La Dolce Vita: Viognier leads the way

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When it comes to white wine I’m a big fan of Riesling wines. But in the last year or two I’ve found myself reaching more and more often for a bottle of Viognier when I’m looking for a nice white.

Primarily associated with the Rhone Valley, Viognier has fallen out of favour in recent decades. It’s not an easy grape to grow, being susceptible to mildew, with low and unpredictable yields. Also, it isn’t very forgiving when it comes to harvest time—unless picked when fully ripened it produces an oily wine with little aroma.

At its best, though, Viognier features beautiful floral and tropical notes. That aroma can dissipate after a few years and the wine is best consumed in the first couple of years after bottling.

So what makes Viognier so appealing? It has similarities in taste (and the occasional oily mouth feel) to Riesling, without the acidity. In fact, Viognier is a great addition to blends, adding a softer quality to varietals with high acidity. With high aromatics and fruitiness, the wine can match up quite nicely with spicy foods, including Thai cuisine, which is more typically paired with Gewurztraminer. The aromas and tastes can also evoke thoughts of wines made from Muscat grapes.

Recently, we were cooking on a Sunday afternoon in preparation for guests. I pulled a Viognier from Ruby Tuesday Winery in Naramata out of the cellar. It’s a favourite of owner Prudence Mahrer and it immediately brought back memories of our visits last year, where we enjoyed her effervescent personality and obvious passion for the wine business.

Angela and I were both cooking. I was preparing to roast a boneless leg of lamb and she was kicking in with a long-time favourite—broiled rosemary and mint chicken breasts in a yogurt sauce. Two main dishes? Well, not all of us like lamb. Some of the Ruby Tuesday went into the dishes. The rest went into the cooks.

The meal started with a plate of mixed cheeses and grapes, then we served a mesclun salad with orange sections. The meat dishes were presented with stir-fried mixed vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes. Dessert was a gorgeous apple tarte tatin, in which quartered apples are caramelized (in butter and sugar) in an ovenproof frying pan, then covered with a round of puff pastry. The pan is placed in the oven and the dish is ready when the pastry is golden brown. A tarte tatin is served by flipping it quickly onto a serving plate, which allows the caramel sauce to soak into the pastry. The result is both tasty and beautiful to look at.

Our guests had the choice of red or white wine. The white was another Viognier, this one from another favourite Naramata winery, Marichel, where winemaker/owner Richard Roskell makes only Syrah and three different versions of Viognier. Once again, our thoughts immediately went to the very pleasant visits we have enjoyed with Richard and Elisabeth. I also opened a bottle of the Pinotage I wrote about last week, wanting our guests—who serve excellent coffee at their business–to taste the espresso and chocolate flavours of the Café Culture wine. It went well with the roast lamb.

As always, we were reminded that good times are guaranteed when thoughtfully prepared food, well-crafted wines and friendship are combined.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.