“The calla lilies are in bloom again, mother. Such a strange flower, suitable for every occasion,” Morrie Rys Kind.
The Viognier (pronounced “veen-eeaaa”) grape is unique in the world. In France, it is the only grape allowed for the famed wine called Condrieu (pronounced “cone-drew”), and it is thought to have been brought to the Rhone Valley area by the Romans in 281 AD. I’m continually amazed by the Roman performance throughout Europe – organizing, developing architecture and infrastructure, then sewers and, finally vineyards and wine (“Drink up, Brutus – we ride at dawn!”).
Plantings in the Rhone Valley were slim until 1965, when dramatically higher prices induced more expansion. Today, more than 740 acres have been planted there, and today both California and Australia have also planted this fussy, finicky grape. As of a decade ago, for instance, California had over 1,000 acres planted of Viognier.
Although DNA analysis, to my knowledge, cannot confirm a familial link-up with Gewurztraminer, to me their alluring texture and taste similarities border on chemical at times. Both tend to be spicy and complex, and are well-suited for Asian or Indian cuisine.
I recently hopped over to Olsen’s Piggly Wiggly in Cedarburg, where Wine Department Manager Doug was wonderfully helpful in picking out four candidates for today’s column. Here are my tasting notes for these rather enjoyable wines:
1) Cline Viognier, 2010, California, $8.99. Note: all of Cline’s wine tend to be quite nice and are very fairly priced. This was a clear white with medium-heavy body. The nose was pregnant with spicy notes of pear and tart pineapple, with nice depth and complexity. In the mouth, hints of grapefruit played with lean acidity and nice spiciness. Lightly acidic finish. B+
2) McManis Family Vineyards Viognier, 2007, California, $9.99. Pale straw color with heavy body. Forward notes of apricot, lychee nut and flowers. On palate, this displayed more flowers, plus hints of butterscotch and pineapple. Clean, pleasant finish. A-
3) Yalumba Viognier, 2010, South Australia, $11.99. Barely off-white color with heavy body. Tight nose showed nice bits of richness and depth with decent complexity and a touch of wood. Medium-rich and complex in mouth with spicy suggestions of butterscotch. B-
4) Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc – Viognier, 2008, California, $9.99. The label on this wine indicated that it was 81 percent Chenin Blanc, a prolific producer in California, and 19 percent Viognier. Pale, almost vanilla hue with medium body. The nose showed faint hints of flowers with a note of butterscotch. Barely sweet (Chenin Blanc component) with lightly spicy complexity (Viognier). Clean, lightly acidic finish. B-
Today’s winner was the McManis.
I thought the Cline was the Price/Value winner, which is typical of that winery.
Final note: This pack of Viogniers performed well, I thought, but not stratospherically. Like all wine lovers, I’m always on the prowl for great wines. Stay tuned – you may well see some in a few of my upcoming columns.