Very Viognier

An almost extinct grape, Viognier is now becoming the new hit amongst white wine lovers

December 12, 2010 18:36
4 minute read.
Wine bottles

Wine bottles 521. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Viognier (pronounced Vee-o-nier) is a relatively new white wine grape variety in Israel, having only been planted a few years ago. However, it is already creating interest amongst wine lovers for producing noteworthy wines. It is very different from the trio of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Emerald Riesling, that tended to be the dominant Israeli white wines for so long.

Yet 20 years ago Viognier nearly became extinct. It was planted only in a few vineyards in the Northern Rhone, where it produced prohibitively expensive wines, because of its rarity and minuscule yields.

For the richest wine connoisseurs, tasting the unique and wonderful Condrieu was an almost out-of-this-world experience, but for most it was a wine they would never have the opportunity to taste. It was also considered a troublesome variety to grow, with no future.

In the last 20 years, the Viognier grape has been transformed with the use of new clones that have improved its reliability. It has now become more accessible and readily available, being particularly successful in Australia, California, and in the South of France. In recent years it has been planted in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa and Argentina.

It has even reached the eastern Mediterranean, being planted in Lebanon, Greece and Israel. It is proving to be a white grape variety that may be particularly suitable for Israel’s hot and humid climate.

The attractive aspect of Viognier is its unique, delicate and fragrant aroma. Nose the wine and you will smell enticing aromas of apricots, peaches and pear flesh.

Maybe there is also a whiff of honeysuckle in the background. When you find a good example, it is a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

In terms of weight, the wine is not sharp like a Sauvignon Blanc, but well rounded, so it has become an exotic alternative to Chardonnay.

Viognier is also often used for blending with Shiraz or Syrah in the northern Rhone, a habit that has been copied by some Israeli wineries. This apparently helps with color stabilization and gives a slightly perfumed character to the red wines. It is also a good blender for white wines, contributing its tantalizing perfume and soft texture.

There is still only a tiny amount of Viogner planted in Israel, but those few wineries that use it are already making wines of character and distinction. All the wines listed below are very different, but each is a great example of the quality and versatility of this particular grape variety.

Once, Israeli white wines consisted mainly of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Emerald Riesling. Today Gewurztraminer and Johannisberg Riesling are becoming well-known alternatives. Clearly Viognier is next on the list. For those unfamiliar with it, I suggest it is well worth a try.

(between NIS 30 and NIS 50)
This is a wine representing the best value for money.

Galil Mountain Viognier
A lighter style of Viognier, but with good balance between the effect of oak aging and a refreshing acidity. A good beginners’ Viognier for those trying it for the first time.

(between NIS 50 and NIS 75)
These wines represent the best quality-to-price ratio.

Carmel Appellation Viognier 2009
A wine from the Lonely Olive Tree Vineyard in Upper Galilee. The majority was cold fermented in stainless steel, but a small portion was aged sur lies for a few months. Lively yet complex. Creamy yet restrained. Fresh and fragrant, with a long finish.

Dalton Reserve Viognier 2008
Aromatic Viognier, uniquely fermented using wild yeasts. It is dry, yet full flavored, giving a feeling of richness, and has a soft, waxy texture. An enchanting wine with honeyed and tropical notes.

(NIS 75 to NIS 90)
The special purchase may be for a valued gift or a special occasion.

Yatir Viognier 2009
A dry wine, with a beautifully delicate aroma, a steely backdrop and refreshing acidity. It is fermented in stainless steel and unoaked, and is in a different style to many Viogniers on the market. It comes from Yatir Forest in the southern Judean Hills. (If you come across the 2008 instead, note that is off dry.) Yarden Viognier 2007 In a direct contrast in style to the Yatir wine, Yarden Viognier is rich with ripe fruit flavors. It is medium to full bodied with more than a hint of spicy oak on the nose. The fruit comes from high up in the Golan Heights.

Galil Mountain Avivim 2008
This is not a varietal (a minimum 85% of one variety), but a blend between 75% Viognier and 25% Chardonnay from Upper Galilee vineyards. Full bodied and blowsy, it is a real mouthful of tropical and summer fruits, and is buttery and oaky.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes on wine in Israeli and international publications.

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