Breweries, Wine, and Cheese

The Grape Vine: Viognier; Overlooked, Underappreciated

By Gina Trippi

Viognier is one of the most aromatic, flavorful and versatile of all the French white grapes, but with only 300 acres planted in this varietal, viognier is also one of the most difficult to grow and most rare. It is, however, perfect for just about any dish you can put on the Thanksgiving table.

A Los Angeles restaurateur said this of viognier: “If a good German riesling is like an ice skater (fast, racy with a cutting edge) and chardonnay is like a middle- heavyweight boxer (punchy, solid, powerful) then viognier would have to be described as a female gymnast—beautiful and perfectly shaped, with muscle but superb agility and elegance.”

Typical characteristics of a well-made version are pungent aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, peaches, melon, lychees, orange peel and occasionally a touch of gardenia all wrapped in a round and lush texture. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, calls viognier “possibly the most drippingly sensual grape in the world” and “chardonnay’s ravishing, exotic sister.”

Viognier likes the sun and grows best where the temperature cools down at night. Cool weather is critical to maintaining the characteristic acidity of this varietal.

Viognier lends itself to different styles in terms of aroma, taste and body. Aging the wine with new oak creates a creamier taste and lower acidity with aromas of nutmeg and clove. Aging in stainless steel presents a viognier with more floral and tropical fruit flavors and bright acidity. A bottle lacking this acidity or one that is over-aged in oak can render viognier flat.

France’s Rhone Valley provides the perfect home to this site-specific varietal, but good, less concentrated bottles of viognier are coming out of Languedoc at more affordable prices. In this country, California, with more than 1,000 acres planted in viognier, is producing lovely wines. Virginia is also having great success with viognier. And the varietal is going sunny-side-up in Italy, Australia and Stellenbosch, South Africa.

When shopping for viognier, one clue to style is the alcohol by volume (ABV). The ABV of viognier swings from 13.5 percent to 15 percent. Wines with 14 percent ABV or less tend to be lighter and less full in body. Higher ABV gives you a richer, more fruit-forward style.

But enough already! Let’s eat. The basic rule for pairing food to viognier is to work in tandem with the floral notes and acidity. Avoid overly acidic foods. Heavier flavors call for a heavier viognier.

Getting Thanksgiving specific, let’s take it a course at a time to show the versatility of this varietal.

Appetizers with French cheeses such as brie would make a well-paired start. Salads and first courses with hard-to-please herbs such as lemongrass, marjoram, dill, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, turmeric, fennel, green garlic and coriander are happy with viognier.

Viognier works with traditional Thanksgiving vegetable dishes with pumpkin, squash, cranberries, bell pepper, cauliflower, apricots and even capers. And viognier is a good partner to a roasted turkey, chicken halibut, shrimp salmon or even teriyaki tofu.

Go wild! Viognier can handle it.

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Committed to the community, Metro Wines offers big shop selection with small shop service. Gina can be reached at gina@metrowinesasheville.com or 828.575.9525.

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