Vidal-Fleury is right in the middle of the prestigious Côte Rôtie appellation in the northern Rhône valley. Its impressive cellar is contemporary, but the estate was already founded in 1781 by Joseph Vidal. This makes it the oldest producer in the northern Rhône 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 Vidal Fleury wines and met Antoine Dupré, oenologist and general manager of the house since January 2021.
Over the years, production has increased and extended to the south of the Rhone Valley. Vidal-Fleury today produces wines from around twenty appellations in the north and south of the Rhône. Production amounts to approximately 1 million bottles.
Although Vidal-Fleury now vinifies the entire Rhône valley, which is quite extensive, it is the northern part that is the heart and soul of the company: Côte Rôtie, Condrieu, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Saint Joseph. These wines have been part of the Vidal-Fleury range since the very beginning in 1781. These are made in small quantities – the northern Rhône is only 8,600 hectares out of the whole valley of over 173,000 hectares – but the wines are highly sought after.
Vidal-Fleury began very early to export its wines. Thomas Jefferson visited the estate in 1787 while he was ambassador to France. The United States quickly became an important customer and is today the company’s main export market.
The Vidal-Fleury family no longer owns the house. There was no heir willing to take over when Joseph, the family patriarch, died in 1976 after 68 years at the helm. In 1984, the family sold to Guigal, the other famous house of Ampuis. It was a natural choice. The families had long worked closely together. In 1924, Joseph hired the young Etienne Guigal to work in the cellar. He stayed there for 15 years before moving on and founding his own successful house. However, Vidal-Fleury operates as an independent producer with its own strong brand.
I asked what were Antoine Dupré’s future plans? When it comes to the taste of wines, it speaks a lot of elegance. He wants elegant fruit, crunchiness, a good balance between fruit and barrel aging and less marked tannins. It speaks of a more modern style with a more careful extraction. “Syrah is already quite powerful,” he says.
He also talks about the mid-palate, i.e. how the wine feels in the mouth after the first “attack” and its importance for the quality of the wine. “It’s the difference between a good wine and a simple wine,” he says. The wine must be felt throughout, so to speak, from the first sensation to the aftertaste. A way to improve the mid-palate is, he says, to raise the temperature at the end of fermentation.
He also wants to develop exports to countries outside Europe where they are currently poorly represented, such as China, Russia or Brazil, and breathe new life into the French sales force.
Northern Rhône Valley white wines
The three white grape varieties 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 varietal for white Hermitage, white Crozes-Hermitage, white Saint Joseph and Saint Péray (always white, although sometimes sparkling). The whites of the northern Rhône are magnificent wines, rich, full-bodied and with a good mouthfeel.
Crozes-Hermitage white 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 a rise in Roussanne to accentuate the freshness and finesse.
Saint Joseph white 2020, Vidal-Fleury
70% marsanne, 30% roussanne. Ample, exceptional palate, a resolutely structured wine, a little honey on the finish.
Saint Peray 2020, Vidal-Fleury
A young, aromatic wine, from Marsanne, excellent and fresh with good mouthfeel and complexity. It was partially fermented in small oak barrels.
Condrieu 2019, Vidal-Fleury
Condrieu is south of the Côte Rôtie, and the grape variety is Viognier, known for its aromatic and floral character. Condrieu is one of the great white wines of France, mentioned in the same breath as Meursault and Montrachet. The Viognier never, or at least rarely, does better than at Condrieu.
Here we have a full-bodied wine with excellent mouthfeel. It’s crispy and dry. The attractive aromas speak of nuts, flowers and apricots. The body is structured with a length in the mouth, a slight salinity on the finish and a nice refreshing fruit.
Red wines Northern Rhône Valley
In the north of the Rhône, Syrah is the only red grape variety, and we find here all the typical characteristics associated with the grape variety.
Crozes-Hermitage red 2019, Vidal-Fleury
Pleasant and unpretentious wine. I don’t hesitate to drink it young to appreciate the crunchiness of the red fruits. Intense aromas, clean fruit.
Crozes-Hermitage red 2020, Vidal-Fleury
Great style of syrah with generous spice and dark fruit and a slight bitterness at the end. Typical of the appellation, says Antoine. The spiciness is precisely what he looks for in a Crozes-Hermitage.
Saint Joseph Red 2018, Vidal-Fleury
Saint Joseph is a relatively large appellation stretching from Condrieu to Les Cornas on the west bank of the river. This wine comes from the northern part of the appellation. The tannins provide good structure; there is fresh acidity combined with lovely fruit. A little soft at the end.
Cornas 2018, Vidal-Fleury
This wine has excellent syrah character with pepper, charcuterie and violet. Tasty and balanced despite its youth. Fresh finish. Antoine advises to accompany it with a duck breast or a rabbit pâté.
Cote Rotie Brown & Blonde 2018, Vidal-Fleury
Syrah from the north of the Rhône in its greatest typicality. Long and complex taste with the distinctive grape characteristics of tar, black pepper, violet. Pleasant and refreshing black fruits, dense structure with tannins.
Cote Rotie Blonde La Châtillonne 2016, Vidal-Fleury
The crown jewel, the small 0.8 hectare vineyard called La Chatillonne, produces 300 cases a year. Syrah and Viognier (12%) are planted together in the vineyard. An elegant wine with sweetness, intensity and concentration, a little woody and an aroma of hot tobacco.
Hermitage 2019, Vidal Fleury
Hermitage, a legendary wine with a long history. The slope of the Hermitage is very steep and forms a spectacular backdrop to the small town of Tain l’Hermitage. The wine is known for its aging potential. But Syrah lovers will appreciate it even after just a few years.
A tight but still very elegant tannic structure, rich in black fruits (blackcurrants, plums, etc.). It is already balanced with great concentration.
Southern Rhone Valley
Here is a small selection of all the wines produced by Vidal-Fleury in the southern Rhône Valley. As often in the southern Rhône, the wines are tasty and affordable.
Côtes du Rhône white 2020, Vidal-Fleury
A gourmet wine with intense floral and yellow peach aromas, made with Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Fairly full-bodied with a fresh finish.
Côtes du Rhône red 2018, Vidal-Fleury
Made mainly with Grenache and some Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Pleasant and well-made wine with red fruits, cherries and a taste of fresh herbs typical of the appellation.
Gigondas 2018, Vidal Fleury
Powerful Grenache wine, quite dark in color, with generous fruit and black pepper. Pleasant and easy to drink but still structured.
Vidal-Fleury’s US importer is Frederick Wildman.