When the talk gets around to Rhône varieties in the New World, there are few people in California as important as Randall Graham and his Bonny Doon winery. Ever the innovator, Graham has regained the focus that drove his early success with Bonny Doon and is once again producing compelling if occasionally off-beat wines.
Who could question his suggestion of Viognier Port for example. If that doesn’t rock your boat, there is always the classic Viognier, a lovely Grenache Blanc and of course Le Cigare Blanc. To me, the Le Cigare Volant, Randall’s ordinal take on the wines of the Southern Rhône, was a watershed moment in America’s pursuit of the Rhône varietals. The same could be said for this classic blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne which emulates a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc right down to the wine’s quince and pollen characteristics.
California was the frontier for Rhône varieties two decades ago but that title has certainly been usurped by the great state of Virginia which is making a run for the title of Viognier Capital of the New World! With so many wineries opening up over a short period of time and much of their efforts being focused on Viognier, it’s easy to find both excellent and mediocre examples of the varietal. Time will distinguish those producers who really excel with the variety. Early returns indicate that Veritas is and will remain one of the leaders in this field.
Veritas produces a complete line of wines: white, red, dessert, sparkling and, in keeping with the region’s identity, even one from a hybrid grape. If you had to find the one Veritas wine that people are most familiar with, I’m guessing it has to be Viognier. Fresh, fruity and tropical, it embodies all the potential of Viognier in Virginia.
While we are in Virginia, and you might very well be surprised that we are still in Virginia, it is worth noting that Viognier is now the official white wine grape of the state. That is the level of commitment the entire state is showing to Viognier.
With all that potential and devotion to Viognier, it would be a mistake not to point out at least one additional producer of note. I first became aware of Horton Vineyards due to their Norton wine. Horton Norton, if only Dr. Seuss made wine!
One of the reasons I was tasting the Horton Norton was because the Horton Viognier had bested some of the world’s top Viogniers just a few years earlier. Not that these sorts of taste-offs mean that much, but this one did put Virginia Viognier on my radar and established the bone fides of the association between Virginia and Viognier. Horton continues to put out a fine Viognier, notably perfumed with jasmine and orange blossoms and worthy of representing this fine, emerging region.
Photo courtesy Southern Foodways Alliance via Flickr/CC
I really do need to get out more. For better or for worse, when I think of Australia and their best wines I often think of d’Arenberg. Of course, a long history of producing benchmark wines tends to do that to you. With 100 years under their belt, d’Arenberg has sort of established themselves. While they continue to innovate, their wines live on as a testament to a legacy of producing fine, unique and affordable wines. The fact that White Rhône wines figure so prominently in their line-up shows a company not afraid to go their own way.
Viognier, Roussanne and a Viognier Marsanne blend make up this part of d’Arenberg’s portfolio, along with a Viognier/Roussanne sticky. Each of these wines is bright and perfumed, produced in a style that preserves each variety’s unique character. It’s amazing to taste the wines with their brethren from around the globe and note their differences and similarities. The more I taste, the more I continue to be impressed by d’Arenberg’s
Honorable Mention: Pine Ridge
And now for a tough call. Pine Ridge might be responsible for more people’s introductions to Viognier than any single other wine, if only 10% at a time. You see, for years Pine Ridge has been producing this amazing wine, for very little money.
Today’s blend of 79% Chenin Blanc and 21% Viognier seems to be higher than I recall in the past, but pay no mind to the vintage vagaries, year in and year out this is one of the greatest spring and summer wines on the market. It’s a lovely wine, bright, juicy, fruity yet crisp, and as I mentioned before, it has served as an introduction to Viognier, obtuse though it may be, to more people than any other wine that I’m aware of. That’s good enough for a very honorable mention!
Want to Learn More?
Check out some extensive tasting notes on all of the White Rhône varieties