Thursday, October 8, 2009

Crossing into the subject of Viognier

The Association of Maryland Wineries has a page on its site called GrapeView, where various grapes grown around the state are identified and then put in the context of what they're like to grow and the type of juice they produce. This month's is Viognier, a wine you'll find on a sizeable number of wine lists throughout both states.

It seemed ironic to see Viognier [pronounced VEE-own-YAY] highlighted yesterday on the heels of a Wednesday conversation with marketing and PR director Chris Carroll of Crossing Vineyards & Winery in Washington Crossing, Pa., which will be blowing out six candles on its cake during a birthday party the weekend of Oct. 17-18. In the midst of talking about the wines they make, she said the one that has had the most surprising success has been their Viognier.

While their Merlot and Cabernet Franc have been recognized recently in competition, a conversation that I'll detail more in a future post, Carroll refered to their 2007 Viognier as "a sleeper."

"It wasn't as good initially as it turned out to be," she said by phone. "It was a little hot-tasting to me in the beginning and it settled down nicely. A very elegant wine. And, it's funny, because we're overlooking it and [statewide wine educator] Mark Chien came to our tasting room one day unannounced, which we always love him and welcome him, and he was tasting the wines, and he said 'You know, this Viognier is really good.' He said, 'You're charging 17 bucks. That's a real good value for that wine."

High praise from someone who knows his wines and isn't afraid to speak his mind, good or bad. Carroll said those comments affirmed their desire to nurture this grape and maintain it as part of their growing line.

"We were very pleased at [Mark's comments] because Viognier is a wine we're committed to making," she said. "and it's not an easy sale. Because many people in Pennsylvania do not know the varietal. They know Chardonnay and they know Sauvignon Blanc, and if they're not familiar with it, they often don't like it because it's tastes different from Chardonnary. And it's something you have to understand and know what to expect."

As for some background on the grape, here's the description that appears on the Maryland wines Web site:

It is with great patience and determination, Maryland vineyards have taken on the difficult task of cultivating the Viognier grape. Its name coming from a Latin phrase meaning “road to hell,” the Viognier is neither eager nor willing to be harvested to create wine. Taking on this task displays the passion and dedication of Maryland winemakers and grape growers.

“Growing grapes just because they are easy to grow would make Maryland wines extremely one dimensional and uninteresting,” states Mark Cascia, the owner of Cascia Vineyards in Stevensville.

The Viognier, a white grape, is thought to have been brought to the Rhone Valley in France by the Romans in the third century. It is extremely rare, making up only a small fraction of grapes grown in the world and was nearly extinct by the mid 20th century after two World Wars and the relentless onslaught of insects and disease.

By the end of the 20th century, however, the Viognier was planted in both North and South America and southern Australia. The growing season of this particular grape is longer than most, leaving a very small window to be harvested. If picked too early the rich taste cannot fully develop and if picked too late the grape becomes oily.

The strength and resilience of this grape is evident in its bold taste. Mark Emon, the owner of St. Michael’s Winery describes the Viognier as “complex and rich,” perfect for blending with other wines such as Syrah/Shiraz, which is done in Cote Rotie of France. Emon says that this wine is enjoyed by red wine drinkers, who usually prefer a heavier, fuller taste. St. Michael’s goes as far to list the Viognier on their “Red Lovers” list.

This wine is described by most as having a taste and aroma of citrus fruits. Viognier differs from other white wines because it contains an array of volatile aromatics, which give it its complex taste. It is paired well with seafood and chicken as well as spicy dishes such as Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

Though frustrating to growers, the final result of the Viognier is worth the trouble and long wait. This unique, versatile wine stands alone, unlike its family of white wines. It is this unwavering perseverance that sets Maryland Wine makers apart; there is no task too difficult or tedious when it comes to making a great wine.


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The Wine Novice said...

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