Vivacious Viognier – the next white wine sensation

WINE WISE: Viognier was taken on by curious winemakers and grape growers worldwide

Viognier somehow manages to continue to be one of the least known and least commonly available classic white wines.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Rescued from obscurity and dwindling interest in its own home in the Rhone Valley, just about 25 years ago, Viognier was taken on by curious winemakers and grape growers worldwide – most notably Australia’s Yalumba winery who planted 1.2 hectares of Viognier in the Barossa in 1980.

Today, Yalumba Y Series Viognier (624502G) $15.69 is as close to a ‘New World’ benchmark as we’ve come to know. Lots of apricot and honeysuckle aromatics lift off the glass with tropical fruit flavours over candied lime and mandarin orange. And, of course, there’s that full-bodied, almost “oily” texture that Viognier so often delivers.

As they developed their Viognier from vine to wine, Yalumba’s winemakers discovered that the trick to making really expressive wines from this fickle white grape was leaving the grapes on the vine until they started to shrivel just a little – known in the legendary vineyards of Condrieu as “passerillage sur souche.” So, yes, those subtle raisin-overtones are absolutely legitimate!

Even the everyday ‘Cellared in Canada’ category – wines that are sourced in bulk from other countries and finished and bottled here – there are credible examples. Copper Moon Viognier (46169G) $8.49 manages to tease everyday wine lovers with a sprinkling of peach and honeysuckle aromas and flavours.

Almost 10 years ago – with its 2006 vintage – Chile’s Cono Sur Viognier (566836G) $9.59 was the first South American Viognier available in British Columbia – and it hit the shelves at a very attractive price. Orange peel and the honeyed scent of apple blossoms lead into remarkably ripe flavours of oranges and apricots.

Times and tides and (Zut alors! Even in France!) fashions in wine can change. Now, the total acreage planted to the elusive Viognier grape has multiplied more than a hundred times worldwide. As well as a lot more Viognier being available, from a number of different countries, prices have decreased dramatically. Including British Columbia.

There are recognizable and even affordable wines that are Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) approved, true to the variety and made from grapes that were grown and vinified right here in British Columbia. Jackson-Triggs Black Label Viognier (593129R) $12.40 is delightfully fruity – honeyed peaches and apricots mix and mingle with melon and honeysuckle!

And here in North America, there’s always those cunning Californians… setting benchmark winemaking standards. Currently there are more than 2,000 acres of Viognier planted in California.

From Don Sebastiani & Sons, Sonoma Valley négociants in the classic French tradition, sourcing grapes and wines from a diversity of different California growers, there’s Smoking Loon Viognier (128801G) $13.49. Accessible, easy to appreciate, lightly aromatic – apricots and spicy orange blossoms slide into peaches and tropical fruit flavours on the tongue.

Back in the legendary Burrowing Owl’s  British Columbia Calliope Viognier (176024R) $16 offers up aromas of orange blossom, ripe apricot, peach and cantaloupe. It is richly honeyed and surprisingly full bodied with an unctuous mouthfeel and some serious ‘weight’ for a white wine. A medley of concentrated fruit lavours – apricot, cantaloupe, honey and mandarin orange – muddle over the tongue, finishing off with a wisp of anise in the finish.

Still in B.C. but off of the Naramata Bench, Marichel Vineyards Viognier (999999R) $18.95 has the cult appeal of very, very limited production.  Combine that with classically rich honeysuckle, almond and mandarin orange rind and a subtle sprinkling of sweet oriental spices and white wine lovers are lining up to pick up this specialty white wherever they can find it.

Viognier has captured the attention of many Okanagan Valley winemakers.  Black Hills Viognier (999999R) $25.65 is an unctuous, almost oily and burnished gold white wine from the same folks who give us the magical ‘Nota Bene’ red blend. Canned peach and dried apricot aromas and flavours slide into mango and papaya before finishing with a hint of honeysuckle.

Try to find a ticket to the sixth annual Day Break Rotary Wine & Blues Fest by the Sea at the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre, Saturday, June 13 from 7-9:30 p.m. Your WineWise guy will be staging a couple of lightning tasting seminars. Tickets ($55) may still be available at the Tidemark Theatre.


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