A few years back, it was a difficult task to put together a tasting of six different viogniers. But the grape has caught on since then, with almost two dozen different wines vying for top honors this time around. It's not surprising--viognier has a definite appeal, offering beautiful floral aromas and a certain richness on the palate that works especially well as a cool-weather white. Its popularity has spread around the globe, and our top three wines all come from different regions. Here are the panel's picks:

2009 Calera Viognier, $16.99

Barrel fermentation has contributed a definite depth to this California entry, while full malolactic fermentation (where the stronger malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid) adds a pleasant creaminess. Honeysuckle and peach dominate the nose, backed by rose petal, tangerine and spice. Impeccably well balanced on the palate, the ripe stone fruit plays against bright citrus. Touches of orange zest and jasmine mark the finish.

2009 Domaine de Couron Viognier, $10.99

Cold fermentation in stainless steel really brings out the bright fruit in this wine from France's Rhone Valley. It opens with enticing gooseberry and citrus aromas colored by nuances of honeyed melon, pear, herb and cinnamon. Balance, again, is the key to this wine's appeal with its smooth mango, papaya, peach and pear flavors giving way to soft citrus on the finish. It's an appealing bargain.

2008 Kestral Viognier $18.99

This wine from Washington is on the lighter side of the viognier spectrum with an emphasis on freshness. The aromas of honeyed tropical fruit, gooseberry and lemongrass have a lively crispness to them. In the mouth, ripe melon flavors fill the palate, balanced by racy citrus. A nice touch of basil and lemon zest color the lingering finish.

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