Monday, February 3, 2014
Last week we were invited to participate in the monthly twitter tasting #VAWineChat, feauring a trio of 2012 Viognier from Keswick Vineyards.The winery is situated due east of Charlottesville and with 16 acres, has one of the state's largest planting of Viognier - perhaps the largest. The three wines were produced from 100% estate fruit and are 100% single varietal. 2012 was a typical growing year for Virginia and winemaker Stephen Barnard also explained that they "backed off on ripeness for racy lower alcohol wines". In the winery, Barnard believes that neutral oak gives the palate some lift and enhances the texture and using a small percentage of new oak adds to complexity.
We started off the tasting with the 2012 Viognier ($24, 13.5% abv), where 70% of the juice was tank fermented, the other 30% fermented in neutral. The fermented juice then maturated for 6 months on lees. The result is an assertive fruity wine with a mouthful of citrus cream followed by a clean, refreshingly acidic finish. A rather nice start to the evening.
Next was the 2012 Reserve Viognier ($27.95, 14.2% abv) , where the juice was whole cluster pressed and then fermented wholly in neutral barrels. This wine possesses more of the peach & apricot notes usually associated with Virginia Viognier as well as more oak creaminess with hints of coconut on the nose. There's a bit of white pepper as well, which initially threw me off, but as the wine breathed, integrated nicely into the overall sensation.
The final Viognier was the 2012 Signature Series Viognier ($34.95, abv), a bold project where the juice was whole cluster pressed and racked straight to barrel without being inoculated with custom yeast strains or primed with sulpher. The hardest part for Barnard was waiting for the various yeast strains moving about the winery to begin fermenting the juice. These yeast strains could be natural strains that exist in all around us or perhaps commercial yeast that is still floating in the winery. 30% of the oak used in fermentation and aging was new French oak; thus the resulting wine is heavier than the other two with more of a toasted vanilla and honey character. The finish is still citrusy with plenty of balancing acidity - definitely the best of the bunch.
The Keswick wines showed why Viognier has great potential to be the Commonwealth's signature grape. If only the grape was not so finicky in the vineyard, more wineries could participate in the Virginia Viognier movement. But cheers to those who do, particularly Keswick Vineyards. Pair with Charlottesville based rock band Sons of Bill and Green PA Broadleaf cigars from Cigar Volante.