Viognier



Interesting, versatile and charming white wines today, appropriate for summer pleasure (though they don’t have to be limited to warm-weather usage), and each one utilizing different grapes, since variety, as someone said, is the spice of life. Actually, that someone was English poet and hymn-writer William Cowper (1731-1800), and the lines are from his book-length poem The Task of 1785, more properly: “Variety’s the very spice of life,/That gives it all its flavor.” Well-said, Bill. Anyway, we touch Germany, Italy and California in this post, while the prices range comfortably from $10 to $20. All these wines were samples for review. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I eschew most technical, historical, geographical and philosophical info or data to bring you incisive and penetrating notices of the wines. Enjoy!
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Bex Riesling 2010, Nahe, Germany. 9.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; green apple, lychee and pear; slightly sweet initially but hints of melon and lemon curd are truncated by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint elements so dry they attain aching austerity; for riesling lovers devoted to intense minerality. Does not quite achieve the dimension and appeal of the 2009 version. Very Good. About $10, still Good Value for the style.
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Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2010, Veneto, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% garganega grapes. Pale straw color; roasted lemon and spiced pears, whiffs of green plums and grapefruit, hints of almonds and orange blossoms, wild thyme; sense of earthiness, lots of limestone; crisp acidity and liveliness; close to lush texture but borne by a distinct quality of spareness and reticence. Even better than the 2009 rendition, which I made a Wine of the Week in April 2011. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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McManis Family Vineyards Viognier 2011, California. 13.5% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Pale straw-gold color with a faint yellow blush; nicely balanced among floral, spicy and fruit elements, with hints of thyme and sage; lemons and pears, touches of peaches, tangerines and grapefruit; bit of lanolin and camellia; slightly powdery texture yet crisp with acidity, almost taut; quite dry, slightly bitter finish. Very Good+. About $12, representing Good Value.
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Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2010, Toscana Bianco, Italy. 12% alc. Trebbiano, malvasia Toscana, chardonnay. Pale straw color; fragrant and floral, roasted lemons, yellow plums, hints of almonds, almond blossom; very crisp and lively, quite spicy, lots of limestone minerality, yet sleek and suave, with a seductive soft texture though it goes all dry and austere on the finish; begs for fresh shellfish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Beni di Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei 2011, Moscato d’Asti, Italy. 5.5% alc. Pale gold color; pure apple and apple blossom, pear and tangerine, orange zest and lime peel; gently effervescent; ripe and modestly sweet entry followed by pert acidity and a dry limestone-infused finish. Quite charming and goes down oh so easily. Very Good+. About $17.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Sonoma County, California. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; beautifully fresh and appealing; slightly grassy and herbal with scents of lemon, lemon balm and lightly macerated pears, with celery seed, lemongrass and tarragon and a lovely touch of lilac; tart and crisp, jazzed by snappy acidity and bright, clean limestone and flint running through citrus and stone-fruit flavors; lean and sinewy, spare and bracing. Excellent and one of the best at the price, about $20.
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Pine Ridge Winery, founded in the Napa Valley in 1978 by a partnership headed by Gary Andrus, made its reputation on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but the smartest business move the producer ever made was in creating a chenin blanc-viognier blend and selling it cheap. This justly popular wine — if I owned a restaurant I would sell it by bottle and glass — hits all the points the American palate desires in an inexpensive white wine: it’s tasty, nicely complex for the price and a trifle sweet.

The Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2011 is a blend of 79 percent chenin blanc and 21 percent viognier. The wine is clean and fresh, with beguiling aromas of ripe pears (and pears and more pears), roasted lemons and a hint of peaches, twined with touches of mango, lemongrass, jasmine and green tea, for a flirtatious note of the exotic. Pear, peach and citrus flavors are spicy enough (and slightly herbal) that the wine is almost savory, not to mention crisp and lively with bright acidity that cuts through a lovely, moderately lush texture. That trifle of sweetness emerges mainly in the finish, but makes the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2011 a good match with slightly spicy cuisine. It’s versatile too; we drank it one night with whole-wheat linguine with walnuts, orange zest and red chilies and the next with cod and chorizo stew. 12 percent alcohol. Michael Beaulac is Pine Ridge’s general manager and winemaker. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Very Good+. About $14, representing Fantastic Value.

A sample for review.

The Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010, Paso Robles, isn’t just a well-made rendition of a southern Rhone Valley white wine; it’s better than about 75 percent of the examples from the region. A blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes, 33 percent viognier, 10 percent roussanne and 7 percent marsanne and made all in stainless steel, Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010 is a pale straw-gold color; provocative aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel, dried thyme, ginger and quince are highlighted by a winsome note of honeysuckle. Flavors of lemon and spiced baked grapefruit generously open to hints of crystallized pear and Bit o’ Honey, though the wine is as bone dry as bright acidity and a burgeoning limestone element can make it; the complete effect is spare, supple, almost sinewy and yet juicy and savory, sleek and stylish. I bought this bottle at a local store, and we drank the wine last night with Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas, a fantastic match; it would be great for serving as an aperitif through the Spring and Summer and with grilled fish or chicken. 13.5 percent alcohol. Tablas Creek is a collaboration between the Perrin family of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, owner of their American importer Vineyard Brands. Executive winemaker is Neil Collins; winemaker is Ryan Hebert. Excellent. About $20 (though I paid $22).

Clayhouse Vineyard, owned by Middleton Family Wines, specializes in Rhone-style wines at several grades of production, the Estate level at the top, next the Vineyard level, which adds zinfandel and sauvignon blanc, and, third, the Adobe label, for inexpensive blended red and white wines. The wines offered under the Estate label are produced in very limited quantities, unfortunately, but they are impeccably made and definitely Worth a Search. The two wines under consideration today evoke the plenitude and generosity of the southern Rhone Valley, and they’re versatile wines, suitable for a variety of foods and cuisines. Winemaker is Blake Kuhn.

These were samples for review.
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The Clayhouse Estate Cuvée Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, is a blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes and 50 percent viognier, made all in stainless steel. The wine is sleek, spare, elegant, a lovely melange of pear and roasted lemon with a touch of peach, a bit of dried thyme and, after a few minutes in the glass, hints of lemongrass and crystallized ginger; there’s a brisk, slightly astringent floral element in the bouquet, like some shy little white flower that does not give up its perfume easily. The texture is lithe, winsome, crisp, and the finish brings in spicy qualities and a penetrating limestone motif. 13 percent alcohol. Very attractive. Drink through 2013. Production was 142 six-pack cases. Very Good+. About $23. We consumed this wine with a simple dinner of seared wild sockeye salmon, steamed bok choy and grated sweet potatoes sauteed with shallots.
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As might be expected, the Clayhouse Grenache Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, packs a little more heft and displays more presence than its cousin mentioned above. Not that the wine is ponderous or obvious, far from it; it’s still deftly balanced, almost balletic in its lift and appeal, but the grenache blanc grape simply embodies rather more character than viognier, so by itself, and aided by brief aging in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels, it provides more depth and texture. That texture is transparent, supple, almost sinewy, yet poised between moderate lushness and crisp, resonant acidity. This is all spiced and softly poached stone fruit — and an intriguing high bell-tone of red currant — given the rigor of scintillating shale and limestone; there are back-notes of dusty thyme and sage and an earthy aspect that does not keep the wine earthbound. Quite a performance. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Production was 140 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $23. We had this with one of our favorite dishes from November through March, the cod and chorizo stew with leeks and potatoes.
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