The indispensable tool for the Massachusetts adult beverage trade.

Single Blog Title

This is a single blog caption


has sprinted from total obscurity to underground popularity
to mass wine community hysteria to virtually zero visibility
anywhere, a complete round trip that’s taken less than a
decade. Overzealous producers intent on rushing to market
ahead of the curve with wine’s ‘Next Hot Thing’ killed it
before many Americans even learned how to pronounce the name
properly (vee-own-yay). During this super nova phase, when
you couldn’t open a wine publication without seeing it hyped
as the Great Wine you could not really find yet, Viognier’s
fame was seemingly ubiquitous. Some predicted it had the
potential to dethrone Chardonnay. One problem with this
overheated scenario was that anyone trying to produce a wine
that actually tastes good can’t just plant the vine anywhere
it will vaguely ripen. This is a variety that is extremely
finicky as to the growing conditions that insure balanced
flavors, which makes site selection all-important. Where
it’s too hot the vines need to be harvested before the grape
can develop much flavor. In addition, it needs time to sink
roots. Viognier made from immature vines usually lacks
flesh. Finally, although Viognier’s vineyard yields are
unpredictable, it can’t be over cropped as there’s a direct
correlation between tonnage and quality. If this all makes
it sound closer in spirit to Pinot Noir than to most white
varieties, it is. So most of the Viognier that’s vanished,
or is likely to soon, did not actually taste very good
because it wasn’t grown or made properly. In spite of the
industry’s early ‘9Os strategy of planting more Viognier
virtually everywhere, rushing it onto shelves and wine lists
and pumping the PR machine full of superlatives, most
American consumers proved not to be malleable. They bought
once and then took a pass.

Viognier is not really dead, it’s just gone undercover for a
while. To clarify: few restaurants or retailers today need
miscellaneous Viognier to help them fill a category so they
tend not to buy it. On the other hand, there are still small
quantities of delicious Viognier being produced that are
highly sought after. As producers who made the wine simply
because they sensed it was going to catch on yank it from
their portfolios, and as the true aficionados rededicate to
quality, we’re left with the paradox that some of the more
interesting white wines nobody knows about today are
actually made with Viognier. There just aren’t many. And
most of these better bottles aren’t moderately priced
because it’s hard to extract quality from the grape unless
you harvest it at yields low enough to concentrate the
intriguing aromatics that attracted admirers to it

With this all in
mind we set out to discover if there were any great Viognier
values in the market today, wines that reflect the grape’s
unrivalled potential for seductive perfume and oozing creamy
textures. Many of the wines we tasted blind were one
dimensional mediocrities, or worse, quirky eccentrics with
weird burnt flavors, the products of vines planted in the
all wrong places that are just waiting to be budded over to
Pinot Gris or whatever other variety is projected to keep
growing in popularity. But there were also some gems: real
wines of character that deserve recognition and promotion.
Four recommended wines out of a large group may not be
encouraging but these were all wonderful and unique. Four
very different wines, with the common elements of very
intriguing aromas, lovely fruit and the avoidance of
bitterness or excessive alcohol. The interesting thing about
the variety is that even among the best producers there’s no
consensus on how it should taste or even how it should be
made. Whole cluster pressing, expensive as it is to conduct,
seems to be the preferred technique of juice extraction, and
many of the top wines are made without malolactic
fermentation to preserve freshness. Wood has to be used
judiciously but, as is the case with The Innocent, it can
really enhance the grape’s varietal character. The key is
that there’s no Viognier formula that will work everywhere.
Each lot, and probably each harvest, has to be handled
differently. So to those who handle it carefully, Viognier
is still very much alive and worthy of promoting even to
customers who are initially reluctant because of
disappointing previous experiences with the grape. It just
can’t be purchased indiscriminately. As usual, these are
listed in ascending order of preference.

Coastal Region, South Africa,
. This
deliciously creamy wine shows off the subtle
understated side of the grape quite well. The
aromas are low key orange and fig scented fruit and
the follow through on the palate is also stylishly
moderate, with peach and mild citrus accents. It’s
barrel fermented but without any of the coarse
tannins or toast overlay that sometimes dominate
Viogniers produced in a more delicate mode.
Produced by Charles Back, one of the Cape’s most
celebrated winemakers, this is a wine with
personality that can appeal to a European palate
because it is not in any sense excessive. Enjoy its
considerable charms with poached or broiled

“Simpson Vineyard” California,
Produced from vines grown in California’s Central
Valley, this wine from the famed Miner Vineyards is
a marvel of balance and fragrant sensuality:
floral, pear like and vegetal, with apricot and
tangerine peel accents. It’s even better on the
palate, with a round soft weighty texture and
flavors that mix banana, orange and anise. This
reflects one of Viognier’s strong suits: its
ability to present a wide range of distinctive
flavor essences in one sip. When done right, as it
is here, the effect is intoxicating. The finish is
also classic, with an edgy bitter spice presence
that lingers and resonates. A clean, concentrated
Viognier that never sees oak, this would be an
ideal match for herb-accented roasted monkfish or

Winery “Estate Reserve” Central Coast,
. This
is a Viognier of a different color, literally. Deep
straw, with burnished gold highlights, its exotic
aromas are brimming with wildflowers, honey and
buttery tropical fruit. Golden raisins are the
dominant flavor and the texture is ultra-rich, but
it’s all balanced with a touch of spicy phenolics
and more than adequate acidity. This is as about as
lush and exotic as the grape gets. A “wow” wine if
you like this style, as I, perhaps more so than the
rest of the panel of tasters, did. Blended with 15%
Marsanne and Chardonnay, this is a full bodied
Viognier that flaunts its charms. For food matches
I would not hesitate to go with fish, chicken or
even pork that has a fruit sauce or accompaniment.
One note of caution: it’s not a wine to buy and
forget about. Fully mature and delightful now, it
probably does not have the staying power to last
much past the end of summer.

Innocent Victoria, Australia,
. This
is what great Viognier is all about: flesh and
pleasure. There’s nothing innocent tasting here.
The nose is absolutely classic: a seamless blend of
orange blossom, apple and honey enticing enough in
its perfume to make you dizzy. Smooth and lush,
with a hint of sweetness and intense orange,
almond-like, mango flavor threads, this wine swept
the blind tasting going away. It’s amazing how
quickly the Aussies have mastered so many of these
interesting niche varietals. Produced at the
hitherto unknown to me Shinas Estate Wines in the
warm climate Mildura region of northwestern
Victoria, it is barrel aged in French cooperage but
the effect is New World all the way.