Not very long ago, when wine lovers thought of Viognier ("Vee-ohn-yay") - if we thought of it at all - it was as a painfully rare grape variety, seen only occasionally in the offbeat, and expensive, Northern Rhone appellations Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet. (Less obviously, Viognier is a minor player in the blend of Cote-Rotie, a robust red wine that adds complexity and "lifted" flavor from a smallish dose of this aromatic white.)
During the '90s, though, Viognier gained increasing attention, perhaps as an alternative to Chardonnay, first in California and other New World regions, and eventually going back to France, where it started turning up in larger quantities, much of it aimed for U.S. mass-market export.
At its best, Viognier shows characteristic peach and apricot aromas with distinct floral overtones, a fresh and aromatic quality that most experts agree shows at its best when the wine is young. You'll find few authorities who recommend cellaring Viognier.
We're taking a closer look at this increasingly popular variety as this month's featured topic in our Wine Tasting 101 program on WineLoversPage.com. I've selected two good and reasonably affordable examples as "benchmarks," but if you can't find them or would prefer to try another, please feel free to participate with any Viognier from any world region.
One of the benchmark wines is the J et F Lurton 2002 "Les Salices" Viognier Vin de Pays d'Oc, ($13.50), which I reported here in the Dec. 8 Wine Advisor. For your reference, my tasting report is online at
The other is today's featured wine, a big, bold California Viognier from the Dunnigan Hills in California's Yolo County near Sacramento, not far from the Lodi and Clarksburg wine regions featured in Friday's Wine Advisor. My notes are below.
TRY A TASTE OF VIOGNIER
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R.H. Phillips 2001 "EXP" Dunnigan Hills Viognier ($9.99)
This clear, pale-gold wine shows flashes of bright gold against the light. Honey and flowers and tropical aromas of banana and coconut appear in a rich, exotic scent that leads into mouth-filling and ripe tropical-fruit flavors. A high alcoholic content (14 percent) supports the wine's full body, and snappy citric acidity helps build a firm structure uncommon in such a big California white. A far cry from the French model, but an impressive New World Viognier. (Jan. 23, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A robust wine that needs a robust food match, and found it in an experimental dish of chicken braised with green chiles and Japanese green sencha tea.
VALUE: Very good value, outpaces more sought-after and pricey California Viogniers.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drink over the next year or so; not for cellaring.
WEB LINK: R.H. Phillips has a page about its EXP line at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find prices and vendors for R.H. Phillips 2001 "EXP" Viognier on Wine-Searcher.com:
California Wine Club
Have you heard? The California Wine Club's International Selections is a HIT! This new club features a quarterly, two-bottle shipment of wine from the world's finest, small family-owned wineries. The wines are imported directly by The California Wine Club. No distributors and no middle-man, so club owners Bruce and Pam Boring can bring their members real savings on incredible wine not currently available in the U.S. Each shipment also includes their engaging newsletter, Passport. The cost averages between $50 and $75 per quarter, including all shipping, handling and import charges.
This month's shipment is from Austria and includes the 2001 Sepp Moser Blauer Zweigelt Reserve and the 2002 Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Wolfsgraben. Past International Selections have included a 2000 Margaux straight from Bordeaux and a Reserve Chianti from the heart of Tuscany. For these and other International Selections call 1-800-777-4443. Join the club, mention The 30 Second Wine Advisor and they'll send you a free copy of the book, The French Paradox and Drinking For Health!
Correction: Dates of Temecula Valley Winter Barrel Tasting
One reference in Wednesday's Wine Advisor listed an incorrect date for the upcoming Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association Winter Barrel Tasting weekend, which will be Feb. 7-8, 2004. Call 800-801-WINE for reservations or order online at
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:
Bucko's Wine Reports: 100 new wine releases
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Favorite wine producer?
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Introducing Burgundy: Rully (Jan. 23, 2004)
California off the beaten path (Jan. 21, 2004)
Pinot Grigio ... blindfolded (Jan. 19, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Rosemary-skewered scallops (Jan. 22, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Jan. 26, 2004