By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week
White Rhone Varietals – Viognier
What an exciting time to be following Rhone varietals. Twenty years ago, Syrah started it all and has become a hallmark varietal of Washington State with additional interest created by blends of Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon. Viognier was the first white Rhone varietal to make its mark and continues to expand throughout the west. Building on consumers’ interest for more varied offerings, white Rhone varietals like Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul are showing up as varietal bottlings or in blends.
Today, I celebrate Viognier, the basis for French Rhone white wines. In the Pacific Northwest, it has found a home throughout the Columbia Valley and in Oregon sites in the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue Valleys. The 2012 vintage yielded slightly less ripe styles, offering more mineral and citrus character and less of the spicy-bubblegum, tropical and over-the-top floral aromas and flavors.
A note about your refrigerator: it does too good a job. Viognier wines served at 40 degrees are closed and hard to evaluate. Let refrigerated wines warm up for an hour or so (to about 55 degrees) to let the aroma and flavor show through.
Cristom’s 20-year-old Viognier vines are probably the oldest in the Willamette Valley; the planting was made based on winemaker Steve Doerner’s success with the varietal in California. This vintage was the unanimous favorite with my tasters who appreciated complex mineral, citrus and tropical aromas and flavors – very food friendly with mildly spicy Thai cuisine.
Dobbes Family Estate
A close second in the tasting, Joe Dobbes Viognier, from southern Oregon fruit, showed more ripe varietal character. Tasters enjoyed juicy peach and apricot flavors with ample acidity and notes of mineral and citrus – also a hit with our choice of Asian foods.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
Jarrod Boyle makes his Viognier from grapes grown at the Crawford Family Vineyard near Prosser in the central Yakima Valley. His past efforts from the same site have garnered much praise and top scores in judgings. This infant bottling shows great promise, offering the ripe Viognier aromas of orange blossom, spicy apricot and honey; the lip-smacking palate adds pineapple and citrus flavors.
Before jumping in to notes on the winery’s Viognier, let me mention
Maryhill’s concert lineup for 2014. Vintage rock fans like me
will appreciate: Styx and Foreigner (August 2), Peter Frampton’s Guitar
Circus (August 23), and Ian Anderson performing The Best of Jethro Tull
(Sept. 13) – whooo-hoo. On the tasty Viognier, look for aromas and
flavors of peach and honey with spicy floral notes and a crisp citrus
Bergevin Lane Vineyards
Wine can be an emotional thing. No one in the Northwest wine industry recognizes this fact better than Amber and Annette at Bergevin Lane. Each of their bottlings carries a name that evokes thought and feeling in the wine taster. Love-Struck Viognier was whole-cluster pressed and barrel fermented before some sur lie aging in neutral barrels. Tropical aromas of pineapple and pear mingle with hints of hazelnut and lead to a ripe palate of stone fruits and citrus – a pleasing sipper or accompaniment to spicy foods.
Cougar Crest Estate Winery
Viognier is the only white grape varietal planted in Cougar Crest Winery’s estate vineyard, and they have chosen it as their signature white wine. The wine is made at their “new” winery completed in 2008 on Frenchtown Road west of Walla Walla. The Cougar Crest tasting room in Woodinville is just south of Hollywood Corner. Look for aromas and flavors of orchard blossom, guava, peach and honey with mineral and citrus notes on the finish.
Grapes for this wine were grown at Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards at the winery just southwest of Sutherlin, Oregon near the Umpqua River. The winery amphitheatre overlooks the vineyard and winery and offers a venue for summer concerts and other events. Visitors can also stroll the surrounding gardens. The 2012 Viognier offers the ripe varietal aromas of pineapple, apricot and a hint of bubblegum-vanilla. On the palate flavors of peach and tropical fruits mingle with spicy notes on the finish.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Winemaker Kara Koh crafted this limited-release Viognier from grapes grown at Gamache Vineyard near White Bluffs in the Columbia Valley AVA. The wine was primarily fermented in stainless steel with 10% barrel fermented for added complexity. Look for bright aromas of citrus and tropical fruits with notes of spice and mineral. The palate adds flavors of ripe pineapple and finishes with crisp acidity to accompany seafood or other savory fare. The wine is available at the winery shop or online.
Agate Ridge Vineyard
This barrel-fermented wine offers complex aromas and flavors that take the Viognier varietal character to new heights. Mingling with peach and pear are notes of caramel and buttery hazelnut from sur lie aging. If you are in the Rogue Valley area, stop by the Agate Ridge winery for one of their Friday night concerts from June through September.
Coyote Canyon Winery
Coyote Canyon winemaker John Gabriel crafted this wine as a blend of 75% Viognier and 25% Roussanne with the grapes grown at the winery’s estate vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The fruit was whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel with extended lees contact. The richness of the varietal blend is evident with aromas of earthy mineral, peach and melon, and round flavors of peach, tropical fruits and citrus.
Helix by Reininger
Helix is the genus name of the Burgundian escargot snail, and an image of the delectable critter graces the wine label of this brand from Reininger Winery. Helix is also the name of a rural farming community near Pendleton, Oregon that traces history in the winery family. Helix Viognier was fermented in stainless steel and offers the delicate side of Viognier with aromas of floral perfume, mineral and citrus. Flavors of crisp tropical fruits, white peach and slate offer a nice palate to pair with Asian dishes or other light cuisine.
The Viognier vines at Novelty Hill’s Stillwater Creek Vineyard are certified Entav 642 – a French clone that arrived in Washington from cuttings at Tablas Creek Vineyard in California by way of Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhone. This wine was barrel fermented and blended with 5% Roussanne. Look for aromas and flavors of stone fruits, orchard blossom and spicy mineral with a juicy finish of tropical fruits, bready notes and citrus – good acid balance for food pairing.
Robison Ranch Cellars
This vintage of Viognier was crafted by winemaker Jim Riordan from fruit grown at Dwelley Vineyard, east of Walla Walla. As Jim says, “The viticultural talents of (vineyard manager) David Jones shine in this 100% Dwelley Jones Viognier.” Aromas of pear and peach mingle with hints of orange blossom and lead to a complex palate offering flavors of citrus and melon with flinty herbs on the finish.
Herb Quady’s focus at Quady North is on “vineyard select Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Syrah wines that are expressions of the climate, soils and the people who farm them.” The Steelhead Run Vineyard, on the banks of the Applegate River, is the source for this wine, which offers aromas of orchard blossom, spicy Asian pear and peach. The palate is crisp with pear and melon flavors providing a hint of roundness.
Ron Coleman’s 2012 Viognier is sourced entirely from the Sagemoor Vineyard along the Columbia River northwest of Pasco, Washington. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel. Look for rich aromas and flavors of tropical fruits with notes of lychee and spicy citrus – very tasty with Asian cuisine.
Burnt Bridge Cellars
Owners/winemakers David Smith and Mark Mahan vinted their 2012 Viognier from grapes grown at Les Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. The wine offers aromas and flavors of peach and tropical fruits with notes of cucumber and earthy mineral.
Spangler Viognier is rich and ripe with aromas and flavors of pineapple
and banana with notes of white flowers and citrus. A dollop of residual
sugar adds to the fruity flavor and body of the wine.
Wines from other areas:
Adelaida Cellars is located in the mountains west of Paso Robles in an area first made viticulturally famous by Hoffman Mountain Ranch winery beginning in the late 1960s. Through various acquisitions and partnerships, many properties were consolidated to create the Adelaida Cellars brand that exists today. The 2012 Viognier was barrel fermented in neutral French oak and aged 10 months sur lie. The wine shows this style of Viognier to its greatest advantage with aromas of earthy peach, honeysuckle and pineapple leading to a palate rich with tropical fruits, mineral and spice caressed with a delicate coating of caramel-vanilla – lip smacking!