Winter White (Part 1): Viognier

Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you need to stick with the reds.

Typically, like most do in the colder months of winter, I tend to lean towards fuller-bodied red wines (when not indulging in bubbles). For many, as with fashion, white is out in the months between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  Personally, when it’s appropriate, I’m all for the whole concept of “winter white”, whether speaking of fashion, or more importantly in this case, wine.  Though it might be nice for some, you probably shouldn’t wear all black, eat Barolo-braised short ribs and drink monster reds every single day throughout the winter. White definitely still has its place. The question is, when it comes to wine, which varietals are most appropriate?       

I was in Palm Beach over this past weekend, and it was cold, like snow flurries and record-chilling temperatures cold! The Sunshine State, huh? I should have just stayed in Manhattan.  One evening after cooking for several hours, I was really in the mood for something white.  Sauvignon Blanc and even it’s fuller-bodied expression that is aged in oak casks known as Fumé Blanc in California and Pouilly Fumé in the Loire (France) didn’t seem very fitting, nor did Pinot Gris, Albariño, Grüner Veltliner or any other such lighter styles of wine for that matter.  What I wanted was something rich. 

When deciding what to have, other than the obvious (Chardonnay), two particular varietals came to mind, Viognier and Gewürztraminer. Unfortunately, these two grapes are frequently overlooked in the consumer market due to the fact that they are not mainstream varietals.  Nonetheless, both are amazing in their own rite, which brings us to the first part this discussion, Viognier. 

Viognier is truly a beautiful grape, full in body and rich in character. With its deep yellow color, the grape yields a very lush, highly perfumed wine with distinct notes of stone fruit, blossom and honeysuckle. Viognier ripens very well, consequently resulting in higher alcohol levels, most of which exceed that of 12.5%. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the other components of the wine are in balance with the alcohol.

The grape is now grown in numerous areas around the world, but most famously in the French appellation of Condrieu, located in the northern part of the Rhone. There some other killer examples produced elsewhere in the Rhone as well, including the notable Château-Grillet, which is the only other all-Viognier producing appellation in France. Today, you can find Viognier in Italy, South Africa, Australia and South America, as well as in the United States, where since the 1980s, Californian winemakers have been planting the obscure varietal as an alterative to the usual suspects of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

And when it comes to food and wine pairing, Viognier can be a lot of fun. With its full-bodied structure, it can handle a wide range of flavors, proteins, etc. These wines have a lot of texture, and that’s important when you’re serving a white wine with something a bit heavier such as a red meat, game, fattier types of fish and rich pasta dishes. I find Viognier to pair extremely well with grilled items, where the perfumy characteristics of the wine add a wonderful contrast to the smoky, charred flavors from the grill. 

Lastly, here are some excellent examples of Viognier, as well as some everyday values that I recommend checking out:

Pierre Gaillard, Condrieu, Rhone 2007 - $30

Neyret-Gachet, Château Grillet, Rhone 2002 - $69

Cold Heaven, Santa Rita Hills, California 2006 - $29    

Yalumba, Eden Vally, South Australia 2008 - $14

Cono Sur, Colchagua Valley, Chile 2006 - $10

Vientos del Sur, Mendoza, Argentina 2008 - $11

Cheers,

Stephen Asprinio
www.stephenasprinio.com