Last week I wrote that Viognier was an overlooked Thanksgiving dinner wine. Let’s expand on that. I believe Viognier is an overlooked wine, period. Many of you may not be very familiar with it, but it has been the premier white wine of the Rhone in France for ages, there is some terrific Viognier now being grown in the US, and the Australians have discovered its versatility as a tasty addition to some other varietals. Viognier has actually become an important grape to the winemaking in Virginia.
Viognier has been held back hitting the mainstream largely because it’s a bit of a fussy grape. It likes a long and dry growing season, but not too hot. The vines are relatively lower yielding than say, chardonnay, so devoting time, energy and land to it is a significant economic decision. And, a lot like Pinot Noir, it can be a bit finicky during the winemaking, requiring some extra care as well as a deft touch by the winemaker. But it’s beginning to come into its own so that’s why I hope you try some.
Let’s start with the taste. The classic profile of Viognier is stone fruit with lusty aromatics. And I usually find a dollop of honeysuckle aroma as well. The stone fruits – apricot, peaches and pear – are most predominant. I have often heard it described as a “pretty” wine and I think that’s because it doesn’t bowl you over with big oaky or buttery influences like a lot of chardonnay. It’s pretty because you get this wonderful sniff of fruitiness followed by a full bodied yet subtle texture in your mouth and pleasingly dry taste overall.
The undisputed pinnacle of Viognier are the vineyards of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet in the northern Rhone of France (pictured above). Here the wines have been sought after for years and they are 100% Viognier, no other grapes are permitted to be blended in.
Viognier is, however, sometimes used with Syrah in the northern Rhone red wines to add additional flavor and texture and it is this technique that the Australians have fully embraced as well.
You will find stand alone Viognier offerings from Australia, particularly from the Eden Valley but much of the production is added into Shiraz or other varieties. Yes, white grapes and red grapes can play nice together… remember, the purple/red color comes from contact with the skins, the grape juice is basically clear.
In the US Viognier is mostly from California, but you’ll find some from Washington too (and Virginia as mentioned above). California has ideal growing areas and the Viognier from Napa and the Central Coast lead the way. What I am most excited about is that there is now Viognier priced for everyday in addition to more expensive offerings.
And there is a lot to love about Viognier and food. I think it pairs up exceptionally well with richer seafoods and fish dishes, but it is equally terrific with veal or a roasted chicken (and we already covered the opportunity as a Thanksgiving addition). And I think Viognier and lobster salad are amazing together. But just consider what you like to match up with Chardonnay and you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a key point – don’t serve it ice cold. Serve it lightly chilled to really bring out the aromatics and the lush texture. If you have a wine fridge, great, but if you don’t then just put it in you regular fridge for 20 minutes before you serve it. Once it’s out I don’t put it in an ice bucket either but just leave it on the table – heck, it doesn’t last that long anyway!
Now that we are heading into the festive season put Viognier on your shopping list. It’s a really good entertaining wine for a couple of reasons: first, it’s not that expected pour of Chardonnay and, second, your guests will likely be having a new kind of Sip experience.
2014 McManis California Viognier $10. A simpler expression but a surprisingly tasty bottle at a great price.
Miner Viognier, Simpson Vineyard, Napa Valley $20
My personal ‘go to” is consistently yummy. It bridges everyday and more.
2013 Alban Estates Viognier, Edna Valley $28
Lush and flavorful. Has a full mouthfeel.
2013 Tablas Creek Viognier, Paso Robles $30
From their estate vines, Tablas Creek is a California Viognier pioneer and it shows. If you see it, try it.
2012 Guigal Condrieu $60
Lovely. Classic. Richly satisfying from one of the best Rhone producers.
If you really want to Splurge chase down some Chateau Grillet Condrieu but be prepared to spend a bunch – $100 per bottle or more – and let me know what time to show up!