Thursday, 21 June 2012

Are You a Viognier Virgin?...

It can be argued that the rise of the popularity of Pinot Grigio came about as a reaction to the popularity of Chardonnay. Big oaky and butter was replaced with light, crisp, and refreshing whites; a perfect pair for the patio or with a light meal. Over the past year, however, we've seen a trend towards "the new white:" Viognier. While Pinot Grigio still remains the favourite white in our market, the popularity of Viognier is starting to take off.

If you are a Viognier virgin, the first thing to point out is probably how to pronounce it: vee-oh-nyeh. The traditional home of vee-oh-nyeh is the Rhone Valley of France, where it is often on its own in the north or blended with other varietals in the south (namely Roussane and Marsanne - good names for twin girls, by the way). One unique aspect of Viognier from the northern Rhone is that it is one of the very few white grapes to be blended with a red grape, in this case Syrah. As a result, Australian winemakers have become quite adept at offering delicious Shiraz-Viognier blends.

On its own, however, Viognier offers the weight and texture of a Chardonnay but a fresh and attractive palate like a Pinot Grigio. Typically, Viognier has a lilac-honeysuckle florality to it balanced by herbaceous undertones. Be forewarned, though, that as a warm climate white the alcohol levels of a Viognier tend to be around 13 to 14%!  Outside of France, Viognier grows well in areas that share a similar hot, dry climate as the Rhone Valley: Chile, Australia, California, and even here in British Columbia.

Of course, no article on this blog would be complete without a food recommendation. What inspired me to write this entry was my dinner the other night. I accidentally thawed turkey cutlets instead of beef, and feeling a bit middle-eastern I grilled the turkey in a Morrocan-inspired marinade (tumeric is the key, but don't forget your 5 c's: cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cilantro). The florality of my Chilean Viognier stood up well against the spicey complexity of the marinade, and the full-body/high-alcohol stood up to the intensity of flavour that comes with grilled meats.

In the end, I've had my share of Viognier before (sometimes on its own, sometimes blended with friends), but in this case, it was nice to loose my Viognier virginity once again. 

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