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Viognier

Once in a while I just want a red wine that makes me happy. Not too much to ask, right? On a day as fantastic as today, when life explodes with good fortune after a poor week, the one thing I ask from my wine is: make me grin. The ideal red grape would, for times of celebration, reliably demonstrate a few key qualities: Delicious dark fruit, emphasizing blackberry or plum. Some notes of earth, black pepper, and mocha. From Australia – specifically, Barossa.

Fine, a variety of red grapes do this all the time: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sangiovese… but only Shiraz has that special mix of ebullient fruit and depth of flavor that keep me coming back for another whiff, another sip. Another bottle. Another case. Etc.

Chief contender this week would be the Australian winery, Yalumba. Yalumba has been making wine in the Barossa Valley since 1849. The word in Aboriginal means “all the land around,” and these winemakers really take advantage of Australian terroir. Great value all around, with numerous blends to satisfy a variety of palates and situations, especially if those situations involve a party.

The 2010 Yalumba Shiraz/Viognier blend, 80% Shiraz and 20% Viognier, captures the essence of what I enjoy in Australia wine. Lush, fruit-forward and bright without being brassy, this juice just sways in front of you. A near-purple red in the glass, with aromas of lychee, lavender and blackberry that land like cats into velvety plum and mocha cushions. Deliciously round, showing fine tannins and a firm structure, this Shiraz maintains a silky mouthfeel leading to a medium finish, hinting at oak. Buy a bottle and drink from a mason jar; pair with T-bone or braised short ribs. $12.


Generally, if I am eating Asiatic cuisine, I pair it with aromatic German Riesling or Gewürztraminer. The trembling acidity of these wines cloaking their cores of honeyed sweetness – and generally in the case of Gewürztraminer, a spicier floral element – make them ideal companions for mild Thai curries, among other things. Sometimes, however, none of these wines are at hand. I can rarely purchase truly fine Riesling, in fact. As a result, I have needed to find alternatives.

Enter the 2008 Cono Sur Visión Viognier; I have made much ado about their Pinot Noir in the past, and this varietal earns similar praise. Distinct notes of peach, citrus zest, and a hint of vanilla spice, the result of 60% of the blend being aged six months in oak, shimmer on the nose off of a wine that shines golden in the glass. Stony white fruits in the mouth, more peaches, citrus, apricot, and refreshing acidity. Lingering clean finish. I would readily drink this with anything sweet and sour, or with fish or chicken dishes based on Teriyaki or ginger marinades. This wine was surprisingly good, something I am happy to report I see frequently in Chilean wines, and is a terrific value at $10.


If I had to choose one cheap wine to sip by a pool under the June sun at midday, this would be a serious candidate. Viognier is an ancient grape with an unknown heritage, but was probably originally brought to the Rhône by the Romans. It is a genetic cousin to Nebbiolo, the esteemed varietal responsible for Barolo and Barbaresco. The origins of the name itself are also a mystery. Once a commonly grown grape, Viognier is now something of a curiosity, but it is capable of producing delicious, refreshing wines.

Like Riesling and Muscat, Viognier is known for its distinct floral aromas paired with potent fruit, and it is generally dry. It can be quite versatile as a companion to food. The 2008 Pie de Palo is no exception, showing delightful tropical and citrus aromas paired with flowery notes, and a mouthfeel that is at once soft but possessed of a decent level of acidity. Thank you, Argentina! I would readily pair this with Thai food, sashimi, or obnoxious French cheeses, but it is also good on its own, like Explosion Sauce. $8.