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Five Californian Viogniers

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If you love your wine surrounded by interesting or intriguing stories you’ll enjoy this month’s wine focus – Californian Viogniers. We selected five for our tasting and notes about each are included below. The wines are Leaping Horse 2000, Angels Creek 2000, Bonterra 1998, Lexicon 2000, and Bonny Doon 'Rousanne' 1998.

Before we delve into these wines a word about California and Viognier. The grape has only been developed in the ‘State where dreams come true’ over the last ten or twelve years. Many of the growers are the famous Rhône Rangers; the group of producers known for their passion for cultivating and promoting the traditional grapes of the Rhône Valley in France. But as the taste for Viognier has become more established an increasing number of small wineries are having a go. Much of the output comes from the ‘boutique vineyards’ where production may amount to no more than a few hundred barrels a year.

Many of these wineries have their own web sites and engage in the new world phenomena of ‘total marketing’. So you can visit the winery, taste the wines, have a guided tour, eat in a gourmet restaurant, join the wine club, buy the tee shirt, the cook book and the sun hat – a days outing for the whole family. If you like stories visit these web sites and read about the people, their struggles and successes as they have pioneered in the vine growing trade.

There are an increasing range of Viognier wines on offer from California although few of them escape from the USA. We believe this is a region to watch and hopefully more and more will be exported and enjoyed in other parts of the world.

Of the wines we tasted I would like to select three for special mention not because they are the best of the bunch but because they are each distinctive in some way. The Bonterra Viognier comes from one of California’s biggest and best known producers. It is significant in the fact that it is an organic wine. Lexicon is a relative newcomer and is unique (as far as we know) in that it is imported into the UK in bulk and bottled there – one of the cheapest California’s available in the UK. The Bonny Doon 'Rousanne' (you really must visit the website!) is a whole novel. When Randall Grahm took vines from France to California in the 1980s he though that one of the white varieties he planted was the Rhône variety known as Rousanne. He labelled the wines Rousanne until someone had the knowledge and courage to point out that they were actually drinking Viognier. Of course the label has since changed but it may still be possible to get a bottle of the old Rousanne labelled Viognier.

Tasting Notes
Leaping Horse 2000 (Bear Creek Winery)
A pale, bright wine which both looked and tasted quite viscous o ’thick’ as one member of our tasting group described it. The wine smelt strongly of apricots with a touch of vanilla. It was dry and chewy in the mouth with more acid than fruit A tingling tongue sensation with a slight hint of malt whisky in the aftertaste which lasts for a while in the back of the mouth. Available from Virgin Wines £6.99 when you buy a case or a mixed case

Angels Creek 2000
The tinge of green in this otherwise pale yellow wine is more reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc than a Viognier. The nose gradually opens up with honey and floral aromas, someone described it as peaches and cream – perhaps more a note of pleasure than a pure description of the smell. In the mouth this wine has a creaminess with oaky vanillas and rounded fruity tastes and then just that hint of bitterness on the side of the tongue. A good length with a cooling effect ideal for hot sunny days. Available from T&W Wines, Weavers of Nottingham, The World of Wines and prices vary from £6.99 to £11.00 a bottle!!!

Lexicon 2000
Light wheat coloured and sparkling clear in the glass. The nose starts with honey and then changes to a more grassy aroma. But peaches and flowers are still there for most. The taste of this wine is straight forward it does not have great complexity but lasts with subtle tastes lingering on the tongue. Available from corks of Cotham @ £5.99 a bottle – really good value.

Bonterra 1998
A clear lemon in colour this organic wine produced memories of warm summer orchard flowers, aromatic and even earthy to one taster. A balanced wine with good fruit flavours – mango, and peaches – mixed with luscious oak and honey. We loved ‘sherbet and dolly mixtures’ from one taster who obviously had childhood days evoked by the flavours. The unmistakeable taste of rubber was also there in the background. The finish is long and smooth. Available from Oddbins,, Bottoms Up, Virgin Wines (you will probably find it hard to pick up a 1998 now but more recent vintages readily available) Prices around £10

Bonny Doon 'Rousanne' (mislabelled) 1998
A bright yellow wine with a full, spicy smell a little rubber and honey giving the sense of a strong wine. This is not realised to the same intensity in the mouth where our taster ranged in their descriptions from thin and straight forward to smooth with marzipan flavours. The wine had less length, lightly lingering and as someone put it not a wine for the insensitive. Available from Corks of Cotham at £15.49 a bottle

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