The Viognier Taste Test 

How do Virginia viogniers stack up against the viogniers of the world?

The grape is now showing up in places as diverse as Southern France, Northern California, much of the East Coast of the United States and South Australia. Since a viognier has recently captured best in show at the Governor's Cup, we thought it would be interesting to have a blind tasting to see how Virginia, and viognier in general, are faring. The wines are listed in order of preference.

1. Renwood Viognier "Select Series", Calif., 2001, $13-$15. The nose bursts of peaches, honeysuckle and oak. Usually there aren't any oak-aged viogniers, but after all, this is California. The style is different but the long lingering fruit finish complemented with the oak is a showstopper.

2. E. Guigal Condrieu 2000, half bottle $16, full bottle, $29.50.

This is one of the world's greatest viogniers from the hamlet of Condrieu in France. Guigal is an acclaimed perfectionist with the grape. How different this wine is: It is citrus and not floral. The usual honeysuckle is there as a light tangy crisp peach.

3. Am Rhein Wine Cellars Viognier, Virginia, 2001, $26.

This years Governor's Cup winner does pretty well in this company. It is loaded with all the honeysuckle, peaches and apricots that you could hope for.

4. Eric Texier Viognier, Cotes du Rhone, 2001, $13.

An excellent new-style viognier from the South of France. It is full-bodied. Tasted with this crowd it lacks a little finesse but the price is certainly right.

Next, after the blind tasting the wines were unveiled and paired with food. The dish was a chicken with linguini and a Parmesan sauce. They are listed in the order of preference.

1. Guigal Condrieu — It is a different wine when served with food. The sauce paired with the wines lemony acid is thrilling. Probably a better pairing would be a shrimp dish with lemon or butter, but that's for next time. It is easy to see what the Europeans have been working on for so long — the fruit and acid balance wonderfully with food.

2. Renwood Viognier — The Renwood tastes better with the food as well. The oak flavor complements the flavor of the chicken and sauce. The flavors that it produces are entirely different from the Guigal. This is the first viognier that you can have with a burger. And at this price, why not?

3. Am Rhein Viognier — This wine isn't as exciting with the food as by itself. It lacks acidity and the finish seems to sweeten up. It is more of a wine to sip by itself. There are Virginia wine and food events but as of yet no medern regional wine and food tradition exists here. This is more the kind of wine you have at a festival and not in a restaurant.

4. Texier Viognier — Amazing. This wine doesn't change with the food at all. Nor does it change the food.

Other Virginia viogniers worthy of your attention are: Horton, Horton Reserve, Breaux, Barboursville Reserve and Tarara. S


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