Viognier (vee-ohn-YAY) has historically been a fairly rare grape, grown primarily in the Rhone Valley region of France and most famous for a wine called Condrieu (kohn-dree-yuh ). Even as recently as 20 years ago, no more than 100 acres of Viognier vineyards were planted worldwide — the bulk of it still in the Rhone with some coming out of the Languedoc-Roussillon region (also in France) — mostly due to its tiny yields, inconsistent ripening, and small demand.
However, in the early 1990s, Joseph Phelps began growing Viognier, Syrah, and other Rhone varietals in his California vineyards, sparking a movement dubbed the “Rhone Rangers“, where several other winegrowers followed in the experiment of planting known-as-Rhone vines in left coast soil. The results have been mixed, though it’s still quite early to be critical — considering that the Rhone Valley has had a few hundred years’ head start. Every once in a while an outstanding example comes out this laboratory, such as this Viognier from Francis Ford Coppola.
The nose exudes a perfumey, ripe, spicy fruit aroma that immediately screams Viognier.
True Viogner from the Rhone has a very distinct aroma and flavor that many either love or hate — and this bottle from the Russian River Valley of California captures that distinctiveness, resembling some of the best examples from the Rhone.
The Coppola winemaker allowed the Viognier to express itself in all its uniqueness, fermenting it in neutral stainless steel. The result is a very clean, pure expression of the varietal, sans the oily texture that sometimes carries the wine. Rather, the texture is smooth, closer to creamy.
In the mouth, this wine shows typical Viognier character: spicy green melon, Anjou pear, a spicy element that might be described as ginger snap (remember those ginger snap, windmill-shaped cookies your grandma fed you?) or cardamom, with hints of peach, lime and allspice. The acidity is remarkably high for a Viognier, which places it at medium to medium-high on the scale (Viognier often tends to be fatter) and thus positions it to be an excellent match for food. The finish is also remarkable for its length and fulfilling fruit. This is a very classy, polished wine that captures true, distinct Viognier character and then some, offering ripe, rich fruit complexity while also offering mouthwatering acidity and remaining low in alcohol (another Viognier tendency; most Viogner, especially from the Rhone, can be a little on the hot side).
Match it with roast chicken, roast ham (pink or fresh), pork chops, Thai food (lemongrass!), mild vegetarian hors d’oeuvres, and Indian vegetarian dishes. It’s also enjoyable on its own. However you drink it, just be sure you DO NOT OVERCHILL it. This wine really shows its complexity and best flavors at a few degrees warmer than other white wines; if it’s only a few degrees to cold, you might miss out on many of the details and nuances that make this wine so special.
By the way, don’t look for this bottle in your local wine shop — it’s probably not there. This wine is most easily found online — through the Coppola website — or from the winery in Sonoma (if you happen to live or travel nearby). However, it is worth the effort.
a-9 t-9 b-9 fc-7 v-7 ~ 91 Points