Back from oblivion: The revival of viognier and other obscure grape varieties

An olive tree and vineyard on a gentle slope in the Etna region, Sicily.
An olive tree and vineyard on a gentle slope in the Etna region, Sicily. Photo: iStock

One spin-off from the current global boom in wine's popularity is the rediscovery of once-neglected grape varieties. Viognier had almost died out in France's Rhone Valley 50 years ago. It's now widely grown in many countries, with Yalumba at the forefront of its Aussie emergence. Carmenere was once among the red Bordeaux blending varieties, but is seldom seen there today. Yet in the past 20 years Chile has made carmenere its signature grape. And Sicilian varietal nerello mascalese, grown on the unsteady slopes of Mount Etna, was in decline until recent times. Now Etna wine is having a well-earnt resurgence.

Graci Etna Rosso DOC 2016, Sicily, $42-$44

Score 91

Made entirely from nerello mascalese, this wine is medium-bodied at most, and has a fine thread of tannin weaving a firm backbone. The fruit does the talking, but it's very savoury, in typical Italian red-wine style, with aromas of red fruits, pot-pourri and dried herbs. A good food wine. Cork; 14 per cent alcohol.

Luis Felipe Edwards Carmenere 2018, Central Valley, Chile.
Luis Felipe Edwards Carmenere 2018, Central Valley, Chile. Photo: Supplied

Ageing? Drink now to six years.

Stockists include Five Way Cellars, Paddington and (NSW); King and Godfree, Carlton (Vic).

Yalumba Samuel's Collection Viognier 2017, Eden Valley, $28

Score 91

The colour is bright to medium yellow and it has a sweetly fragrant apricot and spice aroma, the palate soft, rounded, boldly fruity, and tasting of spiced honey and herbs. It's soft and rounded, smooth and balanced, with seamless acidity and discreet alcohol. Screw-cap; 13.5 per cent alcohol.

Ageing? Best within five years.

Stockists include Amato's Liquor Mart, Leichhardt (NSW); Rathdowne Cellars, Carlton North (Vic).


Luis Felipe Edwards Carmenere 2018, Central Valley, Chile, $6.99 

Score 90

The colour is a youthful, deep purple-red, and the wine is all-round fresh and bright. The fruit style is typical of both carmenere and Chile, with roll-your-own tobacco and sweet mulberry aromas. The palate is intense and medium bodied, with slightly grainy tannins, the finish firm and dry without astringency. A terrific intro to the variety. Screw-cap; 13 per cent alcohol.

Ageing? Best within four years.

Stockists: Selected Aldi stores.