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PHOTOS BY WAYNE CRAWFORD

Wayne On Wine

Viognier: classic white wine revitalized

By Wayne Crawford

Viognier (vee-own-yay) is a French white grape mentioned in records in 1781. Fifty years ago, it was down in cultivation to 35 acres in the Condrieu region in the Northern Rhone Valley.

Today, though challenging to grow, there are 28,000-plus acres of this luscious, aromatic, white grape throughout the wine-growing world. France leads the way, but Australia and the U.S. are not far behind. On the East Coast, Virginia is highly committed to growing this grape; in Georgia, there are several wineries with plantings.

Viognier is dominated by luscious fruit and higher alcohol but with low acidity. In the Condriue region along the steep banks of the Rhone River, it is a dry, full-bodied white wine that can be remarkably aromatic.

Wine growers looking for white wine grapes other than chardonnay and sauvignon blanc turned to viognier. Clones were crafted from cuttings from Condrieu and Chateau Gruillet, the small AOP just south of Condrieu on the right bank of the Rhone. The Languedoc-Roussillon, California and Australia were earlier adopters of this grape. In the U.S., Virginia is likely to make this the state white wine.

This is one of my favorite, all-purpose white wines, also used to blend with red wines to soften the wine and make it more drinkable at an early age. In general, this is a wine you can drink now or hold for two to four years; only a few will age more than eight years. I encourage you to enjoy this wine when it is relatively young. It is a little hard to find locally, but the local IGA carries the wine as does Jax Fine Wine and Spirits.

To enrich its blind-tastings, the Big Canoe Wine Group often adds wines that are unique, limited productions to see how they stand up against better known producers. Big Canoe artist, John Feight, has been making his own wine since 1993. A friend in the wine group entered one of John’s wines – Big Canoe Viognier “Greeting Committee” – to our Feb. 1, 2013, blind-tasting. This wine scored better than several commercial wines, and, in a follow-up conversation, John said his juice was from France. The wine displayed a gold color with medium saturation, aromas of peach, honeysuckle and apricot. On the palate, it was full-bodied, balanced, with apricot, peach and orange flavors and a medium finish. John, your 20-plus years making home wines may not match your artistic skills, but this was a very good wine – well done!

I continue to believe good wine is even better when paired with great food. At our last tasting, hosts Gary and Katherine Cherry, in keeping with the wine group’s norm, paired foods to complement the varietal. The grilled mahi-mahi tacos were exceptional. The short version of the recipe included: mahi-mahi filets grilled with vegetable oil for 5 minutes and then shredded for placement on small flour tortillas complemented by fresh red cabbage, homemade pico de gallo sauce and fresh crema sauce with heavy and sour creams. A special, grilled fish seasoning complemented with fresh lime wedges over the tacos finished the dish. Other foods pairing well with viognier include chicken with cream sauce, curries, lobster, nuts, soft cheese, roasted pork and veal, along with a host of fresh white fish.

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Ed O’Donnell, left, Gary Cherry and Sylvia Harnesberger enjoy sampling viognier-based wines.

 

‘Wines drinking well now’

Chateau de Saint Cosme 2013 Viognier, Condrieu France, $53. This wine has a medium-gold color and complex aromas of peach, apricot, melon and anise. On the palate, it is full-bodied, balanced with flavors of peach, apricot and white floral with hints of anise and honey. It offers a lingering finish in a dry, well-structured white wine with minerality and fruit dominating. This was the first choice in the Big Canoe Wine Group’s blind-tasting. The winemaker says it pairs well with fresh lobster in garlic butter. Highly Recommended.

Jemrose Egret Pond Vineyard 2013 Viognier, Sonoma, Calif., $34.99. Light-gold color with aromas of apricot, honeysuckle and a hint of lime, this wine is aged in stainless steel. It is a full-bodied wine, crisp with apricot, peach and lime flavors, soft tannin on the palate and a lingering finish. It has a limited production; recommend if available.

Oak Grove 2014 "Reserve" Viognier, California, $9. Light gold with white floral, honey and honeydew melon aromas, on the palate this full-bodied wine offers melon, lime and a hint of apricot with crisp finish. Best Buy.

Other viognier wines to consider include: Spangler 2015, Oregon, $21; Bonterra 2014, Made with Organic Grapes, $14; Yalumba 2013 (Eden Valley), Australia, $19; Joseph Swan Vineyards 2014 Catie's Corner, California, $26; Penner-Ash 2014 Oregon, $30; Sanford 2013 Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, $36.

Local wine news

Wine Spectator’s annual wine awards for restaurants, “The List,” were released Aug. 31. Georgia, with 49 restaurants listed with awards of excellence, had six selected as “Best” award of excellence. I was particularly impressed with the low corkage fee among the six highest awarded restaurants, since they clearly have exceptional wine lists. Bones in Atlanta is only $10 and Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Centennial Park is $15. If you enjoy wine and collect for special occasions, it is nice to know the best restaurants value these events and encourage you to bring along a great wine.

Several years ago, I wrote a column on corkage fees to help readers better understand the protocol. Never bring a wine that is already on the list; rather, select an additional wine from the list and ask the sommelier or chef to taste your special wine. In many cases, they may not charge you the corkage fee. Restaurants with limited or inadequate wine lists rarely should charge a corkage fee and, if so, not more than $5 to $10. Frankly, when a marginal wine list is offered, I rarely return.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, the focus will be on South African red wines.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and Wine Scholar Guild.

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