Some Viognier recommendations
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers August 15, 2007
Viognier (vee-own-YAY) was virtually extinct in the 1960s, when it was limited to less than 35 acres in France’s Northern Rhone region. Now quality Viognier is being produced in California, Washington State, Australia, South Africa, Israel, Chile and Virginia.
Notoriously difficult to grow, Viognier can be as full-bodied as a Chardonnay and is noted for its low acidity, complex floral aromas and spice. It is the only grape permitted to make white wine in France’s Condrieu region. In the Cote-Rotie and in Australia, Viognier is added to red wines such as Syrah to enhance fragrance and soften flavors. Single varietal white wines are best consumed within a few years after bottling, while those blended into red wines can age longer.
Harvest Viognier too early, and the resulting wines are thin with poor aromas and flavors; too late, and the wines develop an unpleasant oiliness. The search for peak ripeness means that some examples, especially from California, will have alcohol levels of 13 to 15 percent. Viognier does better in cooler locations and some winemakers like to ferment in oak, while others prefer stainless steel.
Their susceptibility to mildew and low yields means that they are usually more expensive than other white wines. But when made well, their distinctive floral and fruit aromas, tropical fruit flavors and creamy texture are worth the price — especially paired with spicy Oriental food, grilled chicken or seafood.
One of the better wineries in the Eastern United States is the Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Va. Chrysalis has a deft hand with obscure white wine grapes, producing a delightful Norton as well as the excellent Chrysalis Vineyards Viognier 2005 ($25). Aged in French oak, with pear and honeysuckle aromas, it has melon, mango and peach flavors along with a great structure and finish.
The Cayuse Winery is one of Washington State’s finest, producing exceptional syrah as well as the notable Cayuse Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard Viognier 2005 ($40), with apricot aromas, pineapple and pear flavors, a long lush finish and more acidity and nuttiness than other Viogniers.
Yalumba, which planted Australia’s first commercial Viognier vineyard in 1980, produces four different styles including the value-priced Yalumba Viognier South Australia Y Series 2006 ($11) that has floral, melon aromas and tropical fruit flavors. Two other Australian examples are the Pikes Clare Valley Gill’s Farm Viognier 2006 ($21) with rich floral honey aromas and peach and pear flavors amid a touch of minerals and the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Viognier 2006 ($24) that has apricot and apple aromas with peach flavors and a hint of licorice.
Several other less expensive quality California Viogniers currently available include the Bridlewood Central Coast Reserve Viognier 2005 ($24), a blend of six vineyards that has big honey, orange and melon aromas along with tropical fruit and peach flavors. Organically farmed Bonterra Viognier Mendocino County 2005 ($18) has the classic floral nose with apple, peach and lemon flavors. The Zaca Mesa Estate Santa Ynez Valley Viognier 2006 ($18) is also very good, with pear and apple aromas, peach and sweet spice notes and toasty oak at the end.
With apricot and honey aromas that seem to burst from the glass, the Cline Viognier Sonoma Coast 2005 ($10) has spicy, creamy peach flavors and bit of oakiness in the finish. A real steal is the kiwi and papaya flavored Pepperwood Grove Viognier 2005 ($8) that has loads of pineapple and mango aromas and a respectable structure for such an inexpensive wine.