Vidal-Fleury is smack in the middle of the prestigious Côte Rôtie appellation in the Northern Rhône Valley. Its impressive wine cellar is contemporary, but the estate was founded already in 1781 by Joseph Vidal. This makes it the oldest northern Rhône producer still in operation. When Gustave Vidal married Miss Fleury at the end of the 19th century, the name was changed to Maison Vidal-Fleury.
We recently tasted wines from Vidal Fleury and met Antoine Dupré, an oenologist and the general manager of the house since January 2021.
Over the years, production has increased and spread to the southern Rhône Valley. Vidal-Fleury now produces wines from around 20 appellations in northern and southern Rhône. Production amounts to approximately 1 million bottles.
Although Vidal-Fleury now makes wine from the entire quite extensive Rhône valley, it is the northern part that is the heart and soul of the business: Côte Rôtie, Condrieu, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Saint Joseph. These wines have been in Vidal-Fleury’s range since the very start in 1781. These are made in small quantities – the northern Rhône is only 8,600 acres of the entire valley’s more than 173,000 acres – but the wines are much sought after.
Vidal-Fleury began exporting their wines early. Thomas Jefferson visited the estate in 1787 when he was ambassador to France. The USA quickly became an important customer and is today the house’s largest export market.
The Vidal-Fleury family no longer owns the house. There was no heir who wanted to take over when Joseph, the family’s patriarch, died in 1976 after 68 years at the helm. In 1984, the family sold to Guigal, the other famous house in Ampuis. It was a natural choice. The families had long worked closely together. In 1924, Joseph actually hired the young Etienne Guigal to work in the cellar. He stayed for 15 years before moving on and founded his own successful house. However, Vidal-Fleury operates as an independent producer with its own strong brand.
I asked about Antoine Dupré’s plans for the future? When it comes to the taste of the wines, he talks a lot about elegance. He wants an elegant fruit, a crunchiness, a good balance between fruit and oak ageing and less marked tannins. He talks about a more modern style with more careful extraction. “Syrah is already powerful enough,” he says.
He also talks about le milieu de bouche, i.e. how the wine feels in the mouth after the initial “attack” and how important it is for the quality of the wine. “It’s the difference between a good and a simple wine,” he says. The wine must be felt all the way, so to speak, from the first sensation to the aftertaste. One way to improve le milieu de bouche is, he says, to raise the temperature at the end of the fermentation.
He also wants to develop exports to countries outside Europe where they are currently not so much represented, such as China, Russia and Brazil, and breathe new life into the French sales force.
White wines Northern Rhône Valley
Three white grapes used in the northern Rhône are viognier, marsanne and roussanne. Viognier is used for Condrieu, and the other two are blended or used as a single variety for the white Hermitage, white Crozes-Hermitage, white Saint Joseph and Saint Péray (which is always white, albeit sometimes sparkling). The whites from the Northern Rhône are magnificent wines, rich, full-bodied and with a lovely mouthfeel.
Crozes-Hermitage blanc 2020, Vidal-Fleury
95%, marsanne 5% roussanne. Nuanced aromas of flowers, citrus and melon. It is very dry, quite complex and full-bodied. A classic year says Antoine Dupré and adds that he would like to see an increase in roussanne to accentuate freshness and finesse.
Saint Joseph blanc 2020, Vidal-Fleury
70% marsanne, 30% roussanne. Full-bodied, exceptional mouthfeel, definitely a structured wine, some honey in the finish.
Saint Péray 2020, Vidal-Fleury
A young, aromatic wine, made with marsanne, excellent and fresh with a good mouthfeel and complexity. It was partially fermented in small oak barrels.
Condrieu 2019, Vidal-Fleury
Condrieu is south of Côte Rôtie, and the grape is viognier, known for its aromatic and floral character. Condrieu is one of France’s great white wines, mentioned in the same breath as Meursault and Montrachet. Viognier never, or at least rarely, gets any better than in Condrieu.
Here we have a full-bodied wine with an excellent mouthfeel. It is crispy and dry. The attractive aromas speak of nuts, flowers and apricots. The body is structured with a long taste, a slight saltiness in the aftertaste and a lovely refreshing fruit.
Red wines Northern Rhône valley
In the northern Rhône, syrah is the only red grape, and here we have all the typical characteristics that are associated with the grape.
Crozes-Hermitage rouge 2019, Vidal-Fleury
Pleasant and quite unpretentious wine. I don’t mind drinking it young to enjoy the crunchy red fruit. Intense aromas, clean fruit.
Crozes-Hermitage rouge 2020, Vidal-Fleury
Great syrah style with spiciness and generous dark fruit and a slight bitterness at the end. Typical of the appellation, says Antoine. The spiciness is precisely what he wants in a Crozes-Hermitage.
Saint Joseph Rouge 2018, Vidal-Fleury
Saint Joseph is a relatively large appellation that stretches from Condrieu down to the Cornas on the west side of the river. This wine comes from the northern part of the appellation. The tannins give good structure; there’s a fresh acidity combined with lovely fruit. A bit soft at the end.
Cornas 2018, Vidal-Fleury
This wine has an excellent syrah character with pepperiness, charcuterie and violets. Tasty and balanced despite its youth. Fresh finish. Antoine recommends serving it with duck breast or a rabbit pâté.
Côte Rôtie Brune & Blonde 2018, Vidal-Fleury
Syrah from the northern Rhône at its most typical. Long, complex taste with the grape’s distinctive features of tar, black pepper, violets. Pleasant, refreshing dark fruit, dense structure with tannin.
Côte Rôtie Blonde La Chatillonne 2016, Vidal-Fleury
The jewel in the crown, the small vineyard of 0.8 hectares called La Chatillonne, produces 300 cases a year. Syrah and viognier (12%) are planted together in the vineyard. An elegant wine with smoothness, intensity and concentration, a bit oaky and a warm tobacco aroma.
Hermitage 2019, Vidal Fleury
Hermitage, a legendary wine with a long history. The Hermitage slope is dramatically steep and forms a spectacular backdrop to the small town of Tain l’Hermitage. The wine is known for its ageing potential. But syrah-lovers will enjoy it even after just a couple of years.
A tight structure with tannins but still very elegant, rich in dark fruit (black currants, plums…). It is already balanced with great concentration.
Southern Rhône valley
Here is a small selection of all the wines Vidal-Fleury makes in the southern Rhône valley. As is often the case in the southern Rhône, the wines are tasty and affordable.
Côtes du Rhône blanc 2020, Vidal-Fleury
A delicious wine with intense floral aromas and yellow peaches, made with viognier and grenache blanc. Quite full-bodied and with a fresh finish.
Côtes du Rhône rouge 2018, Vidal-Fleury
Made mostly with grenache and a bit of syrah, mourvèdre and carignan. Pleasant, well-made wine with red berries, cherries and a taste of fresh herbs typical of the appellation.
Gigondas 2018, Vidal Fleury
Powerful grenache wine, quite dark in colour and with generous fruit and black pepper. Pleasant and easy to drink but still structured.
Vidal-Fleury’s American importer is Frederick Wildman.