In May 2011, the Virginia Wine Board designated Viognier as the official signature grape of Virginia. While some might argue it was premature to make this sort of decision, the designation provides several benefits from a branding perspective. Newer wine regions have begun focusing their national marketing on one grape variety as a way to increase attention and eventually drive tourism and sales on all wines for that region (e.g., Oregon Pinot Noir and Argentina Malbec).
For Virginia, Viognier can serve as a point of differentiation for the region. It is a widely produced grape across the state – according to Virginiawine.org, 84 of Virginia’s wineries produce it, and in 2012 it was the fourth largest produced overall, behind Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Viognier has consistently received positive reviews from wine critics in-state, nationally and internationally. It can be produced as a dry, slightly sweet, late harvest or sparkling wine. It tends to pair well with spicier meals, such as Thai cuisine.
On a recent drive out across the Northern Virginia wine trails, I picked up three bottles of Viognier from neighboring vineyards – Rappahannock Cellars, Hume Vineyards and Chester Gap Cellars. I found that they all had traditional and unique Viognier characteristics. They are definitely worth a taste:
2012 Rappahannock Cellars Viognier
This wine, aged in neutral oak for three months, has a clear, pale lemon color. It boasts aromas of peach and apricot and ends with a dry finish. It is very food friendly, but it also works well as a standalone summer evening sipper. $30
2012 Hume Vineyards Viognier
This Viognier is aged in 75% stainless and 25% neutral oak. It offers bright citrus aromas, lemon, peach, and hints of vanilla on the palate, and it has a clean, crisp finish. This is a low-yielding grape at Hume that grows well with their rockier soil and sloped terrain. Their winemaker believes this is the best wine he’s ever made. $20
2011 Chester Gap Viognier Reserve
Chester Gap produces both a traditional stainless Viognier and a Reserve, which is aged in French Oak for nine months. The oak aging in the Reserve provides for a more golden color, citrus, lemon, peach and vanilla on the palate, and a smoother, creamier finish. Their rocky soil and eastern-facing slopes provide for excellent growing conditions. Not to mention, the patio at Chester Gap provides for some breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Mountains. $19
What are your favorite Virginia Viogniers?
@UncorkVirginia is an enthusiastic supporter of the growing Virginia wine industry, and she is currently enrolled in the WSET II program at the Capital Wine School. You can follow her adventures in wine on her website.