Hey, long time no see! For new readers who need a catch-up, I'm in the process this year of fulfilling a New Year's resolution to finally get better educated about wine; and the first tasting project I'm doing as part of this education is to do thoughtful tastings of the world's twenty most popular types of grapes, taking them on chromatically from the darkest reds to the lightest whites. I've been at it since January, which means I've now gotten through Syrah/Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chianti (Sangiovese), Merlot, (Red) Zinfandel, Garnacha/Grenache, Beaujolais (Gamay), Cabernet Franc, White Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay; and after a three-week hiatus I'm now ready to take on my 14th wine in this series, the obscure Viognier (pronounced vee-OWN-yay).
Once a much more popular wine than it currently is, most believe that Viognier goes all the way back to Croatia and the birth of wine in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago; although definitely we have records of the Romans bringing this as one of the first grape types to France when they initially established the "fine wine" tradition there in the early AD years. On the plus side, low acidity makes this wine lush and smooth like a Chardonnay, but with it being an "aromatic" wine it also usually contains a lot more subtle aromas of flowers and fruits than many other whites. (In fact, this is often added to harsh reds such as Syrah to make the resulting "red blend" both softer in taste and better-smelling.) But on the minus side, it's one of the fussier grapes in existence, a fruit that needs a long growing season but in a place where it never gets too hot, that is prone to mildew, that has low and unpredictable yields, and that gets oily and flat if picked too late in the year.
Although once commonly grown in France's Rhône Valley (in fact, to this day it's still the only grape officially allowed in that region's Condrieu wine, one of the few French "luxury" wines deliberately meant to be drank soon after bottling), Viognier actually got very close to going extinct altogether, from a combination of that country's huge phylloxera plague in the 1800s and then this grape's vineyards being right at the heart of the Western Front during World War One. In the 1960s and '70s, though, this was one of the grapes that helped fuel America's rise into world-class winemaking (since it does well in moderate temperatures, this is one of the more common grapes used in wineries outside of the west coast -- never forget that all 50 states in the US have at least one local winery, not just California, Oregon and Washington); and in more recent years Viognier has also become a popular choice in the exploding wine industries in Australia, New Zealand and South America.
In fact, Australia is the home of the Viognier I tried for this tasting, a company called Yalumba which is that country's oldest family-owned winery (dating back to 1849) and one of only four wineries on the planet which makes its own oak barrels. (They have a beautiful website as well; I encourage you to check it out.) You can read my detailed tasting notes below; but in general this was partly like how I was expecting it to be (so fragrant, for example, that the smell immediately hits you like a punch right when you open the bottle), but partly a surprise from what I was expecting (the aroma wasn't as sweet as I heard typical Viogniers are, but the taste wasn't as dry). This was one of my favorite wines so far of this entire series, and as always I want to thank the smart and friendly staff of my local Binny's for helping me pick it out.
“The Y Series” Viognier, 2015
Angaston, South Australia
Look: A pale yellow the hue of straw, easily transparent to the light.
Smell: True to this grape's reputation, a powerful aroma that hits you the moment you open the bottle. Not as sweet a smell as I was expecting, with strong hints of lemon and honey.
Taste: A beautifully thick taste in the mouth, with the distinctive oily sensation on the middle of the tongue that comes with this varietal. Although often known for its dryness, this particular brand is semi-sweet, but with the kind of perfumy bite like you get when putting a flower petal in your mouth. Easy to see why this is a little-known secret favorite among wine experts; it has all the good qualities of a Chardonnay, but is also more delicate, more complex, and more fragrant. One of my favorite whites so far this year.
After a Full Glass: After a full glass paired with grilled salmon and broccoli, I was surprised to discover that this comes off as even sweeter than before, and pleased to find that its taste doesn't overwhelm the food at all. I'm willing to bet that this goes REALLY well with spicy food.