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Charles Smith Lawrence Vineyard Viognier 2011
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
A large and geographically diverse AVA capable of producing a wide variety of wine styles, the Columbia Valley AVA is home to 99% of Washington state’s total vineyard area. A small section of the AVA even extends into northern Oregon!
Because of its size, it is necessarily divided into several distinctive sub-AVAs, including Walla Walla Valley and Yakima Valley—which are both further split into smaller, noteworthy appellations. A region this size will of course have varied microclimates, but on the whole it experiences extreme winters and long, hot, dry summers. Frost is a common risk during winter and spring. The towering Cascade mountain range creates a rain shadow, keeping the valley relatively rain-free throughout the entire year, necessitating irrigation from the Columbia River. The lack of humidity combined with sandy soils allows for vines to be grown on their own rootstock, as phylloxera is not a serious concern.
Red wines make up the majority of production in the Columbia Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant variety here, where it produces wines with a pleasant balance of dark fruit and herbs. Wines made from Merlot are typically supple, with sweet red fruit and sometimes a hint of chocolate or mint. Syrah tends to be savory and Old-World-leaning, with a wide range of possible fruit flavors and plenty of spice. The most planted white varieties are Chardonnay and Riesling. These range in style from citrus and green apple dominant in cooler sites, to riper, fleshier wines with stone fruit flavors coming from the warmer vineyards.
Full-figured and reminiscent of a potent floral perfume, Viognier is the mandatory grape of the northern Rhône appellation Condrieu and neighboring monopole (an entire appellation dedicated to just one winery) Château Grillet. It is also a blending variety in several appellations throughout the entire Rhône Valley. Viognier is grown throughout much of the world with some degree of success, but is perhaps at its best outside of France in Oregon, Washington, and cooler parts of Australia, where minerality and acidity can be achieved to give the wine the backbone it can sometimes lack.
In the Glass
This is a heady, aromatic variety making rich, complex, and full-bodied white wines redolent of a floral bouquet and assorted stone fruits and tropical fruits, with a hint of spice not unlike that of Gewürztraminer. It is lower in acidity than most white wines, lending to its heavy impression on the palate. While a whiff of Viognier might suggest sweet flavors, these wines are typically quite dry.
Viognier is an intense, bold variety that can easily stand up to gutsy food like pork loin with apricot stuffing, chicken Kiev, or rich, spicy fare.
While Viognier is a white grape, it also plays an important role in the red wines of Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhône, made otherwise from Syrah. About 5% Viognier is typically co-fermented with the Syrah in order to stabilize the color, and as an added benefit, add a subtle perfume.