People often ask me about Viognier. When I try to explain it to them, I am reminded of all the many styles in which it can be made. It can be perfumey or redolent of tropical fruits. It’s mouthfeel can be thick and rich or light with crisp acidity. But whichever style you prefer, there is a viognier for every palate, and finding the style that’s right for you is half the fun. Although this grape is the star of Condrieu in France, California is making some shining examples, many from the Central Coast. Many wineries blend their Viognier with Rousanne and Marsanne, creating a white Rhone blend that I find absolutely delicious!

I first started drinking Viognier when I began to see them popping up more and more on my winery visits to the Santa Ynez Valley. The nose on most of those wines was very floral and perfumy. Not my favorite attributes and they carried over into the flavor profile as well. But because the wine itself was so clean and crisp with a lovely full mouthfeel, I persisted,  tasting as many examples as I could find. Eventually, over not too many years, I noticed a trend. More and more of the Viogniers I was tasting had lost that perfumy component while maintaining a wonderful honeysuckle nose. Ahhh, now I was obsessed. Viognier, and Rhone white varietal blends became a passion, and I was thrilled whenever I found one in a winery’s tasting line-up.

One of my “go to” Viogniers comes from Bridlewood Estate Winery, whose gorgeous tasting room is located on the Eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. No visit to this wine region would be complete without visiting this beautiful property, and no visit complete without tasting their Viogniers. Using fruit sourced from the Central Coast, Bridlewood’s Viognier expresses  an viognieraromatic bouquet of honeysuckle and nectarines, with a flavor profile featuring guava and nectarines. The wine is well balanced with a rich creamy mouthfeel. This versatile wine drinks great before a meal, and pairs beautifully with fish with a cream sauce, scallops, chicken and pasta with a brie cheese sauce and chives.

Also in the same area Tolosa Winery, along with their wonderful pinots, is making some nice Viognier. Their 2009 is 100% Viognier made with fruit  sourced from the Edna Valley AVA. It is fermented in stainless steel and then bottled to preserve freshness. This wine exemplifies the varietal with orange blossom and peach in the nose, medium acidity with a full mouthfeel, and finishing with a bit of lemon.

One of my very favorite Viogniers is from Cass Winery in Paso Robles. I have been a fan of their wines for a number of years and last year I had the opportunity to help bring in their 09 Viognier harvest. What fun that was! dscn1650csIt was a warm August morning as I entered their vineyard on the East side of Paso, where I met up with Steve and Ted, owners, Ted’s wife Lisa, the winemaker Lood Kotze and the rest of the Cass harvest team.aug-sept-09-234s As I spent the next couple of aug-sept-09-222chours sorting through bins of sweet viognier grapes, I became acutely aware of the event’s significance. This is the moment when a year’s worth of tending, nurturing, worrying, watching, waiting, hoping and praying comes together.  When that tenuous partnership between mother nature and farmer survives another year of negotiations and deal making, the fruit of that relationship is harvested, with a sigh of relief and a heavy dose of gratitude, not forgetting for one moment that this is the wine we’ll be drinking next year. Oh how much more wonderful that Viognier tastes this year! Must try this one with the famous crab cakes served every day at the Winery.

So give up the Chardonnay just for a while and venture into the world of Rhone white varietals. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!

Chef Jacob’s Crab Cake Recipe

1 lb. Crabmeat (Phillips Crab)
½ cup Cooked Corn (frozen petite white corn)
¼ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced green, yellow, red, or orange bell pepper
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup smooth Dijon mustard
Dash of Sirachi hot sauce
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups Panko bread crumbs (1 cup in mix, 1 cup for coating)

*Preheat oven to 425

Combine all ingredients and mix until ingredients are evenly incorporated without over mixing. Form crab mixture into eight balls/patties. Carefully coat the patties with the remaining 1 cup panko bread crumbs and chill covered for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium-size skillet. Cook patties over medium heat until golden on one side (about 3 minutes) then flip to other side and place entire pan in oven for about 4 minutes.

Makes 4 lunch sized portions. Serve with side of remoulade and enjoy!

Chef Jacob’s Remoulade Recipe

1 cup Mayonnaise
¼ cup smooth Dijon mustard
1 minced shallot
2 Tbsp non-pariel capers, chopped
1 Tbsp Meyer lemon juice
½ tsp siracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Mix all together!

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