The garden-party wine

Thomas J. Story
The most floral of whites, Viognier is your pour for a warm spring day

Honeysuckle, citrus blossoms, gardenias, peaches ― garden meets orchard in a glass of Viognier.

The grape is a relative newcomer to Western wine country. Twenty years ago, there were a paltry 25 acres of Viognier vines in California, and those only because of a few early devotees who had tucked budwood from the grape’s home in France’s Rhône Valley into their luggage ― "Samsonite cuttings," they’re called. Today, around 2,500 acres grow in the state (the Central Coast claims the bulk of them), plus more are coming on in southern Oregon and eastern Washington.

Loaded with aromatics and, at its best, spices and minerals, Viognier is good for some intriguing food matches. The wine has a couple of weaknesses to watch out for, though: a tendency toward high alcohol (because it has to get really ripe before it’s any good) and low acidity (think flabby). But when it balances flamboyance with crispness, West Coast Viognier is this season’s best garden-party wine.

OUR PICKS

Deals and steals

  • Pepperwood Grove Viognier 2007 (California; $8). There’s a whole lot of fresh honeysuckle and juicy apricot nectar for your money in this well-balanced wine.
  • Loredona Viognier 2007 (Lodi; $12). Per-fumed with gardenia, stone-fruit blossoms, and a gamut of citrus.
  • McManis Viognier 2007 (California; $12). Heady honeysuckle, nuts, and ripe peach.
  • Bonterra Viognier 2006 (Mendocino and Lake Counties; $18). Lovely apricot, tangerine, and honeysuckle.

Worth a splurge

  • Cold Heaven Viognier 2007 (Sta. Rita Hills; $24). Earthy and tart, with stone-fruit blossoms, juicy citrus, and white peach.
  • Jaffurs Viognier 2007 (Santa Barbara County; $25). Perfect balance of florals and peaches, richness and acidity.
  • K Vintners Viognier 2007 (Columbia Valley; $20). Edgy spices and minerals under honeyed white peach, blood orange, and apricot.
  • Miner Simpson Vineyard Viognier 2006 (California; $20). Herbal and citrusy yet lush, with white peach and apricot nectar.

Next: Perfect pairings for Viognier

 

Perfect pairings for Viognier

With floral aromas, sweet-seeming fruit flavors, and rich textures, Viognier is made for bold, exotic dishes. It’s also great with cheeses and nuts. Some favorite pairings:

  • Sweet: shellfish Scallops, lobster, crab, and shrimp
  • Aromatic seasonings: Cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, ginger (in Moroccan tagines, for instance, as well as mild Indian curries and Caribbean dishes)
  • Nuts: Cashews, macadamias
  • Soft and semisoft cheeses: Fresh chèvre, gruyère, aged gouda, and double and triple creams like Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam or French brie

Macadamia Chicken with Orange-Ginger Sauce and Coconut Pilaf
We’ve layered this dish with tropical flavors to match Viognier’s perfume and bright citrus and stone-fruit flavors.

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