Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! Summer is the perfect opportunity to try something new and to celebrate the occasion, you should check out a white wine called Viognier (pronounced Vee-on-yay). Let’s take a look at this unique grape varietal!

The Viognier vine is rumored to have been transported to France from by the Croatian emperor Probus several centuries ago and was principally cultivated in the Rhone Valley. The best examples of Viognier come from the AOC of Condrieu, in the Northern area of the valley but over the past 20 years, the cultivation of this golden-hued varietal has spread to many regions of the world including Spain, South Africa, Australia, Chile, Germany, Western BC, USA and even Italy where small plots are planted in Piedmont.

Besides France, Viognier has found a second home in several states of the U.S like cooler areas of California, Oregon (where it is second only to Pinot Gris as the most-planted white grape), Washington, Virginia and even Texas.

During the growing season, grapes bud early and ripen mid-season which means that the grapes can ripen quickly and extensive heat can cause the grapes to become flabby with high sugars and low acidity. When grown properly, Viognier grapes make wine that is full-bodied with dry to off-dry sugar levels and a deep, golden color. Well-made Viognier is highly-aromatic with heady aromas of floral honeysuckle, apricots/stone fruits and ginger/gingerbread.

The addition of Viognier into red wines is sometimes practiced in the AOC regions of the Cotes-du-Rhone, Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages and Lirac but is not allowed in the Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph (which must be 100% Syrah) or Chateauneuf du-Pape AOCs. Viognier lends body, alcohol and fruity flavor to red blends and will also often be blended along with Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne or Marsanne in white wine blends.

Despite the fact that Viognier grapes easily develop high levels of sugar with lower acidity, the wines that are made from the juice tend to be balanced and elegant. As previously mentioned, grape-growers in hot regions like Australia must grow their crops cautiously and watch the heat of their vineyards lest the grapes overripen and become syrupy resulting in unbalanced wine. To combat the heat, many vineyards are planted at higher altitudes, near bodies of water like rivers, lakes or oceans and some vineyards will even use costly measures like giant blowers or fans to keep cool air circulating through the grapes. All of these practices hope to keep temperatures down to allow acidity in the grapes to develop.

You will find several price ranges for Viognier in Prince Albert, including the two I tasted: Cono Sur ($15) and C.C. Jentsch ($30) as well as the La Linda Sweet Viognier from Argentina ($18), Yalumba from Australia ($20) and the St. Laurus Condrieu ($70). There are other brands to find on the shelves besides these so you may have to hunt a while to discover them all.

I have tried several styles of Viognier from the light, simple examples to the more complex, creamy and perfumed versions and they have all offered an enjoyable tasting experience. The Cono Sur Viognier has always been one of my favorites due to the price and its excellent compatibility with foods like sushi or stir-fried vegetables. The full-bodied versions of Viognier are ideal for creamy dishes like curries or risottos but will pair amazingly well with soft, delicate cheese as well.

A quick tip for serving and enjoying your Viognier wine properly: serve the wine at the correct temperature. If the wine is heavy and full-bodied, it will benefit from warming up slightly while the lighter, crisper versions will be more enjoyable at a cooler temperature. To gauge if the wine is the right temperature, think about what you are tasting. Is the wine neutral and lacking specific flavors? It may be too chilled. If the wine is too thick and syrupy or flat tasting, you might be serving it too warm. There’s nothing wrong with trying a small sip or two to decide if the wine is ready to be served. Here are my wine picks of the week!

Cono Sur Bicicleta Reserva Viognier 2021: (Wine of Chile). Off-dry white, medium gold color. The medium-plus intense nose is fruity and delicious with honeyed fruit (apples, apricot), ginger and sweet flowers (fruit blossom and honeysuckle). This Chilean has a quick splash of simple apples and apricots on the mid-palate with a gentle bite of floral spice and a medium-length finish. Medium-plus body with low but balanced acidity. This wine has a bit of weight to it but the fruity flavors and touch of floral character give it some lift. The finish carries a bit of spice bite and a bit of bitterness is noticeable. Medium intensity and concentration make this a simple, but enjoyable sipping wine perfect for pairing with sushi. Great value! Good! $15, 13.5% ABV

C.C. Jentsch Small Lot Series Viognier 2014: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry white, pale golden color. The bouquet is simple but focused with medium-plus intense scents of apricot, peach, honey, light florals (honeysuckle/jasmine) and a slightly reduced character. The bright, fruity character of this Viognier resonates immediately on the palate with a beautiful concentration of ripe apricot, apple blossoms and honeysuckle. The wine is silky with an oily texture (medium-plus body) and a tingle is left on the tastebuds as the flavors move from the fruity mid-palate to a long finish, complete with floral spice and honeyed fruit. A tight line of medium-minus acidity runs through the wine and keeps the flavors clean and compact. Excellent focus and defined flavors make this a well-balanced and delicious (if not uncomplicated) Viognier. Pair with creamy dishes like chicken korma or fish like monkfish. Very good! $30, 14% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!