“V” is for Viognier, a “noble” white grape of France’s Rhone Valley that depends on warm, sunny climates to bring out its best features. Condreiu, located on the right bank of the Rhone River, is famous for its exclusive production of Viognier wines that tend to be medium- to full-bodied, perfumey, fruity, and dry.
The grape also excels in California, Washington State and Australia.
I favor Viognier because, like a racy Riesling or spicy Gewurztraminer, it leaves no doubt as to its distinctive flowery, stone-fruit and spicy notes. Yet as a high-alcohol, low acid grape, Viognier needs to retain vibrancy to stay zippy and fresh. Too much oak aging makes it flabby and uninspiring.
Overall, Viognier – golden colored and shimmering in the glass – is an excellent wine to accompany seafood, roasted chicken and even steak.
Here are six wines that represent quality and value at their respective price points.
Cline Family Cellars Viognier 2018, North Coast ($9.99) – For the uninitiated, here’s a good place to start. In 1989, Fred Cline became one of Sonoma’s original “Rhone Rangers” by introducing Viognier and other French varietals to its vineyards. And with soil expert Bobby Cannard, Cline developed a Green String sustainable farming program that relies on insects and animals – rather than chemicals and herbicides – to keep vines and soils healthy. Cline Viognier is vegan, gluten-free, and pure in tropical fruit flavors.
Baglio di Grisi Viognier 2016 Terre Siciliane, $9.99 – This was a pleasant surprise found in the “power buy” section in a N.H. State Wine Outlet. While Viognier plantings in Italy are basically non-existent, western Sicily offers a prime climate. Vineyards stretch out over a natural habitat of 400 acres in the exposed hills of Monreale. The Viognier is brilliant golden yellow, lighter in body and alcohol (13%), and fragrant in orange blossoms. It had the texture of a Pinot Grigio. It paired well with baked codfish drizzled in lemon butter and a Greek salad.
Domaine de Dinonysos ‘Clementine’ Viognier 2017, Uchaux, $15.99 – The Farjun family fled Marseille in 1720 during the Great Plague that killed 100,000 people for the hills of Uchaux in western Provence. They’ve been growing grapes there ever since. “Clementine” is 100% certified organic. The wine is defined by nectarine and apricot notes, soft texture, and a fruity finish that fades to bitter almond. It sparkled with roasted chicken with fennel, creamy risotto and squash.
M. Chapoutier La Combe Pilate 2016, Rhone Valley, $24.99 – This 100 percent organic Viognier emerges from Michel Chapoutier’s “Alchemy Wines” project in which a hillside vineyard is used as an experimental, biodynamic “observatory”. Diverse soils – clay, galets, limestone gravel – lend La Comte Pilate a flinty core. Complex and satisfying to all the senses, the wine mixes exotic fruit with savory herb flavors. (Note: the symbol on the label is the alchemy sign for “spirit.”)
K Vintners Art Den Hoed Viognier 2017, Yakima Valley, $26 – Winemaker Charles Smith excels at making small lot wines in eastern Washington State and here’s another fine example. The wine sees little time in barrel and no malolactic fermentation. It’s fresh, exuberant, and appealing in traditional Viognier notes. However, where K Vintners finds distinction is its mineral finish – citrusy tart, slightly bitter and enduring.
Stags’ Leap Viognier 2018, Napa Valley, $32 – This Viognier is a new release from this storied winery, and it’s a California classic right out of the box. A “picture-perfect” growing season provided winemaker Christophe Paubert with choice fruit from three top vineyards in Oak Knoll and Carneros. The wine, aged on the lees in neutral French oak, was stirred weekly for four months without undergoing malolactic fermentation. Its acidic core is preserved while an unctuous mouthfeel of honeyed apricots and peaches also emerges. Improving upon this inaugural entry will be Paubert’s enviable challenge.