Featuring Lionel Faury's Condrieu of France's Rhône Valley + A Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Sage Recipe
Story + Recipe by Brian Acton, Unwined
I have a confession to make: I like white wines from France’s Northern Rhône Valley. Alright, so perhaps that’s not the most shocking confession, but the wines do run counter to the current fashion, which tends toward high acid and delicate styles. While it’s possible that I am just getting older and frequently forget to take an antacid before dinner, or that I’ve already stripped most of the enamel from my teeth drinking young dry German Riesling, I do think there’s something more to this closeted affair of mine. I like these wines because they are good at the table. Most every wine has its place and as the weather begins to cool and as our dishes turn richer, our wines need to match. Let’s face it; we all could use a little decadence right now. A pandemic, supply chain issues, inflation, recession, war, drought, wildfires, heatwaves… is that rundown from just this year, or any of the proceeding two? I can’t tell anymore.
While I admit to my Chablis swilling friends that there are whites from the Rhône that are indeed fat and gloopy—a touch too decadent—I would challenge any of them to try Domaine Lionel Faury’s Saint-Joseph Blanc (a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne for $38) and tell me that they aren’t impressed. It’s everything I love about this Domaine whose winemaking techniques always hew to the traditional, yielding wines of finesse and freshness where others double down pushing the richness and power. Today, I’ve chosen to highlight their Condrieu (Viognier for $69), however. You can still find the Saint-Joseph Blanc in a few places, but there’s more Condrieu to be had—though there’s never enough of any of these wines.
While Viognier’s exact origin is unknown, its spiritual home is undoubtedly the Condrieu appellation, where it is the only permitted variety. Condrieu is a southward extension of the steep slopes of Côte-Rôtie, where Syrah reigns supreme, running roughly from Ampuis to Limony, made up of soils of decomposed granite. Quality growers brought the variety back from virtual extinction, with total acreage increasing from roughly 20 acres in 1965 to over 350 acres. Today, there are over 2,400 acres of Viognier planted throughout the Rhône Valley and around 39,500 acres planted worldwide. If you like richer styles of Chardonnay, Viognier will be right up your alley, though it has more of an aromatic presence—think peaches and white flowers. It is sometimes oaked as well.
Lionel Faury took over his estate from his father, Philippe, in 2006 at the age of 23. He lowered the percentage of new oak barrels used for aging his Condrieu and even introduced some large format Acacia barrels—all in an effort to preserve purity in the finished wine. He also completely eliminated the practice of bâtonnage, or stirring of the wine during the aging process, since he felt it unnecessary to add richness to the wine. The end result is a wine that captures well the richness of Viognier without heaviness. In that all of his wines tend toward elegance and harmony over brashness, they don’t always get the attention they deserve.
In keeping with the season, I’d recommend to pair it with butternut squash risotto. The richness of the Viognier will match the creamy combination of butter and cheese and the sweet, nutty, earthy flavors of the squash make the fruit flavors sing in the wine, while also highlighting its own earthy complexity that may not have been apparent alone. The recipe below hails from what is easily in my top two favorite cookbooks, Chez Panisse Vegetables. Remember that risotto shouldn’t retain its shape when spooned onto a warm plate, unlike, say, mashed potatoes.
Other recommendations include: Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “Les Chaillets” ($80); François Villard, Viognier “Les Contours de Deponcins” ($36); Terre Rouge Viognier ($28).
Recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto + Crispy Sage
Serves 6 to 8
• 1 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound)
• 24 sage leaves
• Salt and pepper
• 7 to 8 cups chicken stock
• 1 medium onion
• 5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 cups Arborio rice
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1. Peel and clean the squash, then dice it into small cubes. Put the diced squash in a heavy-bottomed pan with a few whole sage leaves, salt and 1 cup of the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, but not too soft (about 5 to 10 minutes). Meanwhile, finely chop 6 sage leaves and dice the onion.
2. Heat the rest of the stock and hold it at a low simmer. In another heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of butter, add the chopped sage and cook for a minute or so; add the onion and continue to cook over medium heat until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the rice and a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the rice turns slightly translucent. Turn up the heat and pour in the white wine. When the wine has been absorbed, add just enough hot stock to cover the rice, stir well and reduce the heat.
3. Keep the rice at a gentle simmer and add more stock a ladle or two at a time, letting each addition be absorbed by the rice. While the rice is cooking, sauté the remaining sage leaves in butter until crisp.
3. After 15 minutes, the rice will be nearly cooked. Stir in the cooked squash, the rest of the butter and the cheese. Continue cooking for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often. Taste for texture and consistency, adding more stock if necessary. Adjust the seasoning. When done, serve in warm bowls and garnish with crisp sage leaves. Add more cheese, if desired.