Unlocking the flavor of viognier

It is safe to say that you can walk into a room full of wine aficionados that love to talk up their favorite wines and ask the first person you come across to say something nice about viognier (VEE-ohn-yay). They will look at you funny and offer you a chardonnay.Those of you who have been with me and “Taste of Wine” over the years have either embraced my love of viognier, or thought I should see a wine doctor about this silly fetish for the lovely tropical fruit white wine that almost never shows up on the shelves. No, it not a Central American white grape, not even a South American native with its pineapple, peach and mango flavors.Viognier’s original growing area is the Northern Rhone Valley of Southern France, where it is the white wine of choice. Acidity levels are low and it’s almost always cool-fermented in steel tanks for full tropical fruitiness.

It arrived in California in small quantities in the ‘80s with interest in growing it now limited to wineries in the Lodi-Mendocino, Monterey, Paso Robles and San Diego areas.

The Rock Wall Wine Company, operated by the Rosenblaum Family of Sonoma, is pulling viognier grapes from vineyards in Lodi and Mendocino for a mélange of flavors for its 2010 Kristen’s Cuvee ($20). Flavors of pineapple and fresh sugar cane bring up an exclusive taste. Visit rockwallwines.com.

Further south in Monterey, the Marilyn Remark Winery has a 2009 Loma Pacific Viognier ($26). Only 175 cases were made of this drink-now wine. The alcohol is a bit high at 14.2 percent but the balance of flavor is there for a bigger bang. Visit remark.com.

Paso Robles boasts the best Rhone Valley French style winery in California in Tablas CreekVineyard and their intense viognier blend that teams up with marsanne, grenache blanc and rousanne for the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($20). Great floral aromas with a peaches-apricot taste combination. Visit tablascreek.com.

The San Diego area got a strong assist in getting on the wine map when the late Leon Santoro, who was the long-time wine maker for Orfila Winery in Escondido, embraced the Rhone Valley brand of wine and viognier. About six years ago, and after my personal urging, he entered his non-vintage Estate “Lotus” Viognier in the 2007 International Challenge du Vin in Bordeaux France and won the Gold Medal! It had small amounts of Rousanne and Marsanne white grapes, also from the Rhone Valley.

Justin Mund, Orfila’s current wine maker, has his 2010 tasting beautifully with elements of apricot, pear and honeysuckle ($29). Visit orfila.com.

Viognier has a unique charm about it. A little patience in your search and you just may find your next great-tasting white wine.

BV Docks in Coronado at Il Fornaio

The invitation read “BV Reserve Wine Dinner.” I had visions of Il Fornaio’s Italian style bayside restaurant, with a Mediterranean menu, sipping George de Latour red from BV’s winery in Napa Valley, and I was immediately there with my favorite fedora.

Luca Allieri is the hospitable empressario of Il Forniao, making sure everyone is happy and having a good time with his wines and food. Along with Chef Giorgio LoVerde, he presented entrees that perfectly paired with the BV portfolio of wines. They included: Tricolore Di Pesce, a pan seared salmon; and Cervo Al Datteri, a roasted venison chop finished in a date balsamic reduction with porcini, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. It was served with a 2009 BV Cabernet.

The wine thrill of the evening, the 2007 George de Latour was served with a chocolate soufflé with vanilla gelato. Wow! (What O-what-a-Wine)! For an RSVP at Il Fornaio, call (619) 437-4911.



Wine Bytes

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas has a Rhone Valley Grenache and Syrah tasting event from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 31. Check price and wines at (760) 479-2500.

The Grand Del Mar continues its concert series Sept. 2 with Steve Tyrell, the Grammy award winner best know for his Sinatra-style singing. General seating is $65 with VIP seating $95. Get tickets by calling (800) 820-9884.

Falkner Winery in Temecula offers Labor Day weekend jazz and lunch at their Pinnacle Restaurant Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.The jazz is free, from noon to 3 p.m. New release wines are available. Reserve a lunch at (951) 676-8231, ext 1.

Grape Day Park in Escondido has a wine festival at their pavilion from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 8. Cost is $20 to taste wines from San Diego County wineries. For information call (760) 839-4587.

Twisted Vine in San Diego, off the 56 Highway, offers the wines of Spain at 4 p.m. Sept. 15 and Sept. 29. Includes tempranillo, crianza and rioja vina valoria. Lite bites included. Call (858) 780-2501 for cost.



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