My Squashy Valentine

My husband and I don’t exchange Valentine’s Day cards or gifts, we never have.  When we got married (24 years ago), I gave him a Get-out-of-Valentine’s-Day-Forever-Card (and a German Shepherd puppy) as a wedding gift.  It’s why I’m the best wife ever.  ❤️

So, for my inaugural #WinePW, I decided to give myself a Valentine . . . squash.  The Mr. Armchair Sommelier thinks squash is something you carve at Halloween, not eat (the last time I convinced him to try squash it went pretty much like that scene from the movieBig, where Tom Hanks tries caviar and furiously wipes off his tongue like he’s just eaten a swarm of bees). TMAS was on a business trip last week, so I took advantage of the opportunity to bring a swarm of bees squash into my kitchen.

I settled on a Bon Appétit recipe, Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage.  A “real” carbonara is made with eggs and cheese, so the Italians were in full revolt mode in the comments section.  But I’m Scandinavian/German, so I see absolutely nothing to complain about here.  I was surprised by the texture of this dish.  There’s such a creaminess to it . . . but it’s squash!  The sage and pancetta are gorgeous contrasts.  And, since my grocery store (Wegmans, aka Disneyland for Foodies) sells pre-cubed butternut squash, and pre-diced pancetta, this was an über-easy recipe to pull off.  I didn’t make any changes to the recipe (except for forgetting the shaved Pecorino cheese).


I agonized about the wine pairing for this dish — pasta, squash, meat and herbs, all swimming in the same bowl!?!  It was easier to make the dish than pair it.  Hmmm.  Light red or medium white?  Light red or medium white??  I almost went with a Pinot Noir because of the pancetta and sage.  But something felt right about white with this dish.

After way too much hemming & hawing, my pairing choice was . . . Virginia Viognier.

The pairing was a thumbs-up for me.  The weight of the Viognier and its lower acidity worked well with the faux-creaminess of the squash sauce.  And the sage contrasted well with the tropical flavors in the wine.  And it didn’t totally fight with the pancetta, so I’m calling it a win.

Things to know about Viognier:

  • Viognier has its origins in France, and is pronounced “Vee-own-yay”, which is French for let’s throw in a silent G just for kicks.
  • In the 1960s, Viognier almost went the way of the dinosaurs, but has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in the last decade or two.
  • Most of the world’s Viognier is grown in France.  It’s the darling (and only grape permitted) in the Northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet.  Outside of France, you can find significant Viognier plantings in the United States (the Central Coast of California and Virginia, particularly) and Australia.
  • Viognier is temperamental and difficult to grow (kind of like a teenager).  It ripens early and is notorious for low yields.  It’s naturally low in acid, and needs a warm, sunny climate to ripen fully.  But woe is the winemaker if it’s too warm and Viognier gets too ripe — you end up with a wine that’s higher in sugar and alcohol, and could potentially be flabby.  Oh, and Viognier is also prone to the fungal disease, powdery mildew.
  • Viognier has a genetic link (kissing cousins?) to both Nebbiolo and Syrah.
  • Viognier is sometimes blended with Syrah, especially in the Côte-Rôtie region of the Northern Rhône Valley, but also in Australia and California.  According to Jancis Robinson, “the original recipe for the North Rhône red wine Côte Rôtie was Syrah with a seasoning of Viognier; a small proportion, around 5% say, helps stabilise the wine’s colour and deepen its texture.”
  • Viognier can be wildly different stylistically.  It can be light & lean or rich & bold.  It all depends on where its grown and the winemaker’s touch (oak aging vs. no oak/neutral oak).
  • Pay attention to the ABV on a bottle of Viognier.  12-14% ABV = leaner.  15%+ ABV = bigger, lusher, hotter.

In 2011, the Virginia Wine Board designated Viognier as the signature grape of Virginia.  I was pretty jazzed about it, too — would Virginia Viognier take off the same way Oregon Pinot or California Cabernet has?  I’m a long-time evangelist for Virginia wine, Viognier in particular.  A few years ago, I was convinced we all needed Virginia is for Viognier t-shirts.  But, over the last couple of years, I’m finding I don’t enjoy Viognier as much as I used to (especially the too hot and too tropical styles of Viognier).  Maybe I’m having a mid-life palate crisis?  It’s probably more that I’ve just developed a palate preference for the leaner, quieter styles of Viognier.

Without further ado, here is one of my favorite Virginia Viogniers from one of my favorite Virginia wineries:

King Family Vineyards Viognier 2014
From the Monticello AVA in Virginia.  King Family’s Viognier is consistently good as a middle-ground between the lean, quiet styles of Viognier and the louder, more tropical styles.  This one is medium bodied, with flavors of peach, mango and honeysuckle.  Last time I checked, winemaker Matthew Finot ages his Viognier in neutral French oak.  Retail = $27ish.  13% ABV.

It’s been a while since I’ve been down to central Virginia, but my last review of King Family Vineyards can be found here.

It remains to be seen whether Viognier will really grab a foothold in Virginia.  Despite its official grape status, Viognier remains only the 5th most planted grape in the state (after Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon). Nonetheless, Viognier loves Virginia — it tolerates the summer heat and humidity well, and its thick skin and loose clusters allow for any moisture to dry before it turns to rot or powdery mildew.

Some other Virginia Viogniers to seek out:

Happy Valentine’s Day & Salud!
This is my inaugural post for #WinePW, or Wine Pairing Weekend.  Our assignment this month was to provide a Valentine’s Day food & wine pairing.

For more amazing food and wine pairing ideas, please visit my fellow #WinePW bloggers:

Jade from Tasting Pour:

– Love Letter Pastries and Brandborg Winery Pinot Noir

-Cherry Hazelnut Scones

Jeff from Food Wine Click – Perfect Wine for a Sparkling Valentine’s Day Celebration

Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog – Valentine’s Surf and Turf with a Twist and Champagne Pairing

Nancy from Pull That Cork – Shepherd’s Pie and Burgundy: A Cozy Valentine’s Day Pairing

Jennifer from Vino Travels – Sparkle Your Valentine’s Day with Brachetto from the Roero with Demarie

David of Cooking Chat 

Cauliflower Kale Soup paired with Pinot

-Sweet Strawberry Cream with Chocolate and Wine Pairing

Michelle from Rockin Red Blog – Valentine’s Day in the South of France with #WinePW

Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere – Gougeres (French Cheese Puffs) and Blanquette de Limoux

Cindy from Grape Experiences:

– A Valentine’s Gift: Elegant Anaba Wines

Cava and Crave Worthy Chocolate Cookies for Valentine’s Day

Lori from Draceana Wines – Need a Valentine’s Wine? As You Wish.

Diana from Wine Pass shares – Valentine Risotto and Rich Chocolate Beet Cake with Brachetto d’Acqui

Valerie of Girls Gotta Drink  A Moscato Food Pairing: Moscato for Breakfast Anyone?

Wendy from A Day in the Life on A Farm – Asian Tuna and Noodles with Rodney Strong Pinot Noir

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla :

-Cherry-Glazed Chicken with Hahn’s Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

-Barley Stuffed Acorn Squash & Zesty Crayfish with Landmark Vineyards’ Overlook Chardonnay

-Wild Boar Mushroom Pot Pies with Landmark Vineyards’ Overlook Pinot Noir

-Seared Venison Medallions with Justin’s Cabernet Sauvignon

-Rosé-Cured Salmon with Balletto Vineyards’ Brut Rosé

-Epoisses, Crackers, & Cremant de Limoux

Christy from Confessions of a Culinary Diva:

-Valentine’s Day Steakhouse Dinner at Home

-50 Oysters a Day & Other Tales of Seduction

-Pick a Picpoul de Pinet for Your Valentine

-Valentine’s Take-In Dinner

-Apple of My Eye Pork Chops & Pinot

-Lobster, Corn Fritters & Balletto

Spice up your next party with our FREE wine tasting guide! Learn what to look, smell, and taste for while appreciating your favorite bottle. We’ve also included a printable tasting notes template and a tasting wheel.

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