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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Four Viogniers - January 28, 2008


At the Taos WinterWineFestival, I tried:

  1. Calera Viognier MtHarlan (14%) 1990: Med.burnished gold color w/ no browning; beautiful/powerful very perfumed/aromatic quite floral/honeysuckle somewhat honeyed/creme brulee incredible/complex nose; soft/round very lush very floral/honeysuckle somewhat honeyed/creme brulee glycerined slight herbal spectacular/complex flavor w/ no trace of oxidation or bitterness; very long/lingering rich/powerful/lush honeyed/creme brulee very floral/honeysuckle complex finish; as spectacular an old/mature white wine as I've had. Still some youthful/DollyParton character therein.
  2. JosephPhelpsVnyds VinDeMistral NapaVlly Viognier (13%) 1990: Med.gold color; very slight hazelnutty/nutty lovely/floral/honeysuckle some ripe/peach waxy very powerful/aromatic quite complex nose; strong rich/lush glycerined very floral/honeysuckle waxy bit creme brulee rather spicy bit nutmeg beautiful/complex flavor; very long slight nutty/hazelnutty lush/rich/ripe slight peachy very floral/honeysuckle honeyed quite complex finish; beautiful complex balanced svelte Viognier w/ slight youthful/peach character.
  3. Qupe Viognier LosOlivosVnyd/SantaBarbaraCnty (12.5%) 1990: Med.gold color w/ little browning; some floral/honeysuckle slight waxy/old Rhonish slight toasty/pungent/smokey very perfumed/aromatic slight oxidized/nutty complex nose; soft/lush/ripe some nutty/hazelnutty slight oxidized/waxy some floral/honeysuckle/honeyed light pungent/smokey finish; very long ripe/floral/honeysuckle slight nutty/toasted hazelnutty slight creme brulee/waxy finish; still in beautiful shape and a lovely complex old Rhone.
  4. LaJota HowellMtn/NapaVlly Viognier (13.0%) 1989: Med.dark gold color w/ slight browning; some spicy/black pepper light toasty/oak some nutty/hazelnutty/oxidized slight floral/honeyed bit earthy nose; tart/lean/austere rather earthy little fruit some nutty/hazelnutty/oxidized some bitter/astringent bit coarse flavor; med.short leant/austere/tart/hard/raspy slightly bitter rather hazelnutty/nutty slight oxidized rather earthy finish w/ very little fruit; shouts of that HowellMtn/rough terroir; interesting white but a little too oxidized and not much of a pleasure to drink. Started off not very good in its youth and seems to never have gone anywhere.

And a wee BloodyPulpit:

1. I found these relics in my archives and decided to take them up to Taos to try. I offered the Calera to JoshJensen and the Phelps to AshleyHepworth to try under the caveat that, if they were DOA, they could stash them under the table, never to see the light of day and, if they were good, could share them w/ folks that seemed particularly interested in their wines. Both were pretty spectacular, the Calera a bit better of the two. Few of the tasters were particularly familiar w/ Viognier, fewer still w/ older versions. But most who tried the wines seemed blown away by them from the feedback I got from Josh and Ashley.
The Qupe we had at dinner at Lambert's of Taos (terrific restaurant) plus another btl of the Phelps, which was pretty much the same as the one up at the ski valley. The LaJota I cracked at home the next day out of curiosity.
2. The Calera (Josh's 2'nd vintage of this wine) I was particularly impressed with in its youth. The Qupe was also one of my favorites. The Phelps, less so. And the LaJota was typically my least favorite of those early Viogniers. The Calera was always classic DollyParton Viognier. I recounted w/ Josh how the DollyParton term entered the Rhone vernacular and he got a chuckle out of it.
I've always liked the early Qupe Viogniers, though they often (as were many of Bob's whites) were a bit on the volatile side. The Phelps were always a bit on the lean/tight side in their youth and I was not a particularly big fan of them. The LaJotas I never cared much for in their youth. They always seemed to have that typical rugged/rough/hard HowellMtn character and typically had a paucity of fruit....more like a Russian female lumberjack than DollyParton.
3. So..three of the four Viogniers were pretty impressive....not just good old bones and pleasing intellectual experiences, but truly terrific mature Viogniers w/ lots of richness, little aged character, and very complex. So...what makes me so friggin' brilliant to stash these wines away for 15+ yrs, to pull them out now....when we've been told by the wine authorities that Viognier doesn't age and you must drink them young? Well...I'm here to tell you...I'm totally clueless about older Viogniers. They're very much a crap shoot. I've had 4-5 10+ yr old ones over the last few months that were pretty much dead&gone, or on their last legs. I fully expected all four of these Viogniers to be DOA. But they wern't. Shows how little I know about laying wines down to age.
None of these Viogniers had that classic peach/pear/floral fragrance you get in young Viogniers. So, on that basis, most tasters would judge them over the hill. But, to my palate, they showed little to none of that slightly oxidized/hazelnutty/nutty character that mature white Rhones have. These were as good mature white wines as any I've had from Chard.
All four were served at cool/room temperature...the proper serving temperature for mature white wines. Serving them at the traditional cold temperatures in the upper 50'sF can frequently bring out a bitterness and greatly mute the aromatics these older whites offer up.
So....even though the wine authorities admonish us that Viogniers don't age and scold us to drink them young...sometimes the authorities don't have all the answers. Be adventuresome and stick a few away to age for 10+ yrs. Just don't ask me which ones these should be....I'm pretty clueless.
4. Learned a new trick from JoshJensen about opening older wines. Oftentimes the cork can be dried out and crumbly, well-attached to the neck of the btl, and the centre of the cork rips out when you try to pull it. Josh related w/ older corks, aftern you've driven the corkscrew into the cork, it helps to give the cork a slight downward push to break the seal w/ the next, then proceed to remove it w/ a pull. Worked quite well at home on the LaJota.

  1. So I tried the LaJota again that afternoon at room temperature (the original try was on the cool side, upper 50'sF), probably in the mid 60'sF. Much/much better:
  2. 4. LaJota HowellMtn/NapaVlly Viognier (13.0%) 1989: Some nutty/hazelnutty/Rhonish rather honeyed/floral slight earthy fairly complex nose; bit tart rather earthy some nutty/hazelnutty light honeyed/butterscotchy smooth/round slightly lush flavor; long rather earthy honeyed/creme brulee slight butterscotchy/toasty finish; far/far better on the palate w/o the hard/raspy/bitter component, more textured and nuanced.
    1. This wine was far better at a warmer temperature than it was early in the morning at a cold temperature. I attribute the vast change in character merely to the warmer temperature. Some would assert that it was merely that the wine was allowed to "breathe" for 8 hrs, but I doubt the oxidation was the culprit. There was virtually no change in color (that I could note) that would indicate oxidation was taking place. Hmmm....I've always wondered how much of the so-called "breathing effect" is merely due to change in temperature of the wine.
    Anyway, this wine was far/far better at a warmer temperature. These old whites should really be served at cool room temperature to maximize their pleasure, IMHO.


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