If you’ve had wines made from the viognier grape, there is a very good chance that they came from warm, if not hot climates, and exploded with aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, over a rich, luscious mouthfeel. Acidity, crispness, freshness? Not so much.
Yet there is another way to make viognier. A more northerly way, like the direction pointed to by Peay Vineyards, one of my favorite vineyards, who make a tiny bit of it in their cool Sonoma Coast vineyards. Syrah is picked as late as the last week of October, at the Peay vineyards, and without the high sugar and high alcohol that you normally see in California syrah.
What would be the perfect place to test the possibilities of cool-climate viognier? Canada, I would say.
Case in point, the 2006 St Davids Bench Vineyard 2006 Viognier by Château des Charmes. Generally speaking, the wine feels closer to a chablis than to a Rhône wine, with the bright acidity, citrus flavors and minerality it displays. So much so that, looking at this pale wine, I started wondering if it had ripened enough. But a couple of days after the first taste, I noted that the aromas had started expressing these tropical fruit notes that are so typical of the variety. So the varietal character and the ripeness were there, after all. It just needs time to develop. I’d be interested to see where that wine is headed, after a few years of cellaring.
The Jackson-Triggs 2007 Okanagan Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Viognier, for its part, shows a riper general feel than the Château des Charmes, but without the richness of its Rhône counterparts. The winery went for hang time, and got a fair bit of sugar and ripeness out of the grapes, with apricot and pineapple notes, a little pear and some jasmine tea, good intensity and acidity that opens up on the finish, providing a welcome bit of freshness.
To come back to my North vs South thing, the way the two wines work would cast the Niagara region as the North, and the Okanagan as the South, even though the Westernmost vineyard is further north than the Eastern one. Nevertheless, in both cases, the wines show that there is an interest in growing viognier in cooler climates, and seeing it reveal a different personality. A little bit like syrah vs shiraz,