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Viognier

It’s French., It’s sexy. It’s a rising star. It’s Viognier.

Pronounced “vee own yay”. it’s a white varietal that has long been famous in Europe, especially for it’s use in Condreau, one of the more exotic French whites. I say “exotic” because it’s flavor profile is different from the typical Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio-based wines that Americans have become accustomed to. If there’s a white grape that most closely resembles it in terms of flavor notes, I’d say that it’s Riesling, although Riesling is sweeter than Viognier. Viognier is usually described as “perfumey”.

Viognier at its best produces a floral, rich-tasting wine. It’s not done as often in an oaky style because oak can deaden the wonderful floral, tropical fruit and spice notes, but there are Viogniers that feature oak flavors.

Due to the increasing US consumer’s expanding interest in wine and a desire to get away from the usual suspects, Viognier is on the upswing here in the States. This is a good thing since Viognier almost vanished from the wine world back in the 60s. Not only has it made a bit of a comeback in France, where only a relative handful of acres were devoted to Viognier plantings, it’s starting to make a foothold in California.

Like Pinot Noir, it’s a fussy and hard-to-grow grape. If proper care isn’t taken, it can produce a flat, somewhat flabby wine. But when it’s done correctly, it produces a full-bodied white with such floral notes as apple blossoms, violets, honey, honeysuckle, jasmine and roses, spicy notes such as mint, tobacco (!), anise and vanilla, and unctuous fruits like guava, earthy fruits like pears and apricots and tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango. As you can see, it shares some of the flavor characteristics of Riesling, but without the sweetness. There are two other things that it shares with Riesling and those are it’s luscious, oily mouthfeel and nose. When oak is employed, it’s often of the more “buttery” kind.  These characteristics can move a guest who likes the “fruitiness” of Riesling to the drier and more food-friendly Viognier.

So, what do you pair with Viognier?

They go well with salad-based dishes.  They are one of the few wines that pairs well with Oriental food, especially spicy Thai dishes, and they pair well with coconut spicy curries (I don’t find it as good of a match with Indian-style curries, but that’s a personal choice). They go well with fatty white fish like sea bass and halibut. And they are marvelous with fruits and fruit sauces.

We’re starting to see dessert wines made from Viognier. Since Viognier isn’t particularly susceptible to boytritis, growers usually rely on late-harvesting and manipulation in order to produce a sweet product.

Viognier doesn’t produce a wine conducive to aging. It should usually be drunk within 3 to 5 years because it tends to lose it’s “perfumey” character.

We’re increasingly seeing Viognier used in blending with Chardonnay because it brings a lot of freshness to the sometimes overbearing qualities of Chardonnay. It’s also used in exotic blends like Conundrum (I only suspect this since they don’t really list their varietals).

I’m not going to recommend any particular wines since it’s likely that if you’re even lucky enough to have Viognier on your wine list, you’ll only have one or two to choose from. The best thing to do is to buy a couple of them from your local wine store and get familiar with the flavor profiles. Or perhaps you could convince management to do a tasting.

It’s time for you to add Vigonier to your wine palette.

Image courtesy of http://wine.appellationamerica.com/

One response to “Viognier

  1. Nick Boodris September 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I drink wine but didn’t know about vigonier. Nice post.

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