines. Rockford’s Black Shiraz was our benchmark, along with Seppelt’s Sparkling Burgundy. Stuart Blackwell and myself tasted as many different styles of Sparkling Shiraz from across Australia that we could find to fine tune our sparkling wine style. I talked at length with winemakers making red bubbles in the Barossa Valley, and Louisa Rose at Yalumba Wines gave me some very useful tips which I still follow to this day. It certainly was an exciting winemaking project to be involved in.
I clearly remember the production meeting a few weeks out from the launch of the new sparkling a year later, when Bob McLean announced that our Sparkling Shiraz would be called Black NV (AKA Black Envy) and he proudly unveiled the magnum bottle labelled up for us to see. (The base wine in our blend was assembled from Old Block Shiraz wines that ranged in age from 1 to 3 years old, therefore it couldn’t be labelled with the vintage year, hence the use of NV).
Fast forward to 2008, when Neil and I were planning the range of wines that we would make for our own brand Whicher Ridge. Our goal then and now, is to make wines which stand out from the crowd, that are sort out by wine lovers, that pair well with food, and and that would create a real point of difference for us.
So in vintage 2009, we created our first base wine, which was 88% Frankland River Shiraz and 12 % Geographe Viognier. There were 3 reasons that I went with a shiraz viognier blend. Firstly the bubbles lifts the aromatic fragrant aromas such as black pepper and blueberries in the Frankland Shiraz. Secondly, the viognier gives the blended wine a delicate perfumed floral, rose-like aroma which is again enhanced and lifted out of the glass by the bubbles. And thirdly, the combination of the two produces a sparkling wine which is more elegant and refined than a 100% sparkling shiraz, and it’s a sparkling blend that works well as an aperitif, as well as with food.
Our shiraz viognier was fermented in an open topped fermenter, then after 7 days fermenting on skins it was then pressed off skins through our basket press and into older French oak barrels for maturation for 2 years. It is then bottled with yeast and sugar for the second fermentation, which is when those glorious bubbles are created.
Neil is the ideas man, and he came up with the name Redtail as well as the label design. We released our first Redtail Sparkling Shiraz in November 2013 to coincide with the opening of our new Cellar Door.
Here’s where making a sparkling wine becomes really interesting! We make our sparkling shiraz following a traditional sparkling winemaking procedure and age it on yeast lees for a further 2 to 4 years before disgorging, dosing in the liqueur, and dressing it up with a cork, muselet, hood and labels.
So when considering which wines to have for lunch or dinner this Christmas, I would encourage you to choose something that is quintessentially and proudly Australian and seek out a sparkling shiraz!
Our current release is the 2013 Redtail Sparkling Shiraz. This wine has spent 4 years on tirage (maturing on yeast lees in the bottle), so it is lusciously creamy and soft on the palate.
Whicher Ridge acknowledges the Wadandi people of the Noongar Land and recognises their connection to culture, community and Country. We pay our respects to their elders, past and present. Whicher Ridge supports the Uluru Statement.