This Wednesday [2/8] on #winechat at 9PM EST, Todd Godbout of WineCompass/VirginiaWineTV and I are hosting a discussion and wine tasting about Viognier – the northern Rhone’s prized white grape variety. Condrieu and the smaller sub-appellation of Chateau Grillet, both located in the northern Rhone, are the height of fashion for Viognier. Although its exact origin is unknown, historical records confirm that Viognier was grown in Condrieu as far back as the Roman Empire. Condrieu is made of 100% Viognier and is considered the overall benchmark for high-quality examples of this varietal. To the north of Condrieu, upwards of 20% of Viognier can be contained in the Syrah dominated wines of the Côte-Rôtie [appellation] to add complexity and heighten aromatics. Today, some New World producers have followed suit (namely Australian Shiraz producers), and have started adding a splash of Viognier to their red wines to enhance the aroma profile. While Viognier dominates to the north, it is also grown throughout the southern Rhône.
All this said, life for Viognier hasn’t always been peachy (no pun intended). During the 1960’s, Viognier flirted with near extinction, with approximately 30 acres planted all in the diminishing appellation of Condrieu. In the mid-to-late 1980’s, the grape reached California and found favor with growers and a new group called the Rhone Rangers. This period marked a turning point for Viognier. Not only did it make a comeback in France, but other states in the US and New World wine producers began to find some success with the variety.
Here in Virginia, Dennis Horton, proprietor of Horton Vineyards, introduced the important northern Rhone variety to the Commonwealth. Horton’s 1993 vintage, which I wish I could have tasted, garnered national attention and had a domino effect of sorts – influencing other local wine producers to jump on the Viognier bandwagon. Dennis Horton’s “firsts” didn’t stop with Viognier – he is also responsible for the introduction of Cabernet Franc, Norton, Petit Manseng, and more. Today, Viognier is the 5th most planted grape in Virginia and can be found in a number of tasting rooms in several different styles. In May of 2011, Viognier was designated the signature grape of Virginia by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office.
Besides my references above, nice examples of Viognier are being grown and produced in many areas of the United States including Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, Washington, and several other states. Other countries doing nice things with Viognier include Australia, Chile, Italy, and Argentina. In closing, one of the best qualities of well-done Viognier is its highly alluring and fragrant exotic aromas. On Wednesday [2/8] at 9PM EST, pour a glass of Viognier and sip along and tweet with us on Twitter using the #winechat hash-tag. To view the schedule for upcoming #winechat discussions check out @MariePayton "The Life of Vines" wine blog. Cheers!
Have a question about this post, friends? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and as always, Happy Sipping! Stay tuned ...more to come.
Here are some of the wines we will taste through:
2010 Keswick Vineyards Estate Reserve Viognier (Virginia)
2011 Keswick Vineyards Les Vents d'Anges Viognier (Virginia)
2010 Breaux Vineyards Viognier (Virginia)
2010 Paradise Springs Viognier (Virginia)
2010 Rappahannock Cellars Viognier (Virginia)
2010 Creekside Cellars Viognier (Colorado)
2010 McPherson Cellars Viognier (Texas)
2010 Brennan Vineyards Viognier (Texas)
2008 àMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier (Washington)
2010 HoneyMoon Viognier (California)
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