Penya Viognier 2016
Viognier has a thick skin. Literally, not metaphorically.
In fact, Viognier (Vee-unh-yea!) has a very thick skin. And while most of us don’t spend our time pondering the pellicule of Vitis vinifera, it’s the skin that gives Viognier is strikingly pronounced aromas of white peaches, pineapple and grapefruit while still having a dry, full-bodied taste.
For farmers, however, Viognier’s thick skin has one serious complication. It turns out that the qualities that make Viognier such an exciting wine to drink also make it a difficult grape to grow.
The skin is the last part of a wine grape to ripen. And unfortunately the skin carries most of the flavor compounds, the flavonoids, that make wine tasty. Viognier’s genetic programming for a very thick skin means a long “hang time” – time on the vine after veraison – to fully ripen. The longer the hang time, the more sunlight combined with photosynthesis that ripens Viognier’s berries into
the sublime apricot, peachy, and pineapple flavors we expect.
Now here comes the complication. As Viognier hangs on the vine, gaining those flavors, it also gains sugar and loses acidity. Initially this sounds quite tasty: nobody wants to suck on a lemon and lemonade tastes better with more sugar. But once inside the winery all that sugar in Viognier (or most) gets fermented into alcohol. The result tastes like hot, alcoholic Kool-Aid; or Lemonade Port. And while these drinks may have been exciting at frat parties of yore, they lack the refreshment of a fun-drinking, backyard patio wine suitable for our refined selves of today.
Planting Viognier in the right location gets around all these faults. “Right” meaning plenty of sun but relatively cool temps and nitrogen-poor soils. The combination is important. The sun exposure ripens up the skin, the coolness preserves acidity while keeping sugar low, and nitrogen-poor soils slow down photosynthesis. The result is a balanced, fresh, but most of all, utterly delicious wine.
And this is exactly what the vignerons in the tiny hamlet of Pene have done. Taking the name from the hamlet, Penya is in the Cotes Catalanes, which is west of the Cotes du Rhone, closer to Spain, and inland from the Mediterranean.
A bouquet of apricots, lychees and spring flowers soars from the glass – this is perfectly ripened Viognier. But unlike so many other Viogniers, this one is fresh and balanced on the palate. Fruit notes of pineapple, caramelized oranges and grapefruit ride through the finish, trailing off with a refreshing sense of minerality.
A perfect wine for the backyard BBQ, or just cocktailing on a summer day, Penya’s Viognier is not to be missed!