Summertime is upon us, and its warm temperatures suddenly make chilled white wines very appealing. We’ve got a special one in mind this month, a grape that has made a comeback from virtual extinction in the 60’s. We’re thinking of a wine that Oz Clarke describes as a ‘swooning wine.. wine that just oozes sex and sensuality.’ (No wonder we like it so much!) We’re thinking about …Viognier.
How do you pronounce that, you ask? The title of an article we’ve read recently comes to mind, “Viognier, Difficult to Pronounce, Easy to Drink”. It’s a French word and the g is silent, so the pronunciation is ‘vee-own YAY’.
We can thank the French for bringing this grape back from the brink of disappearance to the place of growing recognition it receives today. Growers in the Condrieu region of the northern Rhone valley gradually increased the acreage planted to Viognier from the world’s last 10 acres in the mid 60’s to over 700 acres today, with more plantings now springing up around the world. Here at Bellview we have just under 2 acres of Viognier, and the wine from these grapes has consistently won awards since our first vintage in 2003. Since the vines producing the best wines are over 20 years old, we anticipate the quality of our Viognier will continue to increase with time.
According to our vineyard manager/head winemaker/winery owner Jim Quarella, the Viognier grape is very finicky, and it takes a master grower to produce a good crop. The grape is prone to mildew, produces uneven, typically low yields, and needs to be fully ripe in order to develop the arresting aroma and complex tastes this wine is known for. Harvest time is crucial, due to the narrow window of time when the aromatics and acids are at their peak. Here in south Jersey, our sandy soils mimic the soil of the Condrieu region in France, where the Viogniers produced have exceptional, concentrated flavors. Our growing season and climatic factors are also quite similar. We believe that the potential to produce Viogniers among the best in the world exists right here in the Outer Coastal Plain.
If you had a chillled glass of Viognier in your hand right now, you would see it has a pretty, clear golden color. Swirl your glass and bring it up to your nose – the aroma is intense, filling your nose with notes of peach, apricot and other tropical fruits at their freshest. The fruity aroma may lead you to anticipate sweetness, but when you take a sip, you taste a cool dry wine with juicy flavors of peach, grapefruit and apricot. Close your eyes and concentrate on the finish – a variety of nuances linger delightfully. Such a beautiful wine, perfect for a warm summer evenings!
Viognier wine is relatively low in acidity, which can make it a bit tricky to pair with food. Also, the wine’s intense flavors may overpower very light dishes. Try it with mild Thai curries, chowders, shellfish and pasta primavera.
The majority of Viogniers are dry, but there are a few sweet, late harvest versions to enjoy with dessert. These may be a bit hard to find at your local liquor store. The management may be able to procure it for you or at least send you in the right direction if you ask.
Some winemaking notes:
– It has been our experience that the flavor of Viognier will vary with different crop yields. Allowing a higher yield of grapes per vine will increase the grapefruit flavor; low yields lead to a pronounced apricot taste. We aim to keep our crop load right in the middle, so as to gain the greatest complexity in the finished wine.
– Although low-acidity Viogniers do not require the heavy oaking of some Chardonnays to provide balance, some sensitive use of oak barrels can enhance the overall flavour. We have an oaked version now available at the winery, from our 2011 vintage. You can compare both oaked and unoaked Viognier side by side in our tasting room.
– Like wine makers in the northern Rhone Valley, we also add a small amount of this wine to our Syrah, which adds fruitiness and helps stabilize the color of this red wine.
If you’ve never tried Viognier, you are in for a treat. Stop in here at Bellview, and we’ll be glad to pour some of our award-winning Viognier for your first taste.
Even if you don’t swoon, we think you’ll be hooked!