When wine expert Jancis Robinson wrote “Vines, Grapes & Wines,” which was published in 1986, she was able to identify records of only 80 acres of viognier planted in the entire world. Almost all of this varietal was planted in the Condrieu appellation on the right bank of France’s northern Rhône Valley.
While it might have seemed that the grape was headed for extinction, its popularity has increased to the point that it’s now grown in many regions throughout the world. In fact, viognier is now the most planted white Rhône variety in the United States, according to California’s Tablas Creek Vineyard.
Better quality wines made from the viognier grape are often medium- to full-bodied, lush whites with a creamy mouthfeel. Pronounced vee-oh-NYAY, the grape is known for producing dry wines with powerful and complex floral aromas and rich flavors of apricots, peaches and pears along with some nuttiness and spice.
Viognier can be a good alternative to chardonnays and are excellent accompaniments to seafood, chicken and pasta dishes with rich cream sauces. Because these are flavorful wines, they will also work with some coconut milk-based curry dishes.
In a sign of the growing popularity of this grape, the Wine Merchant, at 20 South Hanley Road, is selling a viognier from Defiance-based Chandler Hill Vineyards. The wine, which is priced at $14.99, is made from grapes grown in the state of Washington. Founded in 2008, Chandler Hill owns vineyards in California and Washington in addition to those in Missouri.
However, the label provides little hint that Chandler Hill produces the wine. The Defiance winery is illustrated on the front label, but the image looks pretty generic and you may not recognize it. The label only says Autumn Selection Viognier 2011 Columbia Valley, Washington. But if you turn to the back, you’ll find that the wine was vinted and bottled by Chandler Hill Vineyards.
The Wine Merchant is the only retailer besides Chandler Hill that sells this wine. It’s available on Chandler Hill’s website for $24.65.
I thought it would be interesting to compare it with a French viognier, so while I was at the Wine Merchant, I purchased the 2012 Domaine des Cantarelles Viognier Vin de Pays du Gard for $13.99. The wine is imported by Robert Karcher Selections.
The Cantarelles estate, which is owned by Jean-François Fayel, is in Costières de Nîmes, southeast of the city of Nîmes. This area is considered part of the Rhône Valley, unlike its neighbor, the Languedoc.
These are both medium-bodied aromatic whites, tasting of stone fruits with some spice and a thick mouthfeel. Both have been aged in oak for a short time, but the flavor is subtle. They are also both somewhat high in alcohol. The Chandler Hill is 14.7 percent while the Domaine des Cantarelles is 14 percent.
Although the Chandler Hill is higher in alcohol, it’s a little lighter in body and paler in color. It is more “New World” style, with a lot of peach and apricot fruitiness. However, it ends with a tart, citrusy finish.
The Cantarelles is made in a more restrained “Old World” style. This is an elegant, rich viognier that has juicy tangerine notes that I found quite delicious.