Last year Emma Amsellem (then aged 30) completed her Brevet de Technicien Supérieur oenology studies at Mâcon's celebrated wine school and joined her parents Paul and Christine at Domaine Georges Vernay. Today it is hard to imagine that when her grandfather started out in the 1950s, the appellation was on its knees with just 12 hectares under vine. Happily, Georges was a visionary with a strong work ethic and he spent his life championing the Viognier grape and encouraging young winemakers to raise the reputation of Condrieu. Today there are just over 200 hectares under vine and Condrieu is rightly regarded as one of the finest wines in the world.
Although vrai Condrieu is necessarily costly to produce, the Vernays make a superb IGP (Vin de Pays in old money) Viognier called 'Le Pied de Samson' that represents terrific value. It doesn't have quite the weight or longevity of the senior wine but it has a marvellous honeysuckle and apricot bouquet and a succulent stone fruit palate and makes a fine introduction to both the grape and the Vernay oeuvre. The principal wine here, in terms of volume, is the 'Terrasses de l'Empire' Condrieu, which can run to 20,000 bottles in a prolific vintage; with the caveat that Viognier is a capricious grape and yields vary greatly from year to year. With inviting scents and flavours of white peaches, lychees and grilled nuts, a taffeta texture and persistent palate, it is a classic of the appellation and, although it cellars well for 3-5+ years, it is hard to resist on its exuberant, youthful fruit. 'Les Chaillées d'Enfer' is a richer, more unctuous and gastronomic offering that has a longer élevage in oak barrels and has more pronounced dried fruit aromas and almost tropical fruit tastes. It has the depth and weight to accompany seafood and poultry in cream-based sauces and will age gracefully for at least a decade.
The flagship bottling chez Vernay and, to many observers, the epitome of Condrieu, is the celebrated 'Coteau de Vernon' which hails from a steeply-terraced, single vineyard in the centre of the appellation. With a heady bouquet of wild flowers and white orchard fruit and a complex palate of peaches, nuts, figs and minerals and an ethereal, dry finish, it exhibits power and finesse in equal measure. It drinks wonderfully well from release but will keep for up to 20 years in all but the lightest vintages.