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Jenise

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Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Jenise » Sat Jul 01, 2006 1:10 pm

One. Out of 1600 bottles of wine, I have precisely one bottle of viognier. And I didn't have to look at the inventory to know this, I know this because I also know, without looking, that in the last ten years I have bought exactly one bottle of viognier and in my entire life, I have bought just two.

My first experience with Viognier was at a dinner thrown by Dick Arrowood in Alaska, so chardonnay was on the table, too. By comparison, I found the viognier to be too sweet and lacking acidity, and I didn't care for the heavily flowered Estee Lauder perfume nose much. I traded my glass away, and declared viognier "as good as dead" with me. In the years after, many tried to change my mind, certain that their pet viognier would do the trick--none succeeded. But then I tasted a Guigal La Dorianne. I adored it. It had acidity, and it orange-y golden and tasted of apricots. So impressed was I that I went and spent what was a king's ransom to me at the time of $44 for my own bottle of that same nectar from the same vintage at the same store that David's had come from a few weeks before. And mine was nothing even remotely like his. Pale in color, no apricots, no acid, and Estee was back. It smelled like a dead old lady. When I complained on line about it, sympathetic people told me, with a shrug and a sad shake of the head, that that's the way it can be with Guigal who bottles by the barrel.

That was the first bottle of viognier I ever bought and the last but for the one I have now, which is from a high end California producer and was on sale for half it's usual $50 price and which I purchased for much the same reason I once bought a pair of purple high heels--if I ever NEEDED a purple high heels, I'd never be able to find them again, so....

Of course, even though I don't buy them, I hang out with so many winos that viogniers do still darken my door from time to time. And recently three even impressed me: one from La Frenz in BC, one from another BC producer I didn't know and can't remember the name of, and another was from Renaissance Winery in the Amador/Sierra Foothills region of California. All had gobs of acidity and were very minerally. And none seemed to know Estee.

So here we are: Wine Focus is open and the topic of the month is my least favorite white wine grape in the world. But I'm game. I will buy a viognier. And I shall drink it. And I shall report.

But I dare not venture out on my own. It is a big and scary world, and there are many dark alleys full of heavily perfumed bogey wines who want to hurt me. So from those of you who appreciate this grape, I would be most obliged for recommendations of viogniers I can drink without holding my nose or thinking of my grandmother. I realize this probably means recommending an atypical viognier, even a bad viognier from the purist's standpoint, but there it is. It is all I will like.
Last edited by Jenise on Sat Jul 01, 2006 2:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Bill Buitenhuys

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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Bill Buitenhuys » Sat Jul 01, 2006 1:11 pm

I own one less bottle of viognier than Jenise so I'd love that advice as well.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Robin Garr » Sat Jul 01, 2006 1:21 pm

Jenise wrote:One. Out of 1600 bottles of wine, I have precisely one bottle of viognier.


Great essay! Thanks. :)

I wouldn't call my random, poorly stored stash of wines-in-waiting a "collection," but I have no Viognier in it, either. To be honest, I'm not a great fan of the stuff, although during the BuckoTour of the Rhone last year, I had enough good ones in the Northern Rhone to re-calibrate me a little. In general, though, I tend to think of it - and particularly the New World bottlings - to be just a little too "Technicolor" for my pleasure, sort of the Big Zin of whites, and I don't buy it a lot.

I'll make it unanimous, though, that I'm happy to have this month as a good excuse to make an excuse to try a little more of it, and see if I can overcome my prejudices.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Peter May » Sat Jul 01, 2006 2:01 pm

Hey Jenise -- you've got more Viognier than me :)

I wonder if the fact that most Viognier vineyards are very young, and that there is not much experience of viti and vinifying the variety accounts for so many disappointment - not to mention its promotion as the 'new Chardonnay'.

Butbthat was then. Maybe this WLDG tasting will uncover some new gems.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Randy Buckner » Sat Jul 01, 2006 2:36 pm

Well, it is obvious to me that you are all FOS. :wink: Viognier is a wonderful grape that makes outstanding wine in good hands. It is very similar to Pinot Noir -- it can be made in a highly extracted painted whore version, or into a delicate princess. I like somewhere in-between.

Viognier does very well in Washington State, where it obtains enough acidity to be interesting. Two producers that readily come to mind are Rulo and Whitman Cellars. Cougar Crest is good, but their last version had too much wood for me. A wine friend tells me Cayuse is a dandy -- no personal experience.

They are not made for cellaring -- drink while young and fresh. Matching with food is tough, but they go well with Chinese dishes that are not too sweet or very hot. They also pair well with white fish in a rich, cream sauce. Then again, they are just wonderful to sip with a creamy cheese on your deck as you contemplate life.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Bob Ross » Sat Jul 01, 2006 3:43 pm

Thanks for a great essay and introduction to the Viognier theme this month Jenise. Well written, and what I would have thought my own experience to have been.

Except for a number of wines with 2 to 10% Viognier blended in, especially from the Northern Rhone -- for aroma? -- I was sure both my tasting note collection and my cellar would have one less entry than your cellar has bottles of the stuff.

No bottles aboard here, but really some good experiences in the past:

2/5/00 1998 Vinum Cellars Viognier Vista Verde Vineyard San Benito County California. 14.1% alcohol; 300 cases. “Very pale straw, floral aromatics.” T3*. [Offline in Boston burb.]

8/18/00 1999 Breaux Vineyards Viognier Virginia. 13.8% alcohol. Delicate floral and grassy aromas and tastes; medium mouth feel; lingering finish. A very nice wine, especially since it had been open for two days. T3*. [By the glass at a pleasant restaurant in Virginia.]

11/11/00 1999 Rockhouse Vineyards Viognier Tryon North Carolina. Nothing home tonight but acid. T1*. [Big tasting at a convention in Cleveland.]

1/20/01 Tasting at Boston Wine Expo led by Oz Clarke. The program billed this tasting as an “exploration of local varietals cropping up well away from their traditional roots."

Flight 3:

1999 Guigal Condrieu Northern Rhône France. $35. Lovely floral perfumes, peaches and a spicy note on the palate, lots of excellent acidity, an attractive leanness, light oak, great smelling wine. T4*.

1999 Calera Viognier Mr. Haulan California California. $40. Rich, complex aromas; excellent fruit taste; light oak; slightly less aroma than the Condrieu, good finish. I would love to take either wine home. T4*.

[During another seminar, Clarke said that two makers of Viognier in the US were Pride in California and Horton in Virginia.]

Not much to go on, but it will be fun to explore this wine in more detail this month.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Bob Ross » Sat Jul 01, 2006 3:44 pm

Randy, how would viognier pair with sushi?
Last edited by Bob Ross on Sat Jul 01, 2006 3:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Bob Ross » Sat Jul 01, 2006 3:46 pm

Robin, I see that you were present in Boston at the tasting I mentioned -- in fact, I see I actually copied your note for the viognier on offer, and added my own rating.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by James Dietz » Sat Jul 01, 2006 3:48 pm

I have to agree with Randy on this one... I'm guessing the Viognier that Jenise owns is a Pride. For me, this is just more bad CA Chard. None of the fruit shines thru due to overuse of oak.

So, for the Viognier-impaired among you, and you seem to be many, and proud of it :lol: , here are some suggestions....

Alban
Cedarville
Melville
Miner
Novy
Pipestone
Yalumba Y Series


I could go on and on.. but if you can't find a Viognier you like from that group,then, like GWB and brocchli, maybe you just don't like Viognier, which is ok, since that keeps the demand down.. and all of the above (except the Alban), sell for $20 or less... so.. .more for those of us who lap this juice up.
Cheers, Jim
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Bob Ross » Sat Jul 01, 2006 4:04 pm

Oh, I've fibbed, and relearned something I had forgotten -- Condrieu is 100% Viognier. I've got several bottles of that, and some pretty positive tasting notes.

2/8/01 Guigal Condrieu La Doriane 1998 Northern Rhône France. Lovely, elegant, long, complex. My white wine of the night – not that there was much of a contest. 4*. [This was the star of a "Cult Wine Tasting" put on by Steve Plotnicki in honor of Robin -- and I remember this wine -- and the evening -- with great joy. In terms of food matching, my notes read "The grilled endive with apples and pancetta worked well with the Condrieu."]

1/19/01 1999 Guigal Condrieu Northern Rhône France. $35. Lovely floral perfumes, peaches and a spicy note on the palate, lots of excellent acidity, an attractive leanness, light oak, great smelling wine. T4*.

1/20/01 1998 E. Guigal Condrieu Northern Rhône France. Bright golden yellow; intense aroma of honeysuckle, orange peel and flowers; ripe and dense, beautiful balance. T4*. [Boston Expo floor tasting.]

3/10/01 1998 Delas Freres Clos Boucher Condrieu Northern Rhône France. Golden nectar with oranges, long and complex. T4*. [Great offline in Napa.]

Based on what folks have written I'd better mine my cellar and drink up the Condrieu. :-)

Regards, Bob
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Derivation of the name.

by Bob Ross » Sat Jul 01, 2006 5:43 pm

I've been doing a little research on the wine of the focus, and was surprised to learn that the name itself is shrouded in some mystery, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

"[< French Viognier (1845 or earlier); further origin uncertain and disputed (cf. -ier -IER).

Several suggestions have been made as to the origin of the French word, including derivation from Vienne, the name of a city in the northern Rhône region where the grape was traditionally grown, and Vugava, the name of an island off the Dalmation coast from which the vine is said to have been imported, although the former presents phonological problems and the latter appears not to be supported by historical evidence."


Is there any more specific learning on the subject?

Regards, Bob
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Jenise » Sat Jul 01, 2006 6:07 pm

James Dietz wrote:I have to agree with Randy on this one... I'm guessing the Viognier that Jenise owns is a Pride. For me, this is just more bad CA Chard. None of the fruit shines thru due to overuse of oak.

So, for the Viognier-impaired among you, and you seem to be many, and proud of it :lol: , here are some suggestions....

Alban
Cedarville
Melville
Miner
Novy
Pipestone
Yalumba Y Series


I could go on and on.. but if you can't find a Viognier you like from that group,then, like GWB and broccoli, maybe you just don't like Viognier, which is ok, since that keeps the demand down.. and all of the above (except the Alban), sell for $20 or less... so.. .more for those of us who lap this juice up.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Jenise » Sat Jul 01, 2006 6:12 pm

James Dietz wrote:So, for the Viognier-impaired among you, and you seem to be many, and proud of it :lol: , here are some suggestions....

Alban
Cedarville
Melville
Miner
Novy
Pipestone
Yalumba Y Series




Jim! Ah, you mention two more that I've actually liked. Cedarville was one, and in fact I was so surprised that I liked it that I bought a bottle. But when I got it home, I didn't like it as much as I had at the winery.
Another was Miner. You brought a bottle to dinner once upon a time which made an absolutely BRILLIANT match for a course of tomato bisque with gorgonzola--so striking that I vowed to buy viognier JUST to go with that soup even if I don't especially care for viognier on its own. And then forgot all about it. :oops:

The Yalumba is another I've had sometime in the past and been pleasantly surprised by.

Thanks for the list.
Last edited by Jenise on Sun Jul 02, 2006 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Derivation of the name.

by Robin Garr » Sat Jul 01, 2006 6:15 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Is there any more specific learning on the subject?


Bob, in her old <i>Vines, Grapes & Wines</i>, Jancis speaks of the possibility that it came over with the Romans from Dalmatia in the Third Century A.D., and that it's kin to a modern Croatian grape now called <i>Vugava</i>, which at least hints at a distant linguistic connection.

As much as I love the OED, I've always argued that standard dictionaries are weakest on jargon and trade language (including wine-industry terms) because, even though they're word experts, dictionary editors lack specialized knowledge in those narrower side alleys.
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Re: Derivation of the name.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sat Jul 01, 2006 7:57 pm

# of Viogniers in the cellar? Six at last count and three waiting at DeVines downtown!! I think I was one of the people who suggested Viognier for this month...didn`t I Bill?!!! Oh, hes still in the tub with his rubber duckies!!
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Re: Derivation of the name.

by Bob Ross » Sat Jul 01, 2006 9:03 pm

"dictionary editors lack specialized knowledge in those narrower side alleys."

Agree, Robin, but in this case the OED seems to be summarizing a debate of some sort dealing with word history. They seem to have a specific controversy in mind, but I haven't found it.

Incidentally, I like their first recorded usage entry: "1908 E. VIZETELLY & A. VIZETELLY Wines France 137 A distinguishing feature of Côte-Rôtie is that it is usually made with three parts of red grapes of the Serine variety and one of white grapes of the Vionnier species."

Couple of points:

1. I like the "Vionnier" spelling the Vizetelly's used --"Viognier" always looks wrong to me.

2. I wonder why the Vizetelly's used "Serine variety" versus "Vionnier species". Elegant variation? Or something more meaningful.

A website I really like which gives a good history on Viognier is at http://www.tablascreek.com/viognier.html

That Roman history lesson is particularly fascinating:

"The precise historical origin of the varietal is unknown, but many believe it dates back to the Roman Empire. According to one story, Emperor Probus imported Viognier into Condrieu from Dalmatia (in present-day Croatia) in 281 AD as a means of replacing the vineyards destroyed by Emperor Vespasian. Legend has it that Vespasian tore up the Condrieu vineyards after the locals revolted, a revolt which he attributed to drinking too much of the native wine."

Thanks so much for starting this topic: I'm having a ball learning about a wine new to me -- but then not as new as I would have thought first thing this morning.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jul 01, 2006 11:47 pm

I adore a good viognier. By far the best examples I've encountered so far have been AOC Condireu from the Northern Rhone. Georges Vernay is the "king of Condrieu"--the appellation's leading producer--and very fine examples he makes, too, especially his single-vineyard bottlings. BTW, he also makes very respectable Cote-Rotie. A good Condrieu is very perfumed and complex. It reminds me a lot of Arneis from Piedmont in Italy.

The California examples made from this variety have all been either thin and watery or like a Great Dane that slobbers all over you in its enthusiasm to please. I haven't had any Washington State examples.

The viognier vine is notorious as a minx of a variety that is the vine-grower's nightmare. Randall Grahm, who delights in planting and vinifying oddball grape varieties, made one vintage of viognier and gave up. When his viognier vines were old enough to start producing, trouble started from the get-go. At flowering, the fragrance was so great the the bees knocked most of the flowers off in their frenzy to get at the pollen and nectar, so there was a very meager fruit set. To say there was uneven ripening would be the understatement of the century--the grapes were mostly sunburned on one side and still green and hard on the other. So there was only a small harvest that produced a so-so wine. The next spring the vines all caught powdery mildew and died. Grahm didn't bother to replant.

This is apparently not an uncommon story. I read a quote from a grower in the Northern Rhone who said that growing viognier was more an act of charity than a commercial proposition.

-Paul W.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jul 01, 2006 11:48 pm

BTW, viognier is usually NOT a wine to keep for a long time in the cellar. It tends to be best when fresh and consumed in the first few years after the vintage.

-Paul W.
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Re: Let me tell you how many viogniers I own

by Bob Ross » Sun Jul 02, 2006 1:07 am

I've read two to four years, Paul. Sound right? Thanks. Bob
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Re: Derivation of the name.

by Otto » Sun Jul 02, 2006 8:01 am

Bob Ross wrote:I've been doing a little research on the wine of the focus, and was surprised to learn that the name itself is shrouded in some mystery, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

"[< French Viognier (1845 or earlier); further origin uncertain and disputed (cf. -ier -IER).

Several suggestions have been made as to the origin of the French word, including derivation from Vienne, the name of a city in the northern Rhône region where the grape was traditionally grown, and Vugava, the name of an island off the Dalmation coast from which the vine is said to have been imported, although the former presents phonological problems and the latter appears not to be supported by historical evidence."


Is there any more specific learning on the subject?

Regards, Bob


I've dabbled a bit in historical linguistics - but have concentrated mainly on Semitic languages, so anything I write here should be taken with great caution. But what I can say is the letters -gn- and an -nn- followed by a front vowel are just variants for writing a palatalized n, so the spelling variants Vionnier and Viognier I *think* doesn't reveal anything much about a possible history of the word. It only realises the palatalized /n/ in two different ways.

I think it coming from the name Vienne is very probable. Like the city Wien, Vienne seems to be based on the Celtic root *windo- meaning "white". It might be interesting to know if the Celtic presence which was so prevalent in so many parts of Europe was down there as well (probably was). But it also looks as if onto it has been added the latinate root vînum "wine". So basically what it looks like to my untrained eyes is that it is a conglomeration of the roots for white and wine.

-Otto
I don't drink wine because of religious reasons ... only for other reasons.
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Re: Derivation of the name.

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sun Jul 02, 2006 11:01 am

Great thread there Jenise. I am not a big Calif. viognier fan and they are hard to find here. I am looking at some blends from Mat Garretson however. I used to drink Phillips EXP but not available anymore. The Y is very good, an introduction to the varietal, and there is also an Eden Valley bottling.
I am a big supporter of S France and there are some nice wines for around $20 Cdn. Cazal Vial I have mentioned here a few times as well as Ch Pesquie.
Yup, have heard good things about La Frenz too. Sold out at my store!!
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Re: Viognier

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jul 02, 2006 11:14 am

I'm on the Jenise side of this argument. I have exactly zero Viognier in the cellar right now. I do tend to explore it a little bit as I really like aromatic whites, but Viognier is jst too blowsy for me. Even an Edmunds St. John was too fat for my taste. The most recent Melville version had 16.2% alcohol. I used it to sterilize surgical instruments.
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Re: Derivation of the name.

by Bob Ross » Sun Jul 02, 2006 12:17 pm

"the former [Vienne] presents phonological problems"

Thanks as always for the linguistic analysis, Otto.

I wish the OED would footnote their references to controversies that they mention in the word histories. I've sent them a request for a reference -- this may be an interesting sidelight on a wine that's pretty new to me.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Viognier

by Bob Ross » Sun Jul 02, 2006 12:18 pm

"too blowsy"

Great line, David, thanks. :-)
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