California Wine: The White for Red Drinkers

"I only drink red wine." I have heard this emphatic statement from many customers. So what do you do for someone who purports to only drink red wine when the dish is begging for a white wine?

Serve them Viognier. Viognier's most famous hunting ground is France's northern Rhone Valley, where it is made into the somewhat rare and often very expensive wines of Condrieu and Château-Grillet. These appellations nestle into a predominately red wine producing area; in fact, Viognier is also used in small percentages to give a perfumy lift to the Syrah-based wines of Côte-Rôtie.

On its own, Viognier has body: big sultry rich fruit body much like that of a red wine. It can boast beautiful stone fruit on the nose while delivering creamy viscosity on the palate. Viognier has hips, and they swing. This is a white wine that even a rouge-ophile can love.

There are quite a few producers of this voluptuous varietal in California, but none balance fat fruit with alcohol and acidity as well as Melville. The Melville vineyards rest in the Santa Rita Hills where the ever-present California sunshine is perfectly tempered by prominent coastal winds and foggy mornings. As one travels from the coast past the hills, all the way to Santa Ynez, there is a thirty degree temperature change. The vineyards at Melville sit in the westernmost and coolest area of this corridor.

Greg Brewer is the winemaker here and he handles the vinification of Viognier with finesse. Greg often says that wine is made in the vineyard. And as much as this site does provide him the best fruit to work with, he still guides it with a gentle hand. A slow cold fermentation allows the wine to develop at a pace that retains nuance, while at the same time preventing malolactic fermentation, a process wherein bright sharp malic acids convert into creamy lactic acid. Viognier is often though of as having less than bright acidity, which sometimes leaves it feeling a bit flabby. By keeping the wine from going through malolactic fermentation, Brewer ensures a full-bodied yet beautifully balanced and refreshing wine.

The 2009 Melville Verna's Viognier has stunning aromas of apricot and honeysuckle that slowly drift up to your nose. At first sip you are treated to peaches and nectarines with subtle hints of mouthwatering ginger. Pair this wine with anything from the soft ripened cheeses, to scallops, to dare I say it, fried chicken. Viognier is a white wine that will not only please a dedicated red drinker, it may open up a whole new world of wine for them to explore.

2009 Melville Verna's Viognier, retails about $20.

[Homepage image courtesy johnnyjet.com]

Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.



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About the Author

I spend my life eating, drinking, cooking, brewing and traveling.

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