California Viognier 

Viognier has made something of a comeback in the past few years. Like so many wine grapes, this one originated in France, where it produces the fabled Condrieu of the Northern Rhone. But by the late 1960s, vine acreage had dropped to just 35 acres in all its homeland. That's not surprising—it's a difficult grape to grow, producing low yields under the best of circumstances. Still, it makes an undeniably enticing wine with rich floral aromas and flavors ranging from orange blossom to apricot. By the 1990s, its popularity began a resurgence in both France and abroad. Today, some 2000 acres have been planted in California alone. Its unctuous but typically dry style make it a great pick for the transition to autumn. Here are the panel's top viogniers:

2005 Bridlewood Viognier, Reserve, $16.99

From California's Central Coast, the Bridlewood offers classic viognier aromas, including peach blossom and honeysuckle, while notes of honeyed melon, apple, sweet pea and nutmeg contribute remarkable depth. It's rich, round and well-balanced in the mouth with ripe apricot playing against creamy citrus. Flavors of fig, herb and spice add interest to the smooth and silky finish. While viognier is usually best consumed young, an extra year of bottle age has taken nothing away from this very appealing wine.

2006 Montpellier Viognier, $6.99

This wine opens with bright apricot, crisp peach and honeysuckle aromas that play against a lightly herbal background. It's on the softer side of the flavor spectrum, but still with ample ripe apricot, Asian pear and Fuji apple fruit flavors with just the right hit of soft acidity. The clean, almost crisp citrus lingers nicely on the finish. $6.99 is an outstanding value for this well-balanced wine with impeccable structure.

2006 Peltier Station Viognier, $14.99

Lodi fruit results in an elegantly floral wine with rich aromas of creamy orange, apricot, spicy vanilla and a whiff of basil. It's smooth and silky on the palate, showing almost buttery fruit flavors (apricot, apple, papaya and orange) with a hint of honeycomb on the backside. The long, long finish is rich and lively with an up note of soft citrus, and rounds out a trio of very fine viogniers.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Spirit Distributing.

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