Erin Doman on October 30, 2015 0 Comments It is no secret that Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the champions of the white wine kingdom. However, new world winemakers are making a case for other alternatives. At the moment, these varieties have not surpassed their more established peers, but as new world wine makers continue to experiment with Viognier grapes, the white wine rebellion’s validity should not be ignored as a passing fad. Vintners are improving quality and design, which effectively keeps consumers on edge as the stability of the wine world is rocked with fresh products. Growing Regions in the Past In decades past, Viognier grapes were grown in France’s Rhone Valley in the Condreu and Chateau Grillet appellations. Recently, the variety almost faced extinction in the wake of the Phylloxera epidemic. In the mid 1980s, the Rhone Valley’s crops consisted of only 57 acres of the variety, while rules and guidelines officially allowed for up to 500 acres. Unfortunately, the terraces in the area served too difficult to maintain for vintage owners, who allowed the crop to wither in favor of other more popular grape varieties. Luckily, the fruit’s recent popularity drove winemakers towards the grape and now the Rhone region has over 400 acres dedicated to this specific grape in 2011. The Condrieu region is leading a revival of winemaking ambition in old names like Vernay. In fact, relative new comers Gangloff, Niero, Cuilleron and Villard are contributing more and more to the raising standards of flavor and overall quality in the grape variety. High-grade merchants such as Delas and Guigal have fostered exceptional bottling in the past few years and the Chateau Grillet is following Condrieu’s lead of development and quality improvement. Growing Regions Now Just ten years ago, the grape variety was praised as the replacement for Chardonnay. Now it grows all over the new and old world wine regions including: Australia South Africa Italy Spain Greece United States New Zealand Switzerland Chile Austria Notably, South African winemaker Charles Back was the first to clear the grape through the strict quarantine enforced in the area. California, Virginia and Washington State growers are making world-renowned vintages from the grape variety. In California, the Central Coast’s many microclimates lend themselves to wine exploration, leading to the boom in the grape’s growth in the region. There are over 100 producers making wine from this grape in the Central Coast, Santa Barbara and Sonoma. Comparable vintages can also be found in Washington State. In particular, Virginia has adopted the grape variety as the backbone of its wine scene. The grape’s naturally thick skin does well in the hot and humid environment and it usually ripens before the hurricane season, which has been perfect for many vintages. Though the state’s history with the grape variety extends back into colonial times, Virginia vineyards have made great strides with its winemaking in recent history. Structure This particular grape variety is known for its strong perfume and body. Sommeliers readily describe the resulting wines as medium to full bodied with a dry sugar level. The vintages typically have a light level of tannins with a medium-minus rating for acidity. Alcohol levels range from 12.5% to 14.5%, but higher concentrations are not uncommon. The finish is often described as medium and fruit forward. The grape is compatible with clay, gravel and limestone soils and favors moderately cool to warm and sunny environments. The most notable growing regions are: Northern Rhone, France Sothern Rhone, France Fredericksburg, Texas Eden Valley, Australia Central Coast, California Notes on Taste The grape’s various notes in wine vary depending on the region of growth. However, generally these wines have tropical fruit flavors like peach, apricot, apple and nectarine. White floral flavors including honey, orange blossom and jasmine are also common. Sommeliers often note a spice element reminiscent of traditional baking spices. The earthy and mineral notes will call to mind the limestone and gravel soil the grapes were grown in. Additional complexities include flavors of petunias, zinnias and geraniums. Overall, you will find these wines to be particularly flavorful and aromatic. In fact, heady is a common descriptor. Generally, these wines are young and bold, but some vintners are making progress in producing vintages with the ability to acquire some age. The growing process for this grape variety is delicate and picking grapes too early can lead to top-heavy vintages without the characteristically powerful aromas. Food Pairings These wines are considered very food friendly as they pair with a broad range of foods and flavors. Spicy Asian cuisine naturally compliments the vintages’ sweetness. The white wine works well with meats like: Heavy fishes Lobster Crab Shrimp Oysters Chicken Pork Veal Grilled, boiled, roasted or poached, these meats pair well with the wine. Even when cooked with butter or cream sauces, the dishes serve to bring out the already strong aromas and flavors of the white wine. Most fruit tastes and dishes will suit the vintages well, along with hard and soft cheeses. The wine may also pair with some vegetables and salad courses. Blending with Red Wines The age of winemaking experimentation has led to a new generation of blends and combinations. Frequently, the Viognier grape is blended with Syrah to produce a wonderfully rich and exotic wine. When combined with Cote Rotie red wines, the grape variety adds more floral, peach and spice flavors to the vintage. Additionally, it brings out sensuous textures similar to a lanolin coating. Winemakers produce either dry white wines or sweeter late harvest varieties with elements of botrytis. This grape variety comes from a largely uncertain past. In the aftermath of the Phylloxera epidemic, the grape was almost driven to extinction, but recent decades have adopted the variety as the new wine champion. New World winemakers enjoy working and experimenting with these vintages, which compliment the regions’ penchant for bold and memorable flavors. As vintners learn and vineyards age, these white wines gain greater complexity and finesse that can stand up to the Old World tradition. However, Old World vintners still play a part in this important area of wine culture. If you want quality vintages, you’ll be just as likely to find them in the United States as in France.