Viognier's star has been on the rise for the past decade or so. As with so many things wine, it all started in France, where the Viognier-based Condrieu is made. It's a distinctive bottling that is both costly and scarce, two elements sure to create demand. Rich color and flavor mark Viognier along with its typically honeyed aromas of ripe apricot and peach. Unlike most expensive white wines, Condrieu is best consumed young before the aromas and fresh flavors begin to fade, though with prices over $50 a bottle, few can afford to consume Condrieu at all. Thankfully there are alternatives. Viognier plantings have increased exponentially around the globe, and the resulting wines have proven worthy. Here are the panel's top picks from the world of Viognier.

2005 Domaine de Couron Viognier, $9.99

This wine comes from the same Rhône valley that produces Condrieu, though far enough to the south that the two locals have little more in common than the name. Still the Couron offers up honeyed apricot and pear aromas that are sweetly floral with subtle hints of cinnamon. Good structure and acid balance play against the fruity flavor profile in this soft and dry take on the grape offered at a bargain price.

2004 Dusted Valley Vintners Viognier, $18.99

Though it's a bit closed in at first, this wine opens up to reveal light honeysuckle and apricot with nuances of vanilla and nutmeg. It's a nicely textured, medium-bodied wine showing fresh apricot flavors backed by lightly honeyed vanilla and spice. Just the right hit of crisp acidity adds a balancing touch on the long smooth finish, which is a lovely effort from this Walla Walla winery.

2004 Miner Viognier, Simpson Vineyard, $21.50

Add California to the list of regions producing great Viognier. This wine from the Miner family is rich and racy with an unusual but appealing touch of grass mixed in with the green apple, apricot and marigold aromas. It has a silky texture in the mouth while offering apricot, melon and pear fruit flavors that are smooth and creamy. The finish is long and supple with a nice cleansing kiss of citrus.

This Week's Panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Fawn Goldy, Tastevin; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay

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