Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

Why I love Viognier

This often mis-pronounced grape is being found on more tables and taking up more room in wine store racks – thank goodness! What a delicious and complex wine this grape can become! It can also offer wonderful easy-drinking values. I love it because it can come in so many forms – single varietal, in a white wine blend, or even in a red wine blend.

Due to the fact that the grape is naturally low in acidity, Viognier can be tricky to pick and produce. It has to be harvested at just the right time to maintain that balance between acid and fruit. It also lacks longevity, even at the high-end, so even when you’re buying “collectible” bottles, they are meant to be drunk within a few years.

What makes Viognier so appealing? Hard to put a finger on it, but for me it's the combination of aromatics and texture that make it so delicious. The nose is full of apricot, peach and perfume, while on the palate, you have this lovely, rich coating texture that is all from the grape rather than oak or malo-lactic fermentation. One drawback (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is the alcohol levels can be high. Still the wines are a pleasure to drink.

Viognier is also a master blender, both for white wines as well as red. In white blends, its favorite partners include other Rhone varieties like Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. For red wines, it is actually co-fermented in small amounts with Syrah. The original region using this blend, Cote Rotie permits up to 20% of Viognier in its wines though its usually a much smaller percentage. Oddly enough, the addition of Viognier actually deepens the color of the Syrah and definitely boosts its aromatics. So successful in Cote Rotie, the practice has been picked up elsewhere, most notably in Australia, where you commonly find Shiraz + Viognier blends.  ch  grillet

Where does Viognier grow best? As a single varietal wine, you have the classic all-Viognier, all the time appellation, Condrieu. Condrieu is situated in the northern Rhone and produces some of the most delicious and complex Viognier you can find. Within Condrieu lies Chateau Grillet (pictured to the right), a small appellation of only a few hectares, which also produces only Viognier. Always under single ownership, this small production of Vigonier has a higher price tag, mostly due to its scarcity. California is also making some awesome Viognier, a few of my favorites being Cline and Bonterra. Australia has also found a niche with Viognier – Yalumba is doing great stuff with the grape and has an excellent organic Viognier.

When it comes to Viognier in blends, head to the Rhone where you’ll find it in many of the Rhone whites (though not in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites, as it is not one of the 13 permitted varieties). And, like the single varietal wines, California and Australia are making some excellent white Rhone blends with Viognier.

For Syrah/Shiraz with Viognier? Cote-Rotie is the classic place to find this. But the hefty price tag and scarcity of those wines may send you looking elsewhere, in which case head to Australia. They have really embraced this blend and producers like Innocent Bystander, d’Arenberg and Yalumba are making some quite delicious examples. Do watch those alcohol levels though… they can get up there!

For food pairings, I love sipping it with roast chicken or a rich pasta sauce. My corny side loves to enjoy it on its own watching the sunset.

Vacation Vino

A quick trip to Hawaii earlier this week was quite delightful. Beautiful weather, great views, long swims in the ocean. And due to resort prices,sunset we shipped ourselves some vino from the site. In between Pina Coladas and the occasional Mai Tai, here are three wines we tried (and recommend).

Bodegas Berroja Berroia Txakoli 2008 – Deliciously refreshing wine from Spain, with aromas of flowers, citrus and minerals. Palate has some excellent acidity but with a very round texture. Excellent summer wine and aperitif. About $18.

Bieler Rose Sabine 2008 – This may be my new favorite rose. I loved this wine! Dry, mineral-driven, but with excellent red fruits that make it a beautiful well-balanced wine. I may have been in Hawaii drinking it in a plastic cup, but for a moment I felt like I was in Provence. Drink as an aperitif or with olives and cheese or other appetizers. And only about $12

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2007 – Um, yeah, this wine rocks. Pinot Noir from South Africa? You bet. And it’s darn good. Hails from the Walker Bay area where Burgundian style soils and a cool sea breeze make for an excellent Pinot Noir breeding ground. Has that typical South African smokiness, but very well tamed by the delicate fruit and spice. Recommend with some venison or other game perhaps. This was a splurge wine for us, at $45. 

Happy drinking!

Finding good wine under $10


In tasting a lot of wine, one learns that price does not always dictate quality. However, in general, it can be a good indicator of what the bottle has in store. That’s why it’s exciting to find inexpensive wine that delivers well over its price tag. We can usually find a good number of wines under $20 that do this. Finding good wines under $10 can be more of a challenge. And since some of us are keeping our purse strings tighter, spending even $7 on a wine is an investment we would like to be sure pays off. 

Luckily, there are a few go-to regions or styles that consistently offer great value wines for around $10 a bottle.

cristalino

Cava – you cannot go wrong with most Cavas. Dry and crisp, this style of bubbly is a perfect solution for getting your bubble fix without breaking into the savings. Great as an aperitif, with some chinese take out, or in Mimosa form. Try Cristalino Brut Cava or Segura Viudas.

Vinho Verde – Refreshing. That’s the best word that describes this wine. Slightly fizzy, oh so slightly sweet, very low alcohol, crisp & fruity. We love this wine. It is perfect for lunch or on a hot day. Also makes a wildly good white sangria! Try Broadbent or Aveleda.

Chenin Blanc from South Africa – The most planted variety in the country, Southkanu Africa makes some pretty awesome dry Chenin Blanc. Similar to Sauvignon Blanc in  style, but with a slightly richer texture and lacking the grassy element of SB, Chenin is a great crisp, fresh wine. Some producers in the $10 range include Kanu, Indaba and MAN Vintners

Red cdrRhone blends – Rhone blends are great food wine and great party wines. An added benefit of being a blend is the ability to change the blend percentages each  year, depending on which grape variety fared best in each vintage. This creates  consistency in quality. Look for Cotes-du-Rhones from France – ‘05,’06 and ‘07 were excellent years.  Australia also make great value blends.

Spanish Monastrell – otherwise known as Mourvedre, the grape actually hails from Spain originally, but is now an integral part of the blends in the Southern Rhone, as well as Rhone blends around the world. In Spain, the vine thrives in the hot, dry weather of Jumilla and Yecla, where it produces dense, concentrated wines with lots of jammy fruit and low price tags. Spicy and smooth, these are great value wines. Try the Bodega Castano Monastrell.

How has the economy affected your drinking habits?

 2 glasses
Wine Spectator recently released results from an online poll that asked: “What are you drinking now?” The responses reflected what the numbers have told us this past year as well: Consumers are abandoning the higher-priced or hard-to-get bottles and going for value. This typically means under $20, often under $15, occasionally under $10, but all with the same goal – To find that sweet spot where quality meets value.

We recently noted that this trend of consumers buying at lower price points has in fact brought prices down on some more spendy wines. We even added an option on our site to search by savings since some of the deals are so crazy good.

Now we want to hear what changes you’ve made – give us some stories and specifics. Have you sacrificed a $20 bottle for a $10 one? Switched grapes? Regions? Producers? Trying lots of new things?

This is what we want to know – What are you drinking and why? We’ll include some of your responses in our Wine Club Newsletter.

A Riesling to Try


A question I keep posing these days has to do with what one drinks when temperatures reach into the 100s. In the Northwest, temps are hovering at 102 degrees. This is an area where many homes lack air conditioning, so keeping cool requires fans, basements and cool drinks. When I ask what is most refresohne rieslingshing in this weather, an answer I frequently get is Riesling.

Riesling is a perfect hot weather drink as it is extremely refreshing, while still very fruit driven. The acidity and lower alcohol are a perfect match for quenching your wine thirst. Even when served ultra cold, Riesling’s layers of fruit and minerality can show through.

One to try is the Schmitt Sohne Thomas Schmitt Riesling QBA 2007. At $15, this wine is perfect for summer. Great acidity with ripe peach fruit backed by some good mineral notes. Fruity but crisp & a good, strong finish. Great for hot nights and/or spicy fare.