Wednesday, June 20, 2007

À la recherche ...

I have written before that I have never had a fully satisfying Viognier that wasn't a Condrieu, yet like Charlie Brown lining up to kick Lucy's football, I keep searching and searching for that magic New World elixir, only to land flat on my back each and every time. The aim, of course, is to discover a Viognier that has the same perfumed richness, depth of flavor and concentration, and harmonious balance of a Condrieu, but at one-third or one-half the price. Yet I have only ever found wines that were cloying, dilute, or imbalanced, with none of the power and grace of Viogniers that originate from the grape's traditional home.

The 2005 Fess Parker Viognier "Santa Barbara County" ($19; 15.2% alc.) I tasted last weekend was no exception, though I have do have to say that it is one of the more admirable basic California Viogniers I've tried, and not a bad wine at all. It has a very pretty nose of floral and white peach aromas, quite understated and attractive. On the palate, it has the same obvious, exotic, slightly dilute sweetness of fruit that I associate with California Rhone whites, like the Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, yet it also has good acidity that carries through well into the lengthy finish. The wine also has a spiciness from the oak that gives it an added kick. Yet the problem is that these three main components -- fruit, acid, oak spice -- aren't entirely integrated into a harmonious whole, so the wine, strangely, is at once cloying and edgy. It's a big, powerful wine whose acidity makes up for a lot, yet the fruit has a slight saccharine quality about it -- upfront and easy yet not quite the real thing.

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