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Viognier | White Wines

February 26th, 2008


Viognier Glass | White WinesViognier is a white wine grape. It is the only permitted grape for the French wine Condrieu in the Rhone valley.

History

The origin of Viognier is not completely known with several theories abounding. Most experts agree that Viognier is an ancient grape that may have originated in Dalmatia and was brought to Rhône by the Romans. One legend states that the Roman emperor Probus brought the vine himself to the region in AD 281. Another legend has the grape packaged with Syrah on a cargo ship navigating the Rhone River en route to Beaujolais when it was captured by a local group of outlaws known as culs de piaux near the site of present day Condrieu.

The origins of the name Viognier is similarly obscured with the most common namesake being the French city of Vienne which was a major Roman outpost. Another legend has it drawing its name from the Roman pronunciation of the via Gehennae meaning the “road to Hell” as a possible allusion to the grapes difficulties in growing.

Viognier was once a fairly common grape, though it is now a rare white grape grown almost exclusively in the northern Rhône regions of France. Around the 1960s, the grape was almost extinct when there were only eight acres in Northern Rhône. The popularity of the wine, as well as its price, has risen and thus the number of plantings have increased. Rhône now has over 740 acres (3.0 km²) planted.

In 2004, DNA profiling conducted at University of California, Davis showed the grape to be closely related to the Piedmont grape Freisa and to be a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo.

Viticulture

Viognier can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to powdery mildew. It also has low and unpredictable yields and needs to be picked only when fully ripe. When the grape is picked too early, it fails to develop the full extent of its aromas and tastes. When picked too late the grape produces wine that is oily and lacking perfume. Winemakers in the Condrieu often pick the grapes with a level of sugar that eventually will produce wine with alcohol in the 13% range. When fully ripen the grapes have a deep yellow color and produce wine high in alcohol with a strong perfume. The grape prefers warmer environments and a long growing season, but can grow in cooler areas as well.

In France, the Mistral atmospheric phenomenon has a distinct effect on the Viognier vineyards in the Northern Rhone. The wind acts as a tempering agent to the Mediterranean climate of the regions, cooling the vines down after the severe heat of the summer time season.

Wine expert Remington Norman has identified two distinct strains of Viognier—an “Old World” strain, most common in Condrieu, and a “New World” strain, which is found is the Languedoc and other areas. While being the same grape, the two different strains seem to produce distinctly different wines.

The age of the vine also has an effect on the quality of the wine produced with Viognier vines starting to hit their peak after 15-20 years. In the Rhone, there are vines of at least 70 years of age.

Regional production

Viognier has been planted much more extensively around the world since the early 1990s. Both California and Australia now have significant amounts of land devoted to the Viognier grape. There are also notable increases in planting in other states of the United States and in other countries.
Viognier | White Wines
The decline of Viognier in France from its historic peak has much to do with the disastrous introduction of phylloxera insects from North America into Europe in the mid- and late-1800s, followed by the abandonment of the vineyards due to the chaos of World War I. By 1965, only about 30 acres of Viognier vines remained in France, and the variety was nearly extinct. Even as late as the mid-1980s, Viognier in France was endangered. Paralleling the growth of Viognier in the rest of the world, plantings in France have grown dramatically since then. The grape has been enjoying some success in Central Italy and in the Piedmont region as well as South Africa, New Zealand and Japan.

France

In France, Viognier is the single permitted grape variety in the appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet, which are located on the west bank of the Rhône River, about 40 km south of Lyon. The majority of French Viogniers are sold as Vin de Pays in the Languedoc. In the Rhone wine region, the grape is often blended with Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc, and Rolle. In the Northern Rhone the grape is sometimes blended with Chardonnay. Vignerons in France often look to plant Viognier in areas rich in granite soil that have a heat retaining quality that the grape seems to thrive in. Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf help expand the reach of the grape with plantings in the Ardèche region. In the Côte-Rôtie AOC up to 20% of red wine blends can include Viognier though most growers add no more than 5%. Since Viognier ripens earlier then Syrah, the grape is normally harvested separately and added to the Syrah during fermentation. One of the benefits of adding Viognier is the process of co-pigmentation that is produced which stabilizes the coloring of the red wine.

North America

Since the late 1980s, plantings of Viognier in the United States and Canada have increased dramatically. California’s Central Coast is the leading producer with over 2,000 acres (8 km²) of the grape planted. Californian Viogniers are noticeably higher in alcohol compared to other wines made from the grape. The Rhone Rangers of the mid 1980s help spark the increased interest in Viognier in California. The grape can also be found in Washington State, Colorado, New York and Virginia as well as British Columbia and the Niagara region of Ontario.

South America

Both Argentina and Chile have significant plantings of the grape with some producers in Brazil and Uruguay also experimenting with the varietal.

Australia

In Australia, Yalumba is the country’s largest producer of the grape making both a white wine varietal and making extensive use of the grape in its Syrah blends. Yalumba grows the grape in the loam and clay soil of the Eden Valley. Other areas with Viognier plantings include Murray River, McLaren Vale, Geelong, Nagambie Lakes, Canberra, Mornington Peninsula, Barossa Valley,Adelaide Hills and Tenterfield.

Wine

Viognier wines are well-known for their floral aromas, due to terpenes, which are also found in Muscat and Riesling wines. There are also many other powerful flower and fruit aromas which can be perceived in these wines depending on where they were grown, the weather conditions and how old the vines were. Although some of these wines, especially those from old vines and the late-harvest wines, are suitable for aging, most are intended to be consumed young. Viogniers more than three years old tend to lose many of the floral aromas that make this wine unique. Aging these wines will often yield a very crisp drinking wine which is almost completely flat in the nose. The color and the aroma of the wine suggest a sweet wine but Viognier wines are predominantly dry, although sweet late-harvest dessert wines have been made. It is a grape with low acidity; it is sometimes used to soften wines made predominantly with the red Syrah grape. In addition to its softening qualities the grape also adds a stabilizing agent and enhanced perfume to the red wine.

In winemaking, the grapes are often harvest early in the morning to produce the clearest juice possible. Some winemakers will allow contact with the skins. The soft skin of Viognier is high in phenols compounds which can leave an oily component to the wine if left in contact with the skins for too long. Sometimes the wine is put through malolactic fermentation to give the wine more weight and to decrease acidity. In New World Viognier, the lees maybe stirred in a process called batonnage in order to increase the acid levels of the wine. The wine is then left on the lees till bottling in a matter similar to sparkling wine production.

In the creation of the dessert style Viognier, the grapes are often picked in late October or early November. In the Rhone region, the grapes normally are not affected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea though botrytized Viognier is not unheard of. A common harvest technique used in the Condrieu is known as à l’assiette where a plate is held underneath a Viognier vine that is then shaken to allow the overripe grapes to drop unto the plate. Fermentation is then stopped early through the use of sulphur to allow the wine to retain a high level of residual sugar. The wine is then chilled and put through sterile filtering to ensure that the wine is stable and will not start fermenting again in the bottle.

The wine is meant to be consumed relatively young and typically loses its perfume as it ages. Depending on the winemaking style the grape can often hit its peak at one year of age though some can stay at high levels of quality up to ten years. Typically Condrieu wines are the Viogniers most often meant to be drunk young while Californian and Australian wines can handle age a little bit better.

Food pairing

The highly aromatic and fruit forward nature of the grape allows Viognier to pair well with spicy foods such as Thai cuisine. or Vietnamese cuisine.

Also, shellfish, such as Dungeness crab, are an ideal pairing.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viognier

Chardonnay Glass | White WinesBy Dave DeSimone
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Côte D’Or’s white Burgundies, France’s undeniable crown jewels of white wines, offer exquisitely complex expressions of terroir, albeit at exorbitant prices exacerbated in recent years by an unfavorable exchange rate and worsening wine-auction speculation.

To counter such madness, adopt a savvy strategy of exploring and enjoying France’s increasingly well-made, little white wine gems from a fabulous array of superb grape-growing terroirs in more obscure specific appellations and broader Vin de Pays regions. Currently, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s specialty stores are offering an impressive selection.

In southwestern France, the Pyrenees Mountains to the south and forests to the west enhance Gascony’s cool and sunny oceanic climate for perfect conditions for ripening the white wine grapes distinctive to the region. Varied soils such as clay on limestone, clay mixed with sands and alluvial soils add intriguing complexity.

The 2006 Domaine La Hitaire, Les Tours, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, France (Specialty 22111, $9.99) uses Ugni Blanc (65 percent), Colombard (30 percent) and Gros Manseng (5 percent) for fresh citrus and passion fruit aromas with a floral hints. Refreshing, vibrant acidity balances fruity citrus and apricot flavors through the clean, dry finish. Try it as a sprightly aperitif. Highly recommended.

To the north in Bordeaux, the similar climate and soils mix of the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation create superb terroir for growing Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle, the region’s distinctive cépage or “mix of grape varieties.” The appellation name, literally “Between Two Seas,” refers to the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers bracketing the vineyards.

The 2005 Château Haut-Bélian, Entre-Deux-Mers, France (Specialty 21927, $9.99) offers grapefruit and peach aromas with light herbal touches leading to ripe, well-balanced fruity flavors of citrus and melon through a fruity, but crisp, dry finish. Try it with oysters on the half shell. Recommended.

Jacquère grape grown in the foothills of the majestic Alps mountains near the Italian border. Rocky, yet picturesque mountain valleys with rushing streams, pretty meadows and the occasional incongruous strip mine, create warm, but not scorching summers and relatively mild spring and fall weather as perfect conditions for growing grapes with delicate floral aromas.

The 2006 Pierre Boniface, Apremont, Vin de Savoie, France (Specialty 22241, $12.99) is fermented in stainless steel to preserve delicate aromas of citrus, apples and light floral notes leading to full-flavored citrus and apple fruit balanced with bright, lovely acidity for a crisp, dry finish. Try it with a shrimp salad. Highly recommended.

While carrying more modest pedigrees, accomplished and conscientious Southern Burgundy producers still can grow excellent Chardonnay for quality white wines providing good value. For example, in the village of Mancey, Andre Dupuis and his two sons work approximately 13 acres of Chardonnay hillside vines ranging in age from 15 years to 37 years. The limestone and clay soils promote low yields as the key to quality fruit.

Their 2006 Domaine des Verchères, Macon-Villages, France (Specialty 22271, $11.99) is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats to preserve freshness and delicate floral aromas with fruity apple and pear notes. The well-balanced fruit flavors with crisp acidity and mineral notes carry through the soft, dry finish. Try it with classic sautéed chicken simmered slowly with garlic and white wine. Recommended.

Finally, in southern France just west of Avignon, the Costières de Nîmes region’s rocky rolling plains, limestone hillsides and warm climate provide intriguing growing conditions for classic Rhône varieties. Maurice Barnouin uses Viognier — with dashes of non-traditional Rhône varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay — in his lively 2006 Domaine de Gournier, Viognier, Vin de Pays de Cévennes (Specialty 22114, $10.99).

Extended hang time on the vines produced ripe, but fresh fruit to create the burnished gold color with a honey and citrus nose with floral hints. Ripe citrus and honey flavors with crisp acidity and refreshing mineral notes carry through a fruity, but dry finish with elegant fruit. Try it with roasted pork in a white wine and cream sauce. Highly recommended.
Source: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/mostread/s_549829.html

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