Breaking up with Viognier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think I’m having a mid-life palate crisis.

At my WSET3 class last week, we tasted a Condrieu from the Northern Rhône.  Condrieu is widely considered to be the Holy Grail expression of Viognier.  Condrieu is high-maintenance (the grapes are grown on steep terraces) and expensive.  Having an opportunity to taste a Condrieu is a real treat.  So we tasted.  And all I could think was . . . meh.  I really wanted to be blown away, but I was bored.

Who the hell is bored with Condrieu?

And that got me thinking about my relationship with Viognier.  I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle of Viognier.  Heck, I can’t remember the last time I was even in the mood for Viognier.  I get a couple bottles a year from Virginia wine clubs I belong to, but they sit in my wine fridge, unopened and neglected.

Back in 2011, the Virginia Wine Board designated Viognier as the signature grape of Virginia, and I was all in.  I evangelized for Virginia Viognier; I was convinced we all needed Virginia is for Viognier t-shirts.  But, over the last few years, we’ve grown apart.  I just don’t enjoy Viognier as much as I used to.  Too much of it is overblown — hot, heavy, and downright gooey.  It’s boring.  That’s not to say there aren’t fine examples of Viognier out there.  But lately, that’s all they are to me.  Fine.

Why is something I used to love now boring me?  Am I having a mid-life palate crisis?

peach-schnapps
No.

Our palates change and evolve over time.  What I loved drinking in my 20s isn’t what I love drinking today.  And thank Bacchus.  Back in my college days (pre-cell phones, ahem), we made a drink we called Purplesaurus Rex (I can’t remember why, but I’m sure there was alcohol involved in the naming process).  We were very proud of our recipe — it was peach schnapps mixed with grape Kool-aid.  Horrifying, right?  (Btw, I haven’t had peach schnapps since 1991.)

Enter wine.  And Viognier.

Usually, when someone first starts drinking wine, their natural preference is for wines that are sweeter and fruitier.  I was no exception.  When I first started drinking wine, I was all about fruit and residual sugar — Riesling (the sweet kind), Moscato and Gewürztraminer were frequent guests at my table.  And I wanted my reds big, fruity, and jammy.

Viognier was responsible for my very first “Wow! This is serious!” moment about Virginia wine.  Back in the early 90s, Horton Vineyards made a Viognier under their Tower Series label that curled my toes.  I can’t remember exactly what year it was (I was barely legal to drink in the early 90s, and years away from actually keeping track of what I drank), but I remember that Horton Viognier making me sit up and pay attention to Virginia wine.

And Viognier.

But, over time, your palate develops and tunes to different tastes.  Supposedly, you can retrain your taste buds to prefer certain tastes after just 5 to 10 exposures.  I’m mostly on board with that (although, there is no amount of exposure that could retrain my palate to like cilantro).  The more wines you try and taste, the the more you develop a taste for them.  I no longer want sweet, fruity or jammy wines.  Today, I want white wines that are lean, quiet, and loaded with minerals and acidity.  I want reds that are restrained, elegant, nuanced, and cerebral.  Also, a little funk never hurt anyone.

And while Viognier isn’t necessarily sweet, it is fruity.  It’s naturally low in acidity, and tends toward higher alcohol.  It’s rich, acutely floral and perfumey.  And boring.

Viognier . . . I will never regret the time we had together, but it’s over.

It’s not you.  It’s me.

Salud!

P.S.  I’m curious . . . is there a grape or wine style you once loved that just doesn’t do it for you anymore?
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18 comments

  1. Condrieu (and any other area ) is not a thing in itself – producer matters, style matters, vintage matters. You could enjoy the wine from another producer. Overall, I wouldn’t discard a particular grape altogether – there are always different expressions. There are many Viognier wines coming from California now, and many of them are very good.
    My personal example would be with Amarone – it was the hallmark for me, an absolute delight, about 13 years back. Then looking for it for many years, I couldn’t find what I like anymore. Until recent experience with Cesari Amarone, which put it back on piedestal for me.
    Keep looking for it… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anatoli! I was speaking more globally about Condrieu. I’m sure if I was willing to spend a small fortune, I could find a few that are delightful. ;o) I just need to take a break from Viognier for a while. Maybe I will circle back another day! We actually tasted an Amarone the other night in class. We tasted it against a Valpolicella, and I definitely preferred the earthiness of the Amarone. But all wines have their moment, I guess. Have been enjoying your fall foliage pics from New England. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Does White Zinfandel count? As you described, my start in wine was with sweet, “Grown-up Kool Aid.” Don’t get me wrong, there are some superbly crafted sweet wines out there, but my taste for White Zin and Muscat has faded as my palate has evolved. I have found the opposite to be true, too. Whereas once I shunned Chardonnay of any style, I am now enjoying all styles. And, ironically, I recently started enjoying Viognier after years of only using it for white sangria!
    Salud!

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  3. After we moved to Napa Valley and jumped head-first into the deep end of the Cab pool, all white wines were lost to me. But I’ve made my way back to whites – crisp Cabs, zero-sugar Albarino, even some rose. But if I only have one (or two) glasses to drink ,it’ll be red.

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  4. Oh sad! I am going through a Viogner phase HARD right now. I think the opposite happened to me with red wines – I used to love a nice bull-bodied Syrah, but when I was in Napa this past year I couldn’t bring myself to drink them! I was so embarrassed being in the middle of (red) wine country and asking if I could just sample the Sauv. Blanc instead… yikes! I agree, our palates change over time. Hopefully you find a new trend you love soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally understand . . . I had quite the fling with Viognier a few years ago! I’m on a Petit Manseng kick now . . . love what that grape is doing here in Virginia! Nothing wrong with asking for wines you like at a tasting . . . Cheers!!

      Liked by 1 person

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