Summer is days away on the calendar and despite our spring that means warm weather that should trigger lighter dishes and similarly styled wines.
Lighter weight, fresher fruit and less oak should all be on the menu and my suggestion for something new this summer is viognier. Pronounced vee-O-yay, at least in its home jurisdiction of France's northern Rhone Valley, viognier can be a pleasant diversion from the regular summer go-to whites like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling.
The origins of viognier are in the tiny but distinguished home of Condrieu in the northern Rhone Valley, but with so few producers (none are sold in government stores) you would be hard pressed to find more than half a dozen even in private stores.
The good news is this attractive honeysuckle- and mineral-scented white is growing in prominence outside of France, foremost in Australia, where the folks at Yalumba are leading worldwide research. Impressive viognier wines are also coming out of California, Argentina, Chile and right here in British Columbia.
It's not an easy grape to grow - yields are seldom predictable and often scrawny. Winemaker and educator Jane Ferrari has this to say about the aforementioned Yalumba: "The scruffy vines are low in vigour and often sport more bunches than leaves. At Yalumba, the research has been intensive and after many years of research the crucial information they are disseminating to growers is, wait for flavour development."
I'm told you can be in the vineyard one day tasting fruit and there is no flavour; the next afternoon almost inexplicably the fruit tastes and smells like a basket of ripe apricots and it's ready to pick. All of which suggest you must be in the vineyard everyday close to harvest or you could easily miss the moment.
While its colour and nose might suggest a sweet tasting wine, viognier is invariably dry. Its plethora of flavours span the gamut from mineral/apricot, white peach and candied orange peel to kiwi, apricot, lime, honeysuckle, pineapple, honey and even ginger. Viognier doesn't really need a lot of oak to shine, in fact its natural lower acidity suggest little if any oak might be the best route of all.
Food and wine specialist, sommelier Evan Goldstein, says it's dynamite with food. With young unoaked viognier he recommends foods that suggest sweetness but are not really sweet, like a Moroccan tagine of chicken, preserved lemons, and a cinnamon or yogurt-marinated Indian-style kebab.
Less fussy dishes include long braised chicken, trout stuffed with pine nuts and golden raisins, ham or turkey. The latter can be equally satisfying served cold with a chilled glass of viognier.