4 Viognier white wines perfect for summertime
Summer's arrival brings pleasures aplenty. But none surpasses the experience of strolling on a sultry evening as blooming honeysuckle vines fill the air with redolent, intoxicating aromas. Returning home, you can enjoy strikingly similar aromas while finding refreshment with sips of well-chilled white wines made from Viognier grapes.
Viognier (pronounced Vee-yoh-N'YAY) vines find their spiritual home in France's northern Rhône Valley in the Condrieu appellation. The best locations have granite soils on terraces carved into sheer, southeast facing slopes overlooking the Rhône River. Somehow this terroir allows Viognier grapes to develop remarkable honeysuckle perfumes as well as other intriguing aromas and flavors.
Even so, Condrieu's growers have experienced tremendous challenges. Since all work vineyard at the best sites must be completed by hand, the labor shortage and depressed economy after the World War II almost caused the Viognier vines to disappear.
But the likes of négociant Marcel Guigal (a grower and commercial purchaser of grapes) and grower Georges Vernay, the late “Pope of Condrieu,” persevered. They continued making traditional, highly perfumed wines with ripe, pure fruit, modest oaky traits and dry finishes. The wines paired well with local foods served at nearby popular restaurants such as La Pyramide in Vienne and Le Beau Rivage in Condrieu, itself. As global wine consumption expanded into the late 20th century, tourists rediscovered the wines.
Condrieu's pleasures eventually attracted a wider following. Viognier production expanded significantly and not only in France. Producers the world over now steadily plant Viognier vines hoping to capture a little magic of their own.
While prices for Condrieu whites have risen steeply, the following Viognier-based wine offer an affordable introduction to the grape:
• 2017 Les Vignerons de Cases de Pène, “Penya” Viognier, I.G.P. Côtes Catalanes, France (Luxury 74054; $9.99). This tasty wine comes from Viognier grown near the Spanish border in Roussillon, a region also known as “French Catalonia.” The grapes ferment in concrete vats to preserve white flower and peach aromas. Lively citrus and quince flavors balance with fresh acidity. The fruity, but dry finish pairs well with caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar. Recommended.
• 2016 Vins Dupré, Les Champs De Lierre, Viognier, I.G.P. Ardèche, France (Luxury 78709; Chairman's Selection On Sale: $17.99): This wine's négociant producer buys Viognier grapes from growers located near the Condrieu appellation. So the wine bears a strong resemblance to Condrieu starting with the deep golden color. Lovely honeysuckle and ripe peach aromas waft from the glass. Ripe tangerine, red grapefruit and peach flavors unfold with good concentration in the glass. Just enough acidity and pleasant creamy notes balance the dry, lingering finish. Pair it with grilled salmon steaks with capers. Highly Recommended.
• 2017 Alexandria Nicole Cellars, “Crawford” Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington State (Luxury 75360; $19.99): This highly perfumed wine offers honeysuckle, freesia and ginger spice aromas opening to delicious tangerine and honeydew melon flavors. Just enough fresh acidity carries the dry, fruity finish. Pair it with fresh crab salad. Highly Recommended.
• 2016 Clos La Chance, Viognier Reserve, Central Coast, California (Luxury 47509; $24.99). This second-generation, family owned winery uses Viognier grapes grown in California's Central Coast. A warm, sunny climate prevails, but the grower deftly avoids overripening the fruit to preserve the Viognier's charms. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks delivers a wine with subtle floral aromas. Understated quince and pear flavors balance with freshness and creamy notes through a lingering refined finish. Pair it with grilled grouper fish.Recommended.
Dave DeSimone is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.