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Viognier, the Winter White

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Viognier, like so many wines, got its start in France. Now it has found a home in vineyards around the globe. It is typically a rich, almost unctuous wine with big, ripe fruit flavors—the perfect white for winter. The panel singled out wines from three different regions as the top picks, each with its own distinctive style. What this tasting showed is that in the hands of the right winemaker, Viognier truly reflects the varied terroir and microclimate of the different wine regions. Here are the favorites:

2006 Cono Sur Vision, Grafted Block Viognier, Chile, $12.99

The opening aromas are a bit uncharacteristic for a Viognier showing herbs and a light minerality, then the spicy honeysuckle and peach kick in. The flavor is elegantly balanced in the mouth leaning toward the crisp, citrusy side of the flavor spectrum but with pleasant touches of crisp peach and lightly sweet apricot. Not as richly textured as some, this wine begs to be paired with food; think butternut squash soup or shellfish pasta—both would work well with this versatile, bargain-priced bottle.

2005 MacCallum Viognier, Columbia Valley, $24

This Washington entry offers quintessential Viognier aromas highlighted by ripe stone fruit, floral cardamom and honeysuckle. Rich and creamy fruit flavors dominate the palate with peach, blood orange and honeydew melon all backed by a nice spiciness. Just enough acid comes through, especially on the finish, to keep things in balance. That finish is remarkably persistent with a soothingly smooth spiciness that warms and relaxes.

2006 Calera Viognier, Central Coast California, $14.99

This wine is unmistakably varietal on the nose with its bright peach and melon aromas laced with spicy cinnamon and clover. On the palate, it strikes a middle ground between the other two wines with a sweet fruit quality that makes it as rich and ripe as the MacCallum, but with a big hit of crisp lemon and lime that rivals the acid punch of the Cono Sur. The flavors will wake you up from the winter doldrums, then caress you with a richness like a warm cashmere sweater.

This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Michael Molinengo, Idaho Wine Merchant; Leslie Young, Spirit Distributing

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