May is one of my favorite months! Here in Chicago the weather is usually perfect– the skies are blue, there’s a delicate breeze, and the sun is warm but soothing overhead. The ivy is growing at Wrigley, and my Cubbies still have a shot at the title. Hey, there aren’t too many months I can say that. Let me enjoy it while I can.
But I think my favorite part of May is watching and smelling the flowers blooming all over the landscape. While I’m not lucky enough to have my own flower garden just yet, my dreams often include planting one someday. And though most greenthumbs might choose the glamorous rosebush, my garden will be full of daisies, orchids and gardenias, with a few lilac bushes on the outskirts. In my dreams I sit in my colorful garden, relax and take in the beautiful day, watch butterflies flitting about, listen to the Cubs on WGN (shameless endorsement) and sip a wonderful, elegant, sumptuous glass of viognier.
First of all, it’s pronounced vee-ohn-yay. Don’t say it wrong or your local wine pro will scowl at you and give you Fetzer or worse. And it’s home is the Rhône Valley, one of my very favorite wine areas in the world. Viognier is the main white varietal there and is known especially in the region Condrieu, and as the aromatic zing in Côte Rôtie. It hasn’t really taken off in the States probably because it’s difficult to say, but mainly because the good ones aren’t cheap. This is due to small production, mostly because of the grape’s finicky nature. But it finally seems to be increasing in popularity, thanks to many solid offerings from California and Australia, as well as reasonably priced whites called Vin de Pays which often use mostly viognier. But do yourself a favor: Spend a little more on this grape. You can scrimp on something else.
Sight: In the glass it’s a bright yellowish-golden. It’s a pretty viscous (alcohol-y) wine so you will see more “legs” than many other, lighter whites. It also appears much more vibrant and shiny than most others. Oh who am I kidding, by now you’re not even looking at it anymore because…
Smell: Viognier it’s what heaven smells like. Imagine: The Pearly Gates, Saint Peter, Jesus, harps, all your loved ones, a gigantic comfy couch… Take a deep breath…… There. Beautiful.
No? Ok, take one or two daisies from my garden and take off the petals. Grab a handful of lilacs too. Don’t worry, the dog is tied up. (I don’t have a dog, but in my dream I have a gorgeous chocolate lab. Just go with it.) Now find an empty box of fruit loops– the kind where all the cereal is gone but there’s still that fascinating sugary powder still sifting around at the bottom of the box. Toss the flower petals in there and give it a good shake. Head for the nearest orange grove. Now open the box and smell. That’s viognier.
Taste: Viognier is perfect for people that think they don’t like white wine. It’s weighty on the palate, but not heavy or dense like most reds are and some chardonnays can be. It is rich and complex but has a refreshing, cooling lift. The flavor is dominated by apricot, tangerine, and orange peel, with flashes of of lilac and violet, and a very faint hint of honey. Depending on fermentation technique and oak treatment, some have a very slightly creamy edge and subtle hints of vanilla and spice. Some producers leave a touch of residual sugar to take the edge off the alcohol, so a teeny tiny hint of sweetness isn’t unheard of. And the late harvested dessert wines I have encountered made from viognier are to die for. But typically viognier is dry but intensely fruity, complex but subtle, refined, luxurious, and absolutely mesmerizing.
Paring: Grilled salmon or swordfish with a orange-mango salsa. Spicy Thai dishes. Any kind of stir fry.
- $10-15: Chono, Yalumba, d’Arenberg “The Hermit Crab”
- $15-30: Jaffurs, Qupe, Fieldstone; $30-50: Darioush, Georges Vernay, Guigal Condrieu
- Before you die: Chateau Grillet