A well-earned drink on a Friday night. It was a long day in the lettuce fields and all day I was thinking about my Friday night feast and some sort of libation. Tonight’s drink, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, is a Viognier from the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara. VEE-OWN-YAY, people. It’s good stuff and extremely versatile. It can be sweet and rich or go the opposite direction and be tart and dry. Kind of like me. Sometimes I’m sweet and rich and sometimes…ok it’s nothing like me.
Viognier is a touchy grape. It suffers a lot from mildew so it likes a slightly warmer climate but likes a cool wind to cool it off. See? Touchy. Because of this, coastal river valleys are perfect. The valley warms as you move away from the coast but as the hot air deep in the valley rises, the cooler air closer to the coast is sucked down the valley which cools the grapes. The Santa Ynez Valley, which Californians would say is very close to the demarcation between southern and central California, is an ideal home for this varietal.
Because of it’s range, you sort of need to know what the bottle is before you can try to pair it with food. Even the production region cannot totally clue you in because there is so much variation in how people treat this juice in order to get the desired result. When I tasted this bottle in the Santa Ynez Valley, I knew it was a keeper. A lot of Viognier is too sweet for me. If it’s designed as a dessert wine, I don’t really have a problem with it but generally the sweetness sneaks up on me and bums me out. This wine has a great, sweet fruit component but is well balanced by acute minerality and acidity. That’s why I decided to go with some spicy Indian food to pair it with.
A new Indian place just opened underneath my apartment. Sometimes life just isn’t so bad. The lamb Vindaloo did not disappoint. The perfect amount of spice to pair with the wine without ripping the roof of my mouth off. Viognier and spicy food are made for each other. This wine has all the bright, crisp flavors to combat the dark spice from the curry. It has everything you’d expect from a Viognier. Stone fruit, pear, grapefruit. But, this one also has such wonderful aroma beneath all the fruit, of hay and must, in the best way possible. While the food gave such a warming feeling from all the spice, the wine was there to cool down my palate. You still get a rich, round mouth-feel from the oak barrels but the acidity that I love in a white wine isn’t lost. Also, I love the color of this wine. It’s hard to describe. It has a brilliant straw, almost blonde color. Gorgeous.
This winery has a great line-up of wines and a huge tasting room in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was an impulse stop at the end of a long wine tasting trip and was probably one of the best, bad decision I have ever made. I really liked every thing I tasted there but this wine stood out to me not only for quality but for price. I think I paid $17 for this bottle. A fantastic bargain if you ask me.
A lot of Viognier got planted in California over the last 20 years so it isn’t as rare as it once was. This bottle is available from their website, zacamesa.com. But, there are several great options from your local bottle shop, I’m sure. The next time you are having a night of spicy Asian or Indian food remember to grab a Viognier. Everyone knows how to get a wine for a steak or a nice piece of fish, but expanding your knowledge into some of the less popular varietals can solve a lot of problems for you when it comes to pairing. I try to shoehorn wine into almost every aspect of my life so pairing knowledge is something I am constantly trying to expand. While spicy food and Viognier is a common pairing, it’s something you’d totally miss if you stick to the basics of California wine like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Branch out and profit.