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Picpoul, Viognier exceptional white wines

Picpoul, Viognier exceptional white wines

As the days get warmer, many wine drinkers are shelving their favorite reds and opting for refreshing whites. And my past columns have reflected this shift. But the truth is, I generally enjoy white wines over red wines year-round. I particularly enjoy those with refreshing, bright acidity and a complex range of aromas and flavors. White wines are typically lighter in alcohol, pair with an incredibly wide range of foods and offer exceptional quality at a lower price.

When I’m asked about my favorites and I say, “Picpoul” it is generally followed by the replay, “pic-what?” Think tall, slim, green bottles with a refreshing bone-dry taste layered with mineral, grapefruit, floral, green apple, lemon taste and most importantly racing high acidity. This grape has an extensive past as an ancient Languedoc grape variety also known as piquepoul, literally meaning “lip stinger” signifying the high acidity of the wine. Picpoul is the grape name but look for Picpoul de Pinet when buying. It is one of the named Crus of Coteaux de Languedoc made exclusively from this grape. Another reason this is one of my favorite white wines, the price of most bottles falls under $15 retail.


  • 2016 Picpoul de Pinet, France (about $12 retail)


  • 2016 Jadix Picpoul de Pinet, France (about $14 retail)


Another of my white wine loves is Viognier. Offer me a glass of Viognier and I will pause to take pleasure in the aromatics of this wine’s delicate aromas of apricots, peaches and blossoms and then on to the lovely rich coating texture this grape naturally offers. It’s a wine to be savored slowly to take in all the complexities. Unlike many white grapes, viognier can stand alone without the use of winemaking techniques from oak or malo-lactic fermentation. Because of the growing technique this grape will generally have a natural low acidity, making it ideal for those who shy away from white wines with searing acidity. It’s most famous for its home in the French Rhone appellation Condrieu but in the past 20 years California mastered this grape. California styles tend to be higher in alcohol but when balanced with the lower acidity and aromatic complexity of this grape it can be perfection.


  • 2016 Louis Latour Duet Viognier/Chardonnay, France (about $15 retail)


  • 2016 Spann Vineyards Viognier, California (about $19 retail)
Viognier: A grape few vintners chose

Viognier: A grape few vintners chose

I think just as we search out new tastes and flavors in food we crave the same in wines. If you are looking to fall in love with another grape, have I got the grape for you. It’s the soft, perfumed, uplifting, savory, creamy and rich viognier. This is a grape, I like to say, that if you are one to stop and smell the flowers, then viognier will make you swoon.

It’s a grape we are lucky to have in the wine world. Just a decade ago few wine enthusiasts had ever even heard of the grape much less tasted the wine. Around 1965, Condrieu, a tiny Rhone appellation in Southern France, may have single-handedly kept viognier alive. Some say it was down to a mere 20 acres of barely thriving viognier vines. A single vintage was producing a minuscule amount of wine.

Josh Jensen of Calera Wine Co. in California decided this was a great grape to explore, and planted a few vines in his mountain vineyard. George Duboeuf, the “king of Beaujolais,” was also planting them in France, and many more growers around the world followed. By the mid-1990s not only was this grape being planted all around the world but wine consumers were falling in love.

There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, this grape is at its best when young and fresh. When describing the taste of this wine you can think of every aromatic fruit and flower you can and then throw them in a wine glass. It can have aromas of apricots, peaches, spice, honeysuckle and jasmine. Those who don’t care for the high acidity of grapes such as sauvignon blanc will enjoy the low acidity captured when growers pick the viognier early.

When it comes to matching viognier with food, I think it is best enjoyed as an aperitif. This allows you to revel in its intoxicating perfume. But that’s not to say it doesn’t pair well with food. It’s a good match with mildly spicy dishes, chicken with cream, and perfect with rich-tasting seafood such as lobster.

To not let you down, I tasted quite a few voigniers to compile this week’s recommendations. The ones listed showcase the best in all price ranges for the aroma and taste of this grape. Some have been blended with a small number of other grapes, yet still express the lead traits of viognier.


  • 2015 White Knight Viognier, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2015 La Playa Viognier Chardonnay, Chile (about $10 retail)


  • 2013 Ferraton Pere & Fils Condrieu Les Mandouls, France (about $60 retail)
  • 2014 Treana Blanc, California (about $28 retail)
  • 2014 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Viognier, France (about $20 retail)

Explore varietals to escape doldrums

When walking the long aisles of a wine shop, you’ve probably had moments of discouragement, not because of an inadequate selection of wines but from the humdrum feeling you experience reading the routine labels one after another — cabernet, cabernet, cabernet; merlot, merlot, merlot; chardonnay, chardonnay, chardonnay.

Every once in a while a snazzy label jumps out at you and for a split second you are drawn to the shelf, only to resume chanting the familiar “Cabernet … cabernet … cabernet.”

There is no need for the monotonous wine search when more than 150 different commonly grown varietals await your palate. For a head start on stepping out of the box consider exploring these refreshing summer favorites.

Snubbed almost as often as white zinfandel, Rieslings may be the most under-appreciated white grapes in the world. That’s usually because of the continued misunderstood image of all Rieslings as sweet, the cumbersome, confusing labels or simply because people have not explored the surprising and racy crispness of dry Rieslings.

In its youth it is crisp, light, apple-y and refreshing. With age, fine Rieslings take on aromas of petroleum (in a good way) and become richer on the palate.


  • 2010 Cupcake Dry Riesling, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2009 Spy Valley Riesling, New Zealand (about $24 retail)

If you enjoy New World chardonnay, you’ll love the unique taste of Viognier. Traditionally grown in France’s northern Rhone region, California’s Rhone Rangers are beginning to master this rich, perfumed grape. At its best it’s a dry, opulent, rich, mouthwatering wine with layers of aromatic flowers.


  • 2010 Yulumba Y Series Viognier, Australia (about $12 retail)


  • 2010 Bridlewood Viognier, California (about $23 retail)

Albarino is produced and grown in the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain. The climate in most of Spain can best be described as hot, hotter and unbearable. This area offers much cooler temperatures and has an abundance of rainfall, all contributing to Albarino’s delicate, lively, aromatic characteristic. For centuries, its following was in the local Spanish market, but since its release to the rest of the world, it is emerging with cult status in limited quantities.


  • 2009 Martin Codax Albarino, Spain (about $14 retail)


  • 2009 Laxas Albarino, Spain (about $20 retail)