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Domestic Viognier—actually, make that Viognier in general—is often a disappointing grape variety, partly because when it's good, it's so seductive. Good Viognier has a floral silkiness, a kind of summertime peach ripeness and not-quite-oily texture, controlled by just the right touch of acidity, that makes it pretty irresistible (albeit in a slightly decadent way). Bad Viognier, on the other hand, is like Pamela Anderson turned into wine.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of bad Viognier out there. If Pinot Noir is the heartbreak grape, Viognier is the bad-date grape: You take one sip, think in that sinking, bad-date way, "oy—another loser!" and then sit there, stuck for the next hour or two with the rest of the bottle. But all is not lost.
Here are a few Viogniers I've tasted recently that are actually pretty darn good. It's enough to restore your faith in the whole silly process.
2008 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier ($18) The soft, silky texture of this wine holds a lot of savory spice notes as well as ripe white peach fruit (note: this will be released in six weeks or so). Yalumba was the first Australian winery to commercially plant Viognier, by the by, and Robert Hill Smith of Yalumba was by our office the other day, which was convenient timing for this blog entry. About Viognier he says, "It's a naturally opulent fruit style, so the challenge is constraining it a bit."
2007 Novelty Hill Viognier ($22) Washington winemaker Mike Januik splits his time between Novelty Hill and his own Januik label, producing impressive wines for both. The Novelty Hill wines mostly come from the winery's Stillwater Creek vineyard in Columbia Valley; this Viognier is fragrant with spice-gumdrop, beeswax and melon notes, and keeps its abundantly juicy, melon fruit bound up with appealing acidity.
2007 K Vintners Viognier ($27) From a single vineyard, made with native yeast fermentation and neutral barrels, this reminds me of good Condrieu as much as any New World Viognier I've had recently. It's fragrant and lightly honeyed and just a flat-out sexy wine. "Winner winner chicken dinner," as the K Vintners website rightly says.
2006 Kunin Wines Stolpman Vineyard Viognier ($28) Creamy and substantial, with lots of peach and lemon curd, this has a voluptuous character that walks close to being too much but pulls back just in time. I liked it despite my typical inclinations toward lean, mineral, sharp-tempered whites. It's sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard (which also makes a terrific Roussanne called L'Avion under its own label).
As always, one good way to track down these wines is wine-searcher.com.