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Viognier, by and large, seems to be one of the best white grapes in Arizona.  It is grown in most of the viticultural regions in the state (except for Kingman and Chino, as far as I am aware). Indeed, the popularity of this grape has been increasing over the last few years.  Naturally, this means that of course the Chiricahua Foothills, just outside the newly-established Willcox AVA, has plantings; the 2013 Sky Island Viognier is proof of concept.

This is particularly interesting considering that Viognier was almost extinct by the mid-1960’s, when apparently there were only eight acres of this grape in the Northern Rhône producing just 1,900 liters of wine.  It’s a good thing that it didn’t–otherwise, the Arizona wine scene would be quite different.  I’m not sure what might have taken its place–It’s possible that more people would have attempted other Loire varietals instead, such as Melon de Bourgogne, or that Marsanne and Roussanne would be more popular in Arizona instead. I digress, however–that’s a future that doesn’t exist, and we’re in this world currently.

More fun facts about Viognier later.  Onto the wine!

2013 Sky Island Viognier

Here the 2013 Sky Island Viognier sits in front of the Bradshaw Mountains, one example of a Sky Island mountain range.

The Wine: The 2013 Sky Island Viognier is 100% Viognier, sourced from Lawrence Duhnam Vineyards, in the Chiricahua Foothills.  Made by Kurt Dunham, this wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel.  The idea behind the Sky Island series is to showcase the terroir of the region plainly, without oak influence.  This wine is a pale sunflower gold in color.

The Nose: The nose of this wine opens with notes of peaches, apricots, lemon, and honeysuckle blossoms.  As the 2013 Sky Island Viognier opens, notes of vanilla, orange blossom, and a creamy, dusty note that reminds me of cliff rose.

The Palate: On the palate, this wine continues the citrus theme, with notes of lemon, along with honeysuckle, peaches, and apricots.  As the wine opens, additional notes of orange creamsicle, granite dust, and cliff rose can be found on the palate.  The finish of this wine lasts for 45 seconds, and is filled with additional floral and citrus notes. I feel like this Viognier has lower acidity than varietal examples from both the Verde Valley and the Willcox AVA.

The Pairing: There’s a couple different food pairing options for the 2013 Sky Island Viognier, but I think my favorite would be a southwestern-style Quiche with green chilies, jalapeños, rosemary, and other spices; if you want to add meat on top of that, ham or salmon will do nicely.  A lemon-and-herb chicken with a side of peach and prosciutto salad would work as a more traditional pairing.

Impressions: Viognier is one of our best varietals across the board here in Arizona, and the 2013 Sky Island vintage from LDV is another example of this fact.  I have to say that historically, this has been a favorite of mine in their tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale for some time. It doesn’t have the same vibrant acidity and sass as Viognier from the Bench or the Verde Valley, but it is nice in its own right.  I get the impression that if this wine were a person, it would be a tomboy botanist, her hair in a short pixie cut, obsessed about the genetics of various spices.

More Fun Facts about Viognier: This is the grape that makes Condrieu so famous–and by law, it is the only grape allowed in that AOC.  It’s also, as we’ve encountered before, the secret weapon in Côte-Rôtie.  (This is one reason why I’m surprised that LDV hasn’t done a Côte-Rôtie style blend yet, at least to my awareness; but I digress.) The origins of the name are a bit mysterious. My favorite etymology is that it comes from the Latin phrase Via Gehennae (veeah-gehn-ae), meaning the “Road of the Valley of Hell.” Apparently, this is an allusion to the difficulty of growing this grape in the vineyard, although from what I’ve heard from local growers, it is easier to work with than some other varietals commonly planted here, such as Grenache.  More likely, the etymology stems from the French commune of Vienne.