Viognier would seem to be destined to have a difficult time.
It’s hard to pronounce, is made in small quantities, is best known in a fairly obscure region, is difficult to grow and is not easy to pair with food.
That sounds like a joke without a punchline.
Yet there is much to love about Viognier, and it’s becoming easier to find it in the Northwest.
First the pronunciation: vee-own-YAY. Practice it a few times, and it will become second nature.
Viognier is a white wine grape best known in the Condrieu region of France’s Rhône Valley. As recently as the mid-1960s, the grape was nearly lost to history, as fewer than 10 acres were left. But its fortunes have changed dramatically since then, as Condrieu now has more than 700 acres, and it is planted around the globe, including the West Coast, Australia, Argentina and Chile.
In the Rhône Valley appellation of Côte-Rôtie, a bit of Viognier is traditionally co-fermented with Syrah, a style that has been picked up in the New World.
Growing Viognier is a challenge because it is susceptible to disease, it grows uneven clusters, and unless it’s picked at perfect ripeness, the wine will taste either boring or flabby.
But when a winemaker gets it right, Viognier is so delicious. In the Northwest, Viognier will exude aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and Creamsicles.
Like its sibling Syrah, Viognier tends to be a low-acid wine, which makes it harder to pair with food. We like it with mild Thai curries, chowders, shellfish and pasta primavera.
In Washington, we are seeing more and more Viogniers. Last year, winemakers crushed 1,100 tons of Viognier, making it bigger than Chenin Blanc and Semillon. We also find Viognier in Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.
Here are a few Viogniers we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite local wine merchant or order directly from the wineries.
Abacela 2011 Estate Viognier, Umpqua Valley, $22: Subdued aromas of Golden Delicious apple, orange and fresh pineapple are followed by candy corn and butterscotch. The entry to the palate is filled with yellow grapefruit and popcorn, backed by lovely minerality and Rangpur lime bitterness to cleanse the palate. Enjoy this with scallops served alongside an orange sauce.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Limited Release Viognier, Columbia Valley, $15: This opens with aromas of pear, linen, apple blossom and a combination of steeliness and jasmine reminiscent of some Rieslings. On the palate, it’s fruit-forward and refreshing with grapefruit and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
Cinder Wines 2011 Dry Viognier, Snake River Valley, $18: This brings an inviting and tropical nose with lychee and orange Creamsicle aromas, and there’s even more to bear on the palate. Passion fruit, pineapple flavors are joined by more acidity than one would expect, backed by notes of elderflowers, peaches and dried apricot.
Farm Boy Wines 2010 Upland Vineyard Viognier, Snipes Mountain, $14: This is one of the best Viogniers we’ve tasted this year. It opens with that Creamsicle aroma we adore, along with notes of mangoes, cream soda, lime and pineapples. On the palate, it shows off flavors of cling peaches, honeydew melon, lime, honey and mangoes. It’s a great wine to open on the deck with blue cheese melted over fresh figs.
Jones of Washington 2011 Estate Vineyards Viognier, Wahluke Slope, $15: This opens with aromas of white peaches, lemons, limes and yellow roses, followed by big, rich flavors of Mandarin oranges, jasmine flowers, mint, sweet apples and sherbet.
Palouse Winery 2010 Golden Pearl Viognier, Washington, $22: Barrel fermentation in neutral French oak helps explain the aromas of coconut milk, dusty President Lincoln rose and moist apricots. On the palate, it’s drinks as if it was done in a fruit-forward style and fermented in stainless steel because of the orchard fruit flavors and lemony acidity.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.