Viopalooza

Viopalooza was a wine tasting hosted by Rick VanSickle of the St. Catharines Standard and Jay Johnston of Hidden Bench Winery.  The tasting was a collection of Canadian Viogniers and one Condrieu.  On December 19th, fifteen wine professionals gathered at Hidden Bench Winery, to share and taste.  Here’s what I learnt about Canadian Viognier that afternoon:

Photo courtesy of Rick VanSickle.

1.  There is no common character in any of the wines. Every style was different.  Some examples were questionable as to whether they were 100% Viognier.  Others barely exhibited any character.  Then there was talk as to whether Viognier is a hands on or hands off grape to vinify.  Jay Johnston, winemaker at Hidden Bench said “you can’t force the wine.  It does what it wants” referring to malolactic fermentation.  Some wines were partially fermented, or in the case of the Hidden Bench 2009 Viognier, the wine did not want to go through MLF at all leaving searing acidity.   Winemakers Richie Roberts and Jay Johnston spoke of the benefits of fermenting in neutral oak barrels.  Doing so gives the wine more character and structure.  If any oak is used, neutral or close to barrels seem to be the best options as some overly oaked examples over took any of the Viognier’s delicate fruit character.  Some wines were fermented to dry, while others maintained some residual sugar.  It was quite the mix wine styles.

2.  It is not a wine to age. The oldest examples were from 2006.  Two of the 06 examples were deep copper in colour with aromas of honey and spice.   There were even some comments of how the 08s had lost a bit of freshness and verve.  One of my favourite wines was a 2009 Creekside Reserve Viognier, just bottled and still without label.  It was a real treat to taste a four year vertical of Hidden Bench’s Viognier, 2006 -2009.  The 2007 was particularly enjoyably balanced and expressive.

3. The wines are prone to high alcohol content. Ok, so there is one common character, high alcohol.  Most of the wines were 13% alcohol by volume or higher.  High alcohol is not a great character in wine in my opinion, though in most of the Viognier’s cases the alcohol was well integrated with the body of the wine.  The high alcohol is a result of extended hang time in the vineyard to develop varietal character and phenolic ripeness.

4. Viognier shows promise in the Okanagan. General comments of praise were noted for the majority of the Okanagan examples.  Sandhill Small Lot Viognier, Stags Hallow Viognier Marsanne Blend (83% Viognier) and a new brand from Jackson Triggs Okanagan, Silver Label Viognier with killer value, priced at $15.99.

In conclusion, I won’t be buying too much Canadian Viognier.  The wines are difficult to come across in the first place.  Secondly, with the extremely varied styles and higher price points it becomes a bit of a gamble.  The best way to source out Canadian Viognier to visit the producers and taste the wines.  In fact wine touring is the only way to get a hold of most Canadian Viogniers as they are in such small production.  (Hidden Bench only has two rows of vines, though they are planning on planting more.)

The Viognier List

1.  2008 Peninsula Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, ON
2. 2008 Chateau des Chames, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ON
3. 2009 Jackson Triggs Silver Series, Okanagan Valley, BC
4. 2008 Silkscarf, Okanagan Valley, BC
5. 2006 Fielding Estate, Niagara Peninsula, ON
6. 2009 Fielding Estate, Niagara Peninsula, ON
7. 2008 Organized Crime, Niagara Peninsula, ON
8. 2007 Alvento Vio, Niagara Peninsula, ON
9. 2008 Sandhill Small Lots, Okanagan Valley, BC
10. 2006 Peninsula Ridge Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, ON
11. 2009 Hillside Estate, Okanagan Valley, BC
12. 2008 Stag’s Hollow, Okanagan Valley, BC
13. 2008 Stag’s Hollow Viognier-Marsanne, Okanagan Valley, BC
14. 2009 Creekside Reserve, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ON
15. 2006 Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard, Niagara Peninsula, ON
16. 2007 Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard, Niagara Peninsula, ON
17. 2008 Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard, Niagara Peninsula, ON
18. 2009 Hidden Bench Locust Lane Vineyard, Niagara Peninsula, ON
19. 2008 Stratus, Niagara Peninsula, ON
20. 2007 Daniel Lenko, Niagara Peninsula, ON
21. 2008 Pierre Gaillard, Malleval, Condrieu, France

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About allisonvidug

Allison has been professionally passionate about wine and food for eight years. In that short time, Allison has traveled across Canada to work at some of the finest establishments focussed on premium wine, food and service. Her travels and education has allowed Allison the pleasure to live in some of Canada’s most beautiful locations such as the Okanagan Valley, Niagara Peninsula, the Southern Gulf Islands, Toronto, Lake Louise and Muskoka. Some of Allison's favourite things include; wine, gin, whisky, cheese, mushrooms, cooking, hosting, growing vegetables, cottaging and dogs. Allison has seriously invested in her education of food and drink. She is a graduate of the Food and Beverage Management Diploma Program at George Brown College. She also holds a Diploma in Viticulture and Winery Management from Niagara College. Allison has fine tuned her wine and spirit sensory skills by completing certificates with the International Sommelier Guild and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. Allison is currently completing here WSET Diploma, one of the highest levels of wine education.
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7 Responses to Viopalooza

  1. Bradley says:

    Good reading your take on the Viognier tasting. I was surprised to hear the Viogs weren’t showing well beyond a couple years old. I kind of like the older ones that we’ve made at Township 7. Some of the wines from Chateau Grillet AOC have similar attributes to the T7 wines like apricot and honey on the nose and complex citrus like tangerine in the palate. Figuring out what makes new world Viog age-worthy is a bit of a riddle for the time being.

  2. Jay says:

    Great wrap-up of the tasting! Well done. It was a real treat to get that group of people together for such an experience. Thanks for sharing your notes. Cheers. jay

  3. Mike Di Caro says:

    Interesting read Allison. I actually thought that for the most part a floral and peach character was pretty consistent through out the entire tasting. But some had unique and interesting flavours and aromas which stood out. It’s a difficult variety to grow and it is scarce here in ON. So I think the pricing reflects that reality and is reflective of the cost and volumes produced here. I think you’re correct that the Okanagan examples for the most part were a little richer and fuller. But given the desert-like climate I think that’s to be expected. I also thought it was really interesting that the most praised wine the 2008 Stag’s Hollow Viognier-Marsanne was barrel fermented & aged in entirely in new oak for 8 months. That seems to go against the consensus at the table of how to treat the variety during vinification.

    • allisonvidug says:

      Thanks for the comment Mike!
      I found the consistency of the floral/peach character to be low. It was so delicate in some wines that other aromas (good or bad) over powered the wine.
      Volume of course influences price point. So the question is, should we grow more Viognier or not?
      Good point about the Stag’s Hollow. I think the richer, more expressive Viogniers from the Okanagan can stand up to more new oak.
      Looking forward to tasting more wines with you in the future!
      Allison

  4. Gareth says:

    I’ve just started a blog about Viognier so I was pleased to read this post :). I had no idea Canada produced a range of Viognier wine(I live in London, UK) but it makes sense climate wise.
    I prefer the older vintages mostly but depends on the food. I just tasted and bought a St Cosme Viognier/Rousanne 50/50 blend from Cote Du Rhone – an absolute delight that I will review soon.
    Cheers
    Gareth

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