By Brandon Little
Battle Of The Okanagan: Viognier
Photography: Wayne Little
Venue: Private residence, Vernon
V is for Viognier
Out of all the categories we selected for Battle of the Okanagan, I think this is the round I’ve been looking forward to the most! If you asked me how many Viogniers I’ve had from the Okanagan, I’d honestly be able to count them on one hand, so this is going to be extremely educational. I don’t know many people who drink Viognier, buy Viognier, or say it’s their favourite grape, but there has to be a reason our wineries are selling it. I’ve always looked at Viognier as being a transition wine, it takes you from the lighter whites like Pinot Gris and Riesling, into the more voluptuous style of whites, like Chardonnay. If you’re someone who wants to take the plunge towards the fuller-bodied whites, a Viognier is a great first step.
Viognier is extremely floral, it can be like smelling a bouquet of flowers. It also takes on attributes from stone fruit, honeysuckle, tropical flavours, and when oaked, spices like clove and nutmeg. It can even seem a bit oily on the tongue. You’ve probably seen some Syrahs that say they contain Viognier and wonder why the heck would a winery add Viognier to Syrah. Well, It makes the wine more aromatic and can change a heavy meaty Syrah to something more elegant.
For our blind tasting we were are at an undisclosed location. The August long weekend was next to impossible for organizing everyone, so we figured, let's not leave the city and host our event at someone’s house and do this semi-picnic style.
Our guest judge was my wife Jacquie. The one thing she has is a fantastic sniffer! I can’t believe some of the aromas she can pick out, and it’s always awesome tasting with her. She’s also been preggo for (almost) the last year and now on maternity leave, so she’s been itching to get back into tasting wine.
As always, Wade was our second judge and we both agreed that we don't have much of a background in Okanagan Viognier, so this category was almost like an evaluation from three average Joes and Josephines.
The seven wines we chose were mostly based on ones we’ve heard good things about. We won’t list why the wines were selected in this article because we can only speak to one of them and yes it’s good. We had no idea what to expect and let me tell you some were a huge surprise and some were crazy different from the rest.
We tasted, rated and scored each of these Viogniers blind. This post will provide you with a description of each bottle, who won, and what the winners’ score was.
#1 C.C. Jentsch Cellars
I’m glad this was our first Viognier of the day, because it was a great example of what a Viognier is. Aromas weren’t pronounced, but they were pretty darn close. We found white peach, white pepper, mandarin orange, and white flowers galore. The wine was dry, medium + acid, filled with brazil nuts, tart citrus, tropical fruit, and light pepper. A great mouthfeel, right smack in the middle, not heavy like a Chardonnay but not light like a Riesling...can be. It was very well-balanced and elegant. With all the attributes of aromas, taste, finish, it had a little bit of everything and nothing was over powering or too subtle.
#2 Elephant Island
Region: Naramata Bench
This was VERY floral, flowers of Lilac or Lavender jumped right out of the glass. The wine was not only floral, but it carried tropical fruit; grilled pineapple and candied citrus. My wife tossed out the term “Marshmallow” for one of the aromas. Remember what I said about my wife’s sniffer?..lol The wine
was off-dry, so there was a touch of sweetness, medium acid, spices, tropical mango and pineapple. We all picked up the oily texture. A smooth long ripe finish that’s very well balanced. We have two bottles of this in our cellar….it’s really good!
#3 Summerhill Pyramid Winery
This was by far the most unique wine of the day and the complete opposite of everything we tasted. I’d say avoid this if you’re someone who wants to try Viognier for the first time, because it’s a bit overwhelming, mind you, if that’s something that floats your boat, by all means get a bottle. Looking at the wine, it was almost tawny in colour and I’m not sure how they got that colour, it was so different compared to the other wines. Aggressive smoke, smoked pineapple, smoked fish, sausage (yes I did write sausage), honeycomb candied orange zest, very pronounced aromatics and bone dry! Flavours of caramel, apricot, ashy, honey, medium + acid, medium body, more sausage, and a medium finish. Wade mentioned he thought this was a 2017 with smoke taint and I think he’s right.
Medium lemon in colour, a subtle smell of wet animal, yet still floral, green apple, heavy cream, orange zest and a bit nutty. Very subtle, fresh, and crisp. Lots of citrus, medium + acid, oily, mandarin orange, orange jello, and honey crisp apple – tart yet a bit sweet. The finish was short, leaving you with this lingering flavour of bruised apple, something I’ve never experienced before.
#5 Road 13 Vineyards
Price is $20.87
Great colour, on the verge of medium lemon to light gold. Aromas of apple, cotton candy, blossom, all very subtle, elegant and slightly herbaceous. Dry yet oily, medium + acid, bold body, hubba bubba bubblegum, heavy vanilla cream, honey, apricot, pineapple, chalky, pink lady apple, and spicy. The finish was creamy, dry, textured, and short. This would be a great food wine!
#6 Bench 1775
Region: Naramata Bench
The first comment was “this wine reminds me of Christmas!” Medium lemon, Christmas tree (pine needles or douglas fir), melon, cantaloupe, honeydew, lime, pineapple, tangerine, medium to medium + intensity. All of the above made smelling the wine very enjoyable. The flavours were really nice too, off-dry, high acidity, bold body, ripe tropical and orchard fruits, honey, starfruit, baking spice, mango, papaya, big flavours, that were ripe and juicy. The finish was loooong. This is a perfect picnic wine, it’s complex and adventurous enough, it’s a conversation starter, and very satisfying.
#7 Young & Wyse
Medium gold with a green hue. Aromatics are rose petal, herbaceous, mango, beeswax, and straw. A very pretty nose. This was the craziest of all mouthfeel sensations of the day, it was described as a strong prickly minerality and almost bubbly. When you swirled the wine around your mouth it felt bubbly, but it wasn’t, such a cool experience! Medium body, petulant, oily, spicy, very dry, citrus, honey, and papaya. It’s hard to focus on the fruit when the mouthfeel is so mind blowing. The finish was medium, tart, and simple. This is a party wine!!
-THE HIGHEST SCORE-
Well that’s it. This was the closest competition we’ve had so far, there wasn’t one that stood out over the rest and the top three were seriously close.
And the winner is....... #6 !!!
2017 Bench 1775 – Viognier
with an average score of 12.8/15
(the highest score we’ve had so far in this competition)
Bench 1775 is on the Naramata Bench with a killer view of Okanagan Lake (we’ll be shooting there in September). Their fruit is grown from three different vineyards in the Okanagan – Osoyoos and Central Okanagan. Before the contest I’ve never tasted their wine, but someone suggested I contact them because they have a really good Viognier. I’m glad I did.
I met the wine maker Val and we had a really good conversation. She was the only person who told me that even if they don’t win, she’d like to know why, what is it we didn’t like about their wine. I think that’s a really cool thing, because you only get better by listening to your audience. I’d say they’ve done a wonderful job with their Viognier and there’s not much I’d change. It was the only wine to receive a 5/5 from one of the judges when it comes to the taste.
Congrats Bench 1775!