Viognier is a tricky grape to maneuver into great wine, in that making it “Bigger” does not automatically make it “Better”. The grape is best known for its intense flowery aromas, among the most distinctive and flamboyant single scents in the wine world. But the beauty is also in its balance. When done well, there are cool and refreshing notes behind the wild floral and tropical sides, an attack of a thousand knives instead of a single sledgehammer. But too often the desire to push the intensity leads to letting the grapes hang for a long time, and the ‘Reserve’ wines become heady with alcohol or cloyingly sweet from increased sugar in the grapes, as well as losing the balancing effects of natural acidity. It’s one of the reasons Virginia has done so well with the grape over the years, as many of the better ones have come from vineyards that gain cooling influences from the nearby mountains. California can fall victim to the over-sized versions of Viognier, but some producers like Calera (best known as one of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers since the mid-1970s) have always been able to maintain that balance as well as anyone.
From the first pour the tell-tale Viognier aromas of wild flowers and white fruits jump from the glass, with some hints of mint and lime in the background. The aroma is big, but not over sized. On the palate the fruit is big and juicy and beautiful, fleshy and round with lots of fresh pulpy flavors, and just enough citrus skin tannins to give the sensation of actually biting into the fruits themselves instead of drinking some extract. When a Viognier is TOO big it can be hard to enjoy the glass once you get past the initial impact of the first sip. When done like this, it is a joy to drink from start to finish.
Picking this wine was inspired in large part by the recent return by one of Wine Warehouse's 'Next Generation' from a Summer college session in Italy where he got to visit this winery (good course credit if you can find it!). Also because it needs/deserves extra dialog and attention as much as any white wine from Italy. Luigi and Fiorna Baudana has been a well regarded and very traditional producer in the Serralunga d'Alba region of Barolo, but looked to do some experimentation with white varieties in the early 1980s. They planted a selection of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and a local grape called Nascetta in one of their cooler Barolo vineyard parcels, initially to see which ones would do the best. After a time they found that all the varieties performed well, and in combination actually made for quite a fine blend. In 2008 the winemaking and management of their vineyards was passed along to longtime friends at the Vajra estate, and even though they could get 2X-3X the return by replanting the vines to Nebbiolo, the vines here were so well established and the wine they produce so distinctive, it would be a crime to NOT continue to make the Dragon.
With all the juice steel fermented and with little/no malolactic fermentation, the aromas are pure and clean with loads of white citrus, familiar apple and pear skin from the Chardonnay, and subtle hints of melon rind. As it opens up there are even some cooler mint tones and a hint of the 'petrol' note many of the great Alsatian or German dry Rieslings show off. On the palate the round texture is distinctly Chardonnay (at one time the wine was labeled as a Chardonnay because it makes up at least 85% of the blend), but the vibrancy of the other varieties quickly come into play, as well as the 'Italian-ness' of the site and the winemaking that give the finish a long, complex minerally finish. Substitute this into your dinner plans for most any Gavi of even Loire whites, as it shows the capability of working with all sorts of savory seafood and poultry dishes.
As a nod to today being Bastille Day, as well as being one of the first days of the Summer with a heat index advisory in and around Central Virginia, we go to one of the most under-appreciated wines in all of France. The Muscadet region is huddled around Nantes at the western end of the Loire where it empties into the Atlantic. The grape used, called Melon de Bourgogne, is much like Gamay is to Beaujolais in that it has only achieved real success in the one environment. Many other parts of the world have played around with Melon, but no place else has been able to match Muscadet's combination of lightness and mineral intensity, as well as insane affordability. The last 20+ years has seen increased attention to distinguishing older vines and the better pockets of quality, and Domaine de la Pepiere has been among the leaders of this movement, which has also led to the vast improvement of the 'basic' bottlings like this one.
The most distinct sign of quality for a Muscadet is whether or not it is aged 'sur lie', or on the unfiltered yeast and pulp.It takes time and extra effort, but it lends extra body to a wine that is otherwise one of the lightest whites in France. Some of the more industrially made ones are literally just a fraction above the color and texture of water. Still a pale gold in the glass, this has some obvious visual substance, as well as the tell-tale aromas of seashells and crisp white fruits. The sur lie aging brings out a surprising intensity and length to the almost briny citrus peel flavors on the palate, very mouthfilling and quenching especially when chilled down on a hot day. A great match with light citrus dishes or raw oyster, or simply as a refreshing bracer against the Central Virginia heat and humidity.
The Godello grape is the poster child for everything that is good about Spanish wine and its evolution over the last 25+ years. The grape is native to the Gallician part of Spain, as well as some of the higher altitudes of Old Castile along the border, but was over-planted during the rush to 'internationalize' the grape production. Before the tide turned and growers were encouraged to plant Godello again there was less than 100 acres in production, some of which were over 100 years old at the time. The production is much healthier now, and the grape is the cornerstone of wine production in areas like Valdeorras, where it is quickly becoming as substantial and important a white wine as Albarino.
Greenish gold in the glass, the aromas are full impact and what Godello is all about, with lots of citrus and stone fruits, hints of an Albarino-like floral prettiness, and lots of cool vibrant zest. On the palate the texture has a bit of a Chardonnay-like roundness (which is why some producers are experimenting with some barrel aging), but at its most basic and happiest form the texture shows off all the lively citrus the grape carries so easily. An incredibly quenching and juicy wine that's at its best with savory and/or citrusy poultry and rich seafood dishes.
The Best of the Best.
We offering free tastings on these wines in the store every Thursday and Friday, and a 10% discount off the retail price through the duration of the day. Come on by and give them a try!