Viva, Washington's improving viognier!
Wine Advizer Paul Gregutt says that in terms of total production, viognier is still a blip — 1,100 tons last year — but even so, a lot of producers are making at least a couple of barrels.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Watermill 2010 Viognier; $16
INTERESTING SCENTS of lemon and lime rind, orange liqueur and peppery spice highlight this pleasing viognier, and the excellent acidity buoys it up through a satisfying finish. It should continue to improve for another two or three years. (Distributed by Noble)
FROM TIME to time, I like to take a look at some of the wines being made from grapes that are still in the experimental stage as far as Washington viticulture is concerned. These emerging varieties are often hit-and-miss because they come from new plantings, some in untested locations, and are subject to all the vagaries that any experiment must endure. But from where I sit, it's all part of the fun of living in a vibrant, changing, growing young wine region.
Viognier, a white grape from the Rhône region in France, had almost disappeared from its native soil a few decades ago. It was first planted in Washington in Mike Sauer's Red Willow vineyard in the Yakima Valley almost three decades ago. But as a varietal wine it didn't begin to appear until sometime in the 1990s. In terms of total production, it is still just a blip — 1,100 tons last year — about the same as in 2004. That was the first year viognier statistics were singled out rather than dumped in the catchall "other" category.
Even so, a lot of producers are making at least a couple of barrels of viognier. By 2010 I'd found more than two dozen producers to recommend, and that number could be increased by another dozen today. Vintners are dialing in the right balance, which has been a challenge with this grape. The most recent releases include many that harmoniously express the best flavors the grape can offer.
It's reasonable to attribute some of that restraint to the cooler vintages of 2010 and 2011, which allowed the grapes adequate hang time without sending sugars to the moon. In any event, the problems I have noted with some Washington viogniers in the past (either searingly tart and bitter or excessively volatile and alcoholic) are becoming a thing of the past.
Viognier is a versatile grape, often used in a white Rhône blend with roussanne and/or marsanne. It may also be co-fermented with syrah, contributing floral/citrus aromas and, according to many winemakers, darkening the color of the finished wine. The recommended bottles here must contain at least 75 percent viognier in order to carry a varietal label. They represent not only the best bottles but the best values I have come across in recent months.
AntoLin Cellars 2010 Viognier; $19. Silky smooth, with scents and flavors of honey-laced flowers. Lemon, lime and grapefruit dominate the palate, with superb balance and persistence.
àMaurice 2009 Viognier; $25. Always a strong suit from àMaurice, the 2009 Viognier has a cocktail mix of lemon-drop fruit and botanical herbs and spices. Pungent, bright and deliciously lively.
Ott & Murphy 2010 Viognier; $20. A spicy mix of grapefruit, citrus rind and Asian pear, with a wonderful mouthfeel, and a finish with cut, focus and length.
Stevens 2010 Divio Viognier; $21. A carefully made wine with gin-like spices and penetration. Lemon, lime and raw steel give it grip and length.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 The Estates Viognier; $20. Creamy and refreshing, this is a mélange of lime rind and flesh, melon and pineapple, with the crispness of a mountain spring.
William Church 2010 Viognier; $22. Beguiling aromas of rosewater, lemon hard candy and fresh orange peel. The palate leans toward citrus, light but lingering, with a touch of minerality.
Stottle 2008 Viognier; $24. A barrel-fermented viognier that offers appealing, toasty Meyer-lemon and stone-fruit flavors, coated in buttered-nut goodness. A dusting of cinnamon gives it a French pastry finish.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.