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Spice Route Viognier 2009
Light bronze in the glass. Perfumed aromas of tropical fruit and candied orange peel. Spicy complexity and rich mouthfeel, with ripe fruit reappearing on the palate. Perfume and warming spice continue for an elegant and lengthy finish.
With an important wine renaissance is in full swing, impressive red and white bargains abound in South Africa. The country has a particularly long and rich history with winemaking, especially considering its status as part of the “New World.” In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century.
Today, however, South Africa is increasingly responsible for high-demand, high-quality wines—a blessing to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot. But the Benguela Current from Antarctica provides brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening of grapes. Similarly, cooler, high-elevation vineyard sites throughout South Africa offer similar, favorable growing conditions.
South Africa’s wine zones are divided into region, then smaller districts and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for red-fruit-driven, spicy, earthy reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
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.