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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived May 13, 2013
Published April 23, 2013

White Rhone Varietals –
New Interest for Wine Lovers
Part 1 of a 3-Part Series (See Part 2)  (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill 

In my sixth year of formally evaluating Rhone white varietal wines, I now expect balanced wines with complexity and panache.  Grape growers and winemakers are getting together to discuss proper crop levels, and all parties seem to be approaching the wines with a plan.  Samples submitted for this year included Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, and other less well-known varieties…plus blends of two or more of these.  Some examples were welcomed that included Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other non-Rhone varietals.  The aroma profile ranges from intense peach and apricot to dusty mineral with pear, honey and citrus.  The palate impression is sometimes dry, with mineral, citrus and stone fruits, and sometimes sweet with apricot flavor and higher alcohol.

Accompanying these wine tastings were spicy Asian dishes.  We continue to be impressed with takeout choices from Tasty Thai, an unassuming location on Highway 99 in Edmonds, Washington.  I’m sure you have a similar place in your neighborhood.  From the menu we selected Phad Thai with Chicken, Green Curry with Chicken, Phad Bai Graplau with Pork, and Swimming Rama (chicken, spinach and peanut sauce).  All dishes were requested with a “2 star” spiciness. 

Quady North
2011 Viognier, Steel Ox
Applegate Valley

Herb Quady comes from a winemaking family and from a background of winemaking gained in California.  His parents Andrew and Laurel Quady have been the proprietors of Quady Winery in Central California since the 1970s, crafting Port, Essencia and Elysium – dessert wines that have set the standard for such styles for more than 30 years.  Herb Quady worked as a associate winemaker for Bonny Doon Vineyard before heading north in 2004 looking for “cooler margins” of grape growing in southern Oregon.  With help from his parents, he founded Quady North and planted vineyards in 2006 and 2007 to Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Viognier.  His superb Viognier, Steel Ox, offers enticing aromas of orchard blossom, mineral, honey, beeswax and peach, leading to ripe apricot and Asian pear flavors with a crisp finish of citrus and mineral. 

Quady North
2012 Pistoleta
Rogue Valley

This blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne sets a high standard for other Oregon winemakers crafting white Rhone varietals and blends.  The Viognier was grown at Quady’s estate Mae’s Vineyard; the Roussanne and Marsanne were sourced from Crater View Vineyard near Jacksonville.  Complex aromas of stone fruits, wet stone and floral perfume invite a sip, revealing juicy flavors of honey, peach and citrus with ample acidity for pairing with many food choices. 

King Estate
2011 Viognier, Folin Vineyard
Rogue Valley

Oregon’s largest winery, King Estate celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011 and continues to expand their wine offerings and create new opportunities for visiting wine tourists.  The winery has always employed a culinary staff and opened a restaurant in 2007 to accommodate the many eager visitors who come to taste wines and admire the 1,000+ acre estate and French style chateau winery.  A recent addition to the wine lineup is Viognier, crafted from grapes grown at the well-respected Folin Vineyard near Medford, Oregon.  Look for aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, tropical fruits, complex citrus, stone fruits and a nice lingering sur lie character from nine months in barrel. 

K Vintners
2011 Viognier
Columbia Valley

Charles Smith and his various wine enterprises and partnerships certainly qualify him as one of the Columbia Valley’s most innovative enological entrepreneurs.  This Viognier is now sold out at the winery, but may be available at your favorite wine shop or gourmet grocery.  It is well worth seeking out for its aromas and flavors of citrus, apricot, Asian pear and stony mineral with a finish of silky lanolin that complements sea foods and lighter meat dishes. 

Cowhorn Vineyard
2011 Viognier
Applegate Valley

Bill and Barbara Steele are both graduates from U.C. Berkeley with advanced degrees from the University of Colorado and later emphasis on gaining expertise on organic and biodynamic farming.  They came to Oregon’s Applegate Valley in 2005 founding Cowhorn Biodynamic Garden and Vineyard.  Crops are sold to local grocers and restaurants while the grapes make the wines of Cowhorn Vineyard winery.  The 2011 Viognier offers delicate aromas of peach, mineral and tropical fruits and rich flavors of citrus and wet stone – a tasty companion to savory fare.  

Schmidt Family Vineyards
2011 Viognier
Southern Oregon

Judy and Cal Schmidt purchased the old Bennett Ranch on the Kubli Bench in the Applegate Valley to fulfill Cal’s longing to farm the land.  The property was developed to include vineyards, herb and flower gardens and landscape features that make the site perfect for private events.  Schmidt Family Vineyards garnered a bevy of awards at last year’s Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival including a Silver Medal for this tasty Viognier.  Pair up your Asian cuisine with aromas and flavors of peach, dusty mineral, tropical fruits and floral notes. 

Ott & Murphy
2010 Viognier, Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Rattlesnake Hills

How many winemakers in the world have also planted their climbing boot on the summit of Mount Everest?  I would guess Eric Murphy of Ott & Murphy Wines is the only one with that distinction.  Eric and David Ott are the proprietors of Swede Hill Cellars on Whidbey Island which produces the Ott & Murphy wines including this captivating Viognier.  Look for delicate aromas of peach, mineral and honeysuckle leading to a rich palate of honey, orange blossom, citrus and wet stone. 

Agate Ridge Vineyard
2011 Viognier, Estate Bottled
Rogue Valley

This complex Viognier was fermented in stainless steel barrels after harvesting on November 3, 2011.  The extra hang time contributed to intense varietal character showing aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, white peach, honeysuckle and vanilla.  Very tasty with Asian cuisine and other light-but-spicy fare. 

Martinez & Martinez
2011 Viognier
Horse Heaven Hills

In 1981 Sergio and Kristy Martinez planted a small vineyard on Phinny Hill – a distinct region of Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  After years of selling the fruit to other wineries, the Martinez family formed their own winery in 2005.  The husband and wife team of Monica and Andrew Martinez manage the winery with Andrew at the winemaking helm and Monica overseeing all other winery activities.  Their value-priced Viognier offers bright aromas and flavors of peach and spicy pear with notes of mineral and floral perfume. [Tasting Room is located in the Winemaker Loft in Prosser, WA]

2011 Viognier, Gamache Vineyards
Columbia Valley

Carrie and Earl Sullivan named their Idaho winery after their two favorite places, the Teton mountain range and the Spanish word for beach (playa).  After an early lifetime of traveling the world and gaining education and experience, the couple landed in Boise and fell in love with wine.  Among their first winemaking efforts is a lighter Viognier featuring aromas of peach and mineral and flavors of tangerine, juicy apricot and orange blossom. [Tasting Room is one of those housed within 44th Street Wineries in Garden City, Idaho, near Boise.]

Griffin Creek
2009 Viognier
Rogue Valley

Griffin Creek wines are produced by Willamette Valley Vineyards near Salem from grapes grown in southern Oregon.  At first I was a bit concerned about the age of this white wine, but I needn’t have been.  When the cork was pulled and the wine was poured, it showed beautifully.  If a wine has the right balance and structure, it benefits from additional bottle age in gaining complexity and character.  Look for pretty aromas of honeysuckle, apricot and light toasty notes.  On the palate, flavors of apricot, vanilla and honey cream lead to a finish of spicy citrus. 

Burnt Bridge Cellars
2012 Viognier, Les Collines Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley

Winemaker David Smith reprises his successful 2011 Walla Walla Valley Viognier from the famed Les Collines Vineyard.  This Vancouver, Washington winery specializes in Rhone varietals and some other less common grapes from superb vineyard sources.  This wine opens with bright tropical fruit aromas with notes of pear and spice leading to flavors of citrus and white flowers with a crisp finish that begs for Northwest seafood. 

Coyote Canyon Winery
2012 Viognier
Horse Heaven Hills

Coyote Canyon Winery is a reflection of the Andrews family’s lifelong tradition of cultivating the land.  Located in the heart of the Horse Heaven Hills, Coyote Canyon Vineyard has been producing premium winegrapes since 1994.  This early release from the 2012 vintage highlights the bright character of Viognier showing spicy floral and pear aromas with notes of earthy mineral.  The palate is rich with ripe pear and tropical fruit flavors with a finish of light grapefruit in perfect balance. 

Silvan Ridge
2011 Viognier
Rogue Valley

Silvan Ridge Winery has been crafting fine wines near Eugene, Oregon for more than 32 years, going back to the early days of the Oregon wine industry.  The winery’s bucolic setting in the farmlands southwest of Eugene is complemented by visitor amenities for picnicking and enjoying a leisurely visit.  The 2011 Viognier is a recent release and will be well received as a food wine.  Aromas and flavors of stone fruits, mineral and orchard blossom finish with crisp citrus flavors.

Bergevin Lane Vineyards
2010 Calico White
Columbia Valley

Bergevin Lane’s Calico White blend is a triple threat.  Offering complex juicy flavors for sipping, it also has perfect balance and ample acidity to pair with your favorite spring and summer foods.  Add to those two attributes a very appealing price and you can’t miss.  This blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne offers fresh peach and mineral aromas with flavors of peachy citrus and spicy mineral on the finish. 

Wines from other areas:

Steele Wines
2011 Viognier
Lake County, CA

From Jed Steele’s start as a cellar worker in 1968 to getting his Masters from U.C. Davis to starting Edmeades Winery and opening Kendall Jackson Winery, he would have had a full career.  But in 1991 he started Steele Wines and brought another measure of winery success to undiscovered Lake County.  His Viognier from the 2011 vintage offers bright aromas and flavors of peach and apricot, highlighted by complex honeysuckle and orchard blossom notes and added complexity from sur lie aging. 

2011 Central Coast White

Hope Family Wines crafts this appealing blend of half Marsanne and half Viognier from grapes grown in California’s Central Coast AVA.  The wine was barrel fermented in 25% new oak and aged sur lie for nine months.  Look for ripe aromas of peach and honey with notes of vanilla and butter brioche.  The palate adds more butter complemented by flinty mineral and juicy peach and apricot flavors. 

Tablas Creek Vineyard
2011 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard is a result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands.  The partnership purchased land in the Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles in an area that had similarities to Chateauneuf du Pape.  Vineyards were planted to Rhone varieties, and 25 years later, superb examples of varietals and blends are the result.  Cotes de Tablas Blanc is a blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne – each variety bringing unique characteristics to the final wine.  Aromas of stone fruits and honey mingle with herbs and mineral, leading to a soft palate of peach and cream with finishing notes of citrus and wet stone. 

Luke Donald Collection
2010 Viognier
Santa Rita Hills, CA

English golf professional Luke Donald began his own wine label, the Luke Donald Collection, a few years ago in partnership with Terlato Wines International.  Originally featuring Napa Valley sourced Chardonnay and Cabernet, this tasty Viognier from Santa Barbara County was vinted from the 2010 vintage.  Crafted with part tank and part barrel fermentation, the wine offers aromas and flavors of jasmine and honeysuckle with citrus and stone fruits emerging on the palate.

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