I love viognier, especially this time of year. Its dynamic aromatics and richly textured flavors make it a great choice during the cooler months of fall. And while it once languished in obscurity, it has gained in popularity over the last several years. Part of the problem was the spelling of the name, but it couldn't be easier to pronounce (vee-own-yay). The grape originated in France's Rhone Valley where it is responsible for one of the most distinctive (and expensive) white wines, Condrieu. All of the entries for this week's tasting came from new world plantings, and while not exactly cheap, they are within the budget of most wine lovers. If you are at all weary of chardonnay, try one of the panel's top viognier picks. I think you will be happily impressed.
2006 Bridlewood Viognier, Reserve, $18.99
The Santa Ynez winery, best known for their outstanding syrahs, specializes in Rhone varieties. Their viognier has a beautifully aromatic bouquet of honeysuckle, peach, papaya, lavender, lemon grass and buttered toast. Rich but supple in the mouth, bright citrus dominates up front but then folds into ripe mango and peach, finishing with sweet grapefruit flavors. With its light hit of acidity, this wine begs to be paired with rich seafoods like lobster or crab.
2007 Dusted Valley Viognier, $18.99
The richest of the panel's three picks comes from grapes grown in Washington's Yakima Valley. The unctuous aromas have the requisite honeysuckle and peach but with so much more: blood orange, candied apple, pawpaw and fresh herb. Creamy fruit flavors color the palate that's marked by fresh melon, sweet lemon and lime, spicy ripe apple, along with light bits of orange zest and caramel. This is a bigger-styled viognier but one that is not without charm and elegance, with a crisp finish that evens things out.
2007 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier, $13.99
This wine was a ringer. Even though it is 80 percent chenin blanc, I threw it in because, first, it is one of my favorite white wines, and second, it has always impressed me as varietally correct viognier, especially on the nose. The panel apparently agreed. It has aromas of honeysuckle, lime, crisp apple, Asian pear, melon and touches of grapefruit, basil and litchi. Green apple fruit dominates the palate along with apricot and pineapple. It's a bit crisper than most on the finish, but that just helps make it a more versatile food wine.
This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Michael Molinengo, Idaho Wine Merchant; Leslie Young Boise Co-op Wine Shop.