I’ve always had a soft spot for Viognier, and judging from the popularity the aromatic grape is enjoying today, I’m far from the only one.
Viognier was once a common crop in Northern Rhône, but by the mid-1960s, because of its low yields and susceptibility to powdery mildew, it had almost disappeared. Thankfully, since the late 1990s Viognier has experienced a resurgence – and is now widely planted in the South of France and California, with new vineyards popping up in lands as distant as Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
What’s most striking about Viognier are its luscious, intense, fruity, floral aromas and flavors. It was precisely those aromas that I wanted to pair with my equally aromatic mâche and Asian pear salad.
Westerly Vineyards, Viognier 2006
Producer: Westerly Vineyards
Region: Santa Ynez Valley, California
Grape: 100% Viognier
Westerly Vineyards is located in Happy Canyon, on the eastern perimeter of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. “The ancient, stony soils, warm afternoons and reliable Pacific breezes are particularly suited to classic Bordeaux and Rhône varietals,” says the winery’s website. It takes only one sip of their 2006 Viognier to realize that owners Neil and Francine Afromsky have indeed found a little spot of wine-growing heaven.
The aromas emanating from the glass were signature Viognier: summer stone fruits and delightful floral notes, reminiscent of honeysuckle. And these aromas were fully delivered at fist sip – luscious peach, passionfruit, orange blossom and honeysuckle instantly soaked every taste bud. In the finish, a hint of anise sprang up and contributed wonderfully to the exotic flavors of the wine.
But luscious flavors were not the only seductive elements of this wine. It had a creamy, round texture and a balanced acidity. And even though I expected its high alcohol to distract a bit from its essence, this Viognier was well structured and altogether delicious.
Served with the mâche and Asian pear salad, the wine delivered yet again, and fully. Its floral aromas complemented and even accentuated the fragrant Asian pears, while its round mouth-feel and creamy texture balanced the slightly pungent vinaigrette and toasty hazelnuts. The distinctive flavors and nuance of this Viognier lingered on until the next mouthful of the salad.