In recent years the Virginia wine industry has adopted Viognier as the state grape. And, as we are wont to do, wine bloggers took to exploring it, and giving it a nickname – “viggy”. (Hattip to Lenn Thompson, SwirlSipSnark and Drink What You Like – not sure which of you coined the term – claim it in the comments, y’all!)
Many of my favorite wineries down south are producing beautiful viogniers, and MissWineOH loves to share so that others will fall in love with all this slightly misunderstood grape has to offer. While this wine originates in the Rhone Valley and is best known as the grape found in Condrieu, Virginia is where I first experienced the floral nuances and bright acidity reminiscent of evenings with a glass of chilled white wine in a garden of southern flowers. You should not confuse this with midnights in gardens of good and evil, though there may have been some of that as well in the distant past. On this particular evening on a Cleveland rooftop, we gathered a group of friends and colleagues, and 6 viogniers from around the world, and then paired them with some great summer dishes – and it was very good.
The Line Up:
Pillitteri 2010 (Canada)
Tarara Winery 2010 (Virginia)
Gerard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale 2010 (France)
Ferrandiere NV (France)
D’Arenburg 2006 – The Last Ditch (Australia)
White Knight 2008 (California)
All of these dishes were selected to pair with Viognier, without pairing with a specific wine’s flavor profile. I would also recommend seafood (shellfish or meaty fish), pork, or pasta dishes. These crisper wines would be beautiful with an alfredo sauce. The talented Caitlin Ziegler (@thatcaity) is a budding chef, and my daughter – and she did all the hard work that went into creating the food for this event.
Spinach Dip with Chunked Challah Bread
White Chocolate Lemon Cupcakes – with lemon garnish.
This tasting was inspired by finding a bottle of D’Arenburg, 2006 The Last Ditch at Viaduct Lounge in the cooler case, which I promptly absconded with at a decent price on an evening out with friends. This wine was probably the least viognier like of all of them – crisp with oak and cedar undertones and very little floral on the nose – almost like an unoaked chardonnay in profile. I wondered at first if I was tasting a pinot gris. Perhaps the age played a part in that flavor profile, but it was a very different style than the other wines. Try newer releases of this one. (2008 – $17)
The White Knight was playful and yet crisp – delicious lavender, orange and peach on the nose, with a smooth mouthfeel and bright acidity. I like the honeysuckle and slightly spicy finish on this wine. Its unique as a viognier on my palate, but a great wine. ($12)
Tarara showed as what I’d call “classic viognier” to me, but I’ll acknowledge a bias toward Virginia wines. It was one of the three I could identify immediately. (the other two being those above) The floral notes on the nose call to me, with melon and a buttery mouthfeel rounding out a pleasing finish with just a hint of wood. I wouldn’t call it an oaky finish, the taste is too subtle for that. I would say it was a stand out for me – very pleasing. (not sure this is still available)
Gerard Bertrand was a label I found at a trade tasting a few months ago and is readily available at an under $13 price point. It brings strong hyacinth and orange on the nose, with continuing citrus mid palate. Dry, with a bit of a short finish, not complex, but a great sipping or dinner wine at the price.
Pilletteri produces a viognier that was all pear and melon and then a slightly spicy finish. I expected a bit more oak based on some of the other Pilletteri wines I’d tasted – but this one is a perfectly beautiful specimen. A buttery mouthfeel and some vanilla on the nose, but I found no notes indicating aging in oak. ($18.20 CAN)
Ferrandier was a last minute addition to the party, and I was happy that I added it. This viognier from Domaine de la Ferrandier is out of the Pays de’Oc region of France. Its aged two to three months on the lees with a highly aromatic floral nose, full mouthfeel and strong pineapple and peach finish. Beautiful classic viognier which rightfully earned its place at the top of the lineup. It also comes in at $11.99 retail.
All of the wines were served at about 65, and were wrapped in opaque plastic and numbered. While I knew what the lineup was, they were randomly numbered, so not even I knew which was which without tasting first.
Our guests were asked to taste each one and then vote on each with a chip. Green (like) Red (don’t like) and White (on the fence).
And the winner, well…. that turned into a tie – with a very close second.
Ferrandiere and Pillitteri took top honors – with Tarara coming in close (by 1 vote) - the others did well, as in none fell solidly into the “omg, I won’t drink this now, much less ever again” category – and all received at least 2 don’t likes. There were a few minds changed as participants went back and tasted a second time – there may have been an attempt at ballot stuffing, but that was promptly halted by one of our felines chasing a shadow, instead of playing with the chips.
So what do the results tell you?
Everyone’s palate is different. It’s a combination of good food, good wine and good company that makes your experience a memorable one!