Demand for Virginia viognier has grown considerably since Dennis Horton, founder of Horton Winery in Gordonsville, planted the first vines in the commonwealth in 1989.
Grown throughout the world, viognier is best known as the grape of the Condrieu region of the Northern Rhone in France. Viognier has found a home here in the Old Dominion and is the fifth most planted grape variety in the state with 259 bearing acres under vine (and 82 non-bearing acres). About 80 Virginia wineries offer a viognier.
Given the rising popularity of wines made from viognier, the Virginia Wine Board designated it the state’s official grape for national branding purposes in May 2011. Though viognier is popular with consumers, it can be a headache for growers because it’s prone to diseases like powdery mildew and yield fluctuations.
Beginning with the rain-soaked 2011 vintage, recent vintages have been challenging for viognier, resulting in a considerable drop in production in some regions across the state.
Virginia viognier fans will be glad to know that 2015 was a great year for the state’s official grape. Winemakers are reporting a fantastic 2015 crop in terms of yield and quality.
Here are a few favorite Virginia Viogniers from a recent tasting:
Veritas Vineyards 2015 Viognier, Monticello AVA.
Made from grapes grown on the Veritas estate in Afton, the 2015 is 100 percent viognier. Winemaker Emily Pelton consistently makes one of the top viogniers in the state; the 2015 may be her best yet, showcasing the potential of this grape in Virginia.
Bright, gold color in the glass, this viognier is fresh and vibrant, offering notes of peach, honeysuckle and white flowers with a lovely waxy-peach texture in the mouth. Rich without being cloying. Excellent balance. Delicious!
This wine will be even better in five years. Would be great paired with Thai food.
General’s Ridge 2015 Viognier, Northern Neck.
With each new vintage, this growing winery is becoming the gem of Virginia’s Northern Neck. This viognier was made by noted Virginia and Burgundy winemaker Michael Shaps with fruit grown in the General’s Ridge estate vineyard planted in 2001.
Darker gold in color, this viognier offers notes of peach, apricot crème brûlée with hints of herbs on the edges. Well balanced with a long stone fruit finish.
This wine pairs beautifully with Grayson cheese.
King Family Vineyards 2015 Viognier, Monticello AVA.
King Family winemaker Matthieu Finot may be best known for his award-winning meritage red blends, but the 2015 viognier is deserving of high praise.
A blend of 85 percent viognier with 15 percent petit manseng for acidity, this viognier is rich and unctuous with notes of peach syrup and zippy citrus fruits. Seventy percent of the juice was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks while the rest was aged in neutral oak, acacia barrels and concrete egg.
Finot also made a limited production orange viognier (meaning the juice was fermented on its skin like a red wine) as part of the Small Batch Series that is available only to club members.
Keswick Vineyards 2015 Les Vents d’Anges Viognier, Monticello AVA.
Named for owner Al Schornberg’s youngest sister, Genevieve, Les Vents d’Anges means ‘the wind of angels.’
This is one of three viogniers produced from Keswick estate fruit by winemaker Stephen Barnard, who won the Virginia Governor’s Cup this year for his 2014 Cabernet Franc Estate Reserve.
Rich with loads of stone fruits, this wine would make a great aperitif and would pair well with fish topped with mango salsa.
Tarara Winery 2015 Viognier, Loudoun County.
Made from 100 percent viognier; fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, it is fresh and clean. This viognier is light-yellow color in the glass.
Notes of peach and white flower dominate with zippy stone fruit acidity.
It is perfect served as an aperitif or paired with salads.
Of note: Look for 2015 viogniers from these other notable producers: Horton Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards in the Monticello AVA; Breaux Vineyards and North Gate Vineyard in Loudoun County.