By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
The French did their job of cultivating a half dozen white varieties in the Rhone region over the past two-thousand years, organizing the distribution of vineyards throughout the region, and classifying them within the AOC laws. Being French, they labeled the wines by producer, region and vineyard, not varietal type.
American producers have done their job of bringing in the vines and finding suitable growing sites to nurture these varieties to produce high-quality fruit. They have experimented with vintage variations, fermentation techniques and oak-aging strategies. The resulting high-quality wines have been tasted with foods and presented to you in three articles over the last month.
It is now up to you, the consumer, to prepare or procure some light, continental meals or light, spicy Asian meals and enjoy your selected wine choices. Wineries will produce the style of wines that sell and your purchase helps make that determination.
Here is our final group of recommended white Rhone varietals:
Jon Meuret’s wines at his Maison Bleue winery have set a standard (along with several other notable wineries) for high quality, authentic Rhone-style wines. As mentioned last week, his wines have great appeal for those who have an appreciation for European selections. Notre Vie (our life) Viognier is in the rich and luscious style that drives many wine lovers to seek out the varietal. Look for ripe apricot and honey aromas with floral perfume and mineral, leading to rich flavors of tropical and stone fruits with excellent balance on the palate.
Dobbes Family Estate
Joe Dobbes has mastered the art of working with fruit grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the warm Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon. While he is known broadly for his Pinot Noirs, his other varietals are equally superb and worth seeking out. Fruit from the Sundown Vineyard (2,000 feet elevation) was sourced to create this Viognier. Classic aromas and flavors of wet stone, white flowers, melon, peach and honey define this bottling with great structure on the palate to pair with food.
Cristom planted 1.25 acres in Viognier at the winery in 1993 based on the success that winemaker Steve Doerner had with the varietal in California. There is very little Viognier planted in the Willamette Valley and Cristom’s 20-year-old vines are probably the oldest. The wine is barrel fermented in a combination of neutral oak barrels and stainless steel barrels with 11 months of sur lie aging. Subtle aromas of wet stone and earthy mineral mingle with notes of orchard blossom and white peach. The palate offers a rich texture with complex stone fruits, honeysuckle and tropical fruit flavors.
As Abacela winery in Roseburg celebrates its 20th anniversary, they continue to offer an impressive array of wines from Spanish, Italian and French varietals. Albariño and Tempranillo are shown alongside Dolcetto, Grenache and Merlot. Their estate Viognier from the 2012 vintage was just released and offers aromas of fresh apple and pear with the palate adding flavors of tropical fruits, honey and mineral – a great food wine for many lighter international cuisines.
Del Rio Vineyards
The history of the property where Del Rio Vineyards is located goes back to the 1860s when the historic Rock Point Hotel was built on the site. This hotel still exists and is one of the oldest structures in Southern Oregon. Development of the vineyard began in 1997 with the conversion of pear orchards to wine grape vineyards. The picturesque hotel is now open to the public where visitors can taste wines made from grapes grown on the property. This estate Viognier offers aromas and flavors of pear and citrus mingling with mineral and stone fruits. The fruit flavors with a crisp citrus finish pair well with lighter foods and Asian cuisine.
In 1898 French immigrant Joseph Ginet purchased a neglected orchard outside the Applegate Valley town of Jacksonville. His family in France owned vineyards in the Savoie region, and Joseph planted orchards and vineyards – and made wine - at his new property. The ownership of the property eventually passed to grandson Joe Ginet and his wife Suzi who operate Plaisance Ranch raising cattle and wine grapes. Their 2011 Viognier offers exotic aromas of tropical fruits and orchard blossoms leading to an off-dry palate with ripe fruit flavors hinting at Muscat.
Grizzly Peak Winery
Al and Virginia Silbowitz operate Grizzly Peak Winery just east of Ashland, Oregon, on the slopes of Grizzly Peak. Vineyard blocks are planted along the slope behind the winery producing grapes for the estate-grown wines. Aromas of talc and white peach introduce the 2011 Viognier leading to a soft palate of apricot and citrus flavors with a mineral finish.
Owner and winemaker Pat Spangler crafts a full lineup of varietal wines at his winery just south of Roseburg, Oregon, including many full-bodied reds and delicate whites that go well with Northwest seafood and Asian cuisine. Spangler Vineyards has just opened a wine bar in downtown McMinnville to showcase their wines to more wine country visitors. The 2011 Viognier shows aromas and flavors of Asian pear, tangerine, flinty mineral and hints of tropical fruits and anise.
The Andrews family has been farming in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills for more than 60 years with 30 years of winegrowing on their 2,000-acre estate vineyard. The McKinley Springs winery was founded in 2002. Their Viognier is bright with aromas of honeysuckle and pear drop with notes of citrus and mineral. On the palate look for flavors of apricot and earthy mineral and a crisp finish for pairing with light summer cuisine.
This wine is part of the production at Byron Dooley’s Seven of Hearts winery near McMinnville. Byron has proven with each of his seven Oregon vintages that he is both dedicated and insightful, crafting wines that show varietal character and terroir with added distinguishing notes that place his wines high on score sheets. This blend of 66% Viognier and 34% Roussanne offers aromas and flavors of white peach, tropical fruits, orchard blossom, mineral and baking spice with elegant structure and food friendliness.
Agate Ridge Vineyard
The Kinderman family’s Agate Ridge Vineyard in the Rogue Valley has a wide variety of grapes planted in its 30-acre estate, including white Rhone varieties. This flavorful Marsanne is an expressive version, offering ripe melon and tropical fruit aromas and flavors with hints of mineral and honeysuckle. If you’re in the Rogue on a summer Saturday, visit the winery for their Rockin’ at the Ridge summer concert series 6 to 9pm each Saturday. Visit their website for details: www.agateridgevineyard.com.
Cliff Creek Cellars
Before I drift into winespeak, let’s say a word about winery dogs. Cliff Creek Cellars has a special page on their website for “dogs of Cliff Creek” where they show off some pictures of the resident pooches and invite dog lovers to bring their four-legged friends in for a visit. As Groucho Marx said, “Outside of dogs, books are man’s best friend. Inside of dogs, it’s too dark to read.” But I digress. Give a try to this blend of 50% Viognier, 25% Marsanne and 25% Roussanne crafted by winemaker Joe Dobbes. It’s a peachy, wet-stoney, perfumy flower masterpiece and goes well with Thai food, too!
Wines from other areas:
Steve and Alice Cass founded Cass Winery in 2001, planting Rhone varietals using ENTAV clones in a prime Paso Robles location. (ENTAV is a French government agency that monitors clones of French grape varietals and authorizes nursery propagation.) Cass set his standards high and the resulting wines have been excellent. Rockin’ One Blanc is a blend of 56% Viognier, 22% Marsanne and 22% Roussanne. Look for toasty/oaky notes over a core of stone fruit and mineral flavors.
This blend of Roussanne and Marsanne (50/50) is bottled under Cass Winery’s second label - a spiritual image of an angel-like “nymph.” The wine is spicy and floral on the nose and palate, with notes of mineral, dried herb and stone fruits.
Fess Parker Winery
Pull on your coonskin cap and drink a toast to the memory of Fess Parker, the image of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett to baby boomers throughout the land. The Fess Parker Winery crafts this barrel-fermented Viognier from grapes grown at Rodney’s Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Look for aromas of ripe peach, citrus and notes of prosciutto and mineral. The palate offers flavors of melon, mango, vanilla and toasty oak.
When the Romans arrived in Southern France in 121 B.C., there were
already grapes being grown in the Luberon region of what is now
Provence. The Romans added more and better vineyards and Luberon
wine production was off to the races. “La Ciboise” was the name of
the Chapoutier family home in Tain l’Hermitage. This light
refreshing wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and
Roussanne and offers floral and lemony aromas and flavors.