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:
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