Viognier Exploration: Curry Chicken, Sweet Potato & Cauliflower
Getting to Know Viognier
It’s time to explore a varietal that is surprisingly easy to find, but a little less known: Viognier. Wines made from the Viognier grape tend to have a bigger body: perfect for colder weather. I purchased wines from a variety of different places: California, Washington, Oregon, Australia and France. The samples I bought range in price from $10 – $45. Let’s spend the next few weeks getting to know them, starting today!
Classic Viognier Descriptors
The Viognier grape is a green skinned white wine grape, classically thought of as a grape of the Northern Rhone. The grape typically produces high sugars and low acidity. As a wine, Viognier is known for very aromatic, full-bodied wines with relatively low acidity. Aromas are described as floral and pit fruits such as peaches. The body can be viscous, I sometimes think they seem a bit waxy. In the milk analogy for wine body, Viognier would usually be thought of as whole milk or even half-&-half.
For a classic French interpretation, we would look to the Northern Rhone communities of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. When Julie and I had lunch at Le Mangevins this summer, I asked if they had a Condrieu to try by the glass. The owner brought this George Vernay over, and I gladly tried it. It was wonderful; floral aromatics and rich yet with lively acidity and a touch of minerality. The acidity and bit of minerality were very welcome, I’m not sure if they are typical. I didn’t realize until later that this wine retails for around $150 per bottle! We won’t be sampling this one again anytime soon (sadly).
Now we’ll try a bunch and see how they compare to the “typical” description.
Rulo and Yalumba
Our first two wines come from very different areas: Washington and Australia. We have visited Rulo on a number of occasions and have found their white wines to be quite lean, never overblown, perfect for the dinner table. I expected just the opposite from the Yalumba. The alcohol level of the Rulo was 12.3% and the Yalumba was 14.1%. To my surprise, the body of the two wines was pretty similar, as well as the acidity. The Yalumba seemed quite oaky at first, but that moved to the background after 30 minutes or so. Both wines had a rich mouthfeel, but neither one went as far as viscous or waxy.
Food Pairing with Viognier
Action item #1: figure out some of the foods we’ll try pairing with all these wines. I immediately went to my go-to food pairing reference: What to Drink with What You Eat.
Here are some suggestions: Indian cuisine, curries, pork, chicken, anything in a cream sauce, moderately spicy foods. Quite a bit to play with, here we go!
Curry Chicken, Sweet Potato & Cauliflower on Basmati Rice
This recipe comes courtesy of Eating Well magazine: Curry Chicken, Sweet Potato & Cauliflower. The curry sauce is used as a marinade for the chicken and the sweet potatoes. Preparation is really easy, everything is roasted together in the oven. I made basmati rice for the base. The meal was great, mildly spicy with lots of good texture. Both wines complemented the food nicely. They paired with the moderate spiciness perfectly. By the way, I think my photo of the dish is much better than the one posted on the Eating Well website!
Rulo Viognier, River Rock Vineyard 2011 ($25 from Winery)
Eye: clear, light lemon color
Nose: flint, peach pit, a little waxy just a touch.
Mouth: medium body, a little flint, good acidity not quite tart. long finish.
Very nice with curry chicken sweet potato & cauliflower dish.
Day 2 – very floral, still nice with leftover curry chicken. Good acidity, lively.
Start to finish, I liked this wine a lot. It complemented the food very nicely and was very enjoyable just by itself.
Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley 2012 ($13 from South Lyndale Liquors)
Eye: Clear, slightly warm lemon yellow
Nose: Rich nose, but seems oaky to me. Oak dissipates after a bit.
Mouth: Oaky flavor initially. Medium body, decent acidity, but less than the Rulo. Maybe they left it a bit sweet?
After a bit, the oak seemed less obvious and this wine was very nice with curry chicken, sweet potato & cauliflower dish.
Day 2 – Better on day 2. Still a touch of wood in the background, but good acidity. Nice with leftover curry chicken.
I often avoid Australian wines because so many of them seem to be more in the rich, ripe, jammy vein. Nothing wrong with that, they just aren’t my preferred style. I think I need to be more open and give them a chance. After the initial oakiness dissipated, I enjoyed this wine quite a bit.
Do you have any experience with Viognier? If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.