By Nicholas Harary
When we opened Restaurant Nicholas in 2000, we had 10 Viogniers on the list. Most were from Condrieu, a tiny growing region in France, whose impossibly steep, rocky slopes only contained this exceedingly rare white variety. The soaring aromatics, exotic fruit and fine mineral structure of Condrieu were – and are – just perfect with our menu.
But over the last 14 years, the price of Condrieu has gone absolutely through the roof to the point where today, I have exactly one Viognier on the list – and it is not from Condrieu. A bummer for sure, not only is good Viognier great with our food but it’s got a totally unique aromatic and flavor profile.
Both Melissa and I have a serious connection to Condrieu; we spent an incredible few days there on our honeymoon. But business is business; there is a limit to what people will spend for weird wines they never heard of from parts unknown.
Anyway, the Viognier that we now wait for each summer has finally arrived – Domaine Saint Amant La Borry. Like the best wines of Condrieu, Domaine Saint Amant’s La Borry is made in minute quantities. Saint Amant is an organic estate, perched on top one of the highest peaks in the Rhone Valley. These windswept vineyards produce the very finest Viognier I have ever tasted from outside of Condrieu. Actually, it’s the only great one I’ve ever tasted outside of Condrieu. Being one-tenth of the price of great Condrieu is just an incredible bonus, if you move quickly, you can drink one of my favorite wines all summer long.
The 2013 is wildly aromatic. I love the white flower nose and anise-tinged exotic fruit. Its vibrant finish makes it incredibly food-friendly – really, lobster’s best friend.
It’s a no-brainer for summertime Nicholas Wines offer. Drink it for the rest of the season as a spectacular aperitif or with any shellfish dish. Regular price is $20, Nicholas Wines price is $18; $196 on cases or $16 per bottle.
This white wine is a treasure; a real rarity in that it is made from Viognier, an intensely aromatic grape variety best known in the tiny hamlet of Condrieu. Condrieu is frightfully expensive; its terrassed vineyards are hard to work and the vine yields a tiny amount of grapes.
Most of Condrieu is north of $100 retail. I’m convinced there are like seven Dutch billionaires in the world that buy 99 percent of the world’s supply. That being said, they can be some of the greatest white wines in the world. Which is what makes Saint Amant an amazing find. It is a 13-hectare estate, precariously planted at 500 meters in elevation, in the humble village of Beaumes de Venise. The high elevation and mineral soil provide ideal conditions for aromatic and elegant Viognier.
For $100 Condrieu, this is what I would expect. For $18 Cotes du Rhone, well, that’s about as rare as an Eagle Super Bowl victory. Not sure if I’ve ever seen one before.
Nicholas Harary is the owner/executive chef of Restaurant Nicholas, located in Red Bank. It is New Jersey’s highest-rated Zagat restaurant. Nicholas Wines is an online retail wine shop that commits to storing wine at 56 degrees and ships nationwide.