Extra Sensory Perception

The calendar says spring is just around the corner, but anything is possible in the fickle month of March. Whether your menu plans call for one last fling with a hearty soup or a spring bash to welcome the vernal equinox, there’s a heady white wine that has you covered.

Viognier, a golden-hued, aromatic varietal with Rhône roots, is a food-friendly white wine that complements a wide variety of cuisines and occasions. If you’re looking for an alternative to Chardonnay, this is it.

Boasting rich floral and tropical fruit flavors, Viognier (pronounced vee-OHN-yay) has a complex aroma that carries notes of apricots, orange blossoms, honey and vanilla. Faintly sweet, it has a full-bodied texture that stands up to strong flavors and spicy fare.

The Viognier grape has a significant amount of sugar, making it a challenge to control the alcohol. Winemakers leave some residual sugar as an off-dry wine to counter the heat of the alcohol. Viognier grapes in hot climates develop more sugar and potential alcohol than those grown in cooler climes. The low-yielding, temperamental grape is susceptible to frost, but it thrives in the Rhône Valley of France and certain parts of northern California; it can also be found in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile.

Cline Cellars of Sonoma is one of those northern California wineries that produces a nice Viognier. Part of its California Classics collection, Cline’s North Coast Viognier boasts an intense floral/fruit perfume that leads to a flavorful sip of pineapple, peach and apricot with citrus accents. Cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks to 14 percent alcohol, Cline adds no oak to mask the fresh fruit qualities of the wine. The powerful taste pairs well with strong foods such as aged cheeses, as well as cream sauces, pork and spicy Mexican cuisine or Asian curries. Add it to a cheese plate of Gruyere or Camembert, try it with sushi, or serve it with herbed dishes such as tarragon chicken and crusted tenderloin. It makes an excellent wine for your holiday menu, blending well with a traditional Easter menu.

Drink Viognier rather young — within three years of the vintage — to capture the fresh fruit quality. Serve it just slightly cooler than room temperature (chill for only 30 minutes or so) to bring out the array of flavors.

The wine, which won a double-gold medal in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, is available in Columbia. Inquire at your favorite local wine shop.
The French Connection
The Romans brought Viognier grapes from Dalmatia to France’s northern Rhône valley some 1,700 years ago. Once a commonly grown grape in France, Viognier fell on hard times in the 20th century, a victim of the phylloxera plague and the chaos of world wars. By the 1960s, the grape was on the brink of extinction — fewer than 40 acres planted producing less than 500 gallons of wine. A resurgence in popularity, sparked by interest among California vintners, brought about increased plantings — and more affordable wine — in California and elsewhere in the 1980s and ’90s. The difficulty of growing the grape has dropped its numbers again — currently, there are only 2,000 acres of Viognier vineyards in California.

Cline Cellars began in the California Delta, on the Oakley farm of Jacuzzi water pump pioneer Valeriano Jacuzzi. His grandson, Fred Cline, carried on the family passion for winemaking, first in Oakley and later in Sonoma, where he moved operations in 1993. Cline is the largest solar-powered winery in California.

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