Monthly Archives: February 2013

Don’t Walk Away, Viognier




The French grape viognier burst onto the California scene in the mid-nineties and was pondered as the next “wine noir” to supplant Queen Chardonnay.  While it did not meet those expectations, viognier plays a vital role in blends on three continents and has realized success as a single varietal wine in the United States with nearly 3000 acres planted.

Modern-day viognier, pronounced “Vee-ohn-yay”, emerged from the small northern Rhone village of Condrieu, where it is the only grape permitted. old_shed Known for floral, aromatic bouquets and concentrated orchard fruits, it has gained appeal in California as a single varietal Elsewhere, it is most identified as a vital component of the famous Rhone Valley blends and, more recently, of those in south Australia.

Adding color and robust aromas, viognier teams up, in varying degrees with marsanne, roussane, counnoise and Grenache blanc to create the renowned whites from Chateaunef-du-pape in the south and Hermitage in the northern Rhone Valley.  While these are timeless wines, they do require some research to assess quality and availability. Fortunately, California Rhone blends can provide an excellent alternative.

Two blends, produced on the Central Coast, are more readily available and can aptly help one discover what the thrill is all about.  From cool Monterey County, the flagship 2010 Treana White ($23) of the Hope Family Wines collection equally combine marsanne and viognier to produce beautiful jasmine bouquets and treana_whitestone fruits on the palate. Aged separately in French oak, it has a honey-like rich texture that will actually improve with age.

A rare viognier-dominant Rhone blend, the 2010 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Blanc ($27), from Paso Robles’ patriarch of California Rhones, consists of 54% viognier, 30% Grenache blanc, some marsanne and roussane, all aged in stainless steel tanks.  Of course, this wine has a serious nose to accompany a rich texture of peach and melon, adding a nice minerality on the finish.

11_CotesBlanc_web_size_1In the northern Rhone Valley, viognier and syrah vines are often inter-planted (intermingled) and blended together to enhance the final syrah.  Adding viognier, typically far less than the legal limit of 20%, with the red grape seems to enhance the color and bouquet, adding peach and spice to the traditional dark berry flavors.

Recent excitement for viognier/syrah blends is coming from south Australia where several top-of-the-line; highly rated shiraz producers are adding 2%-12% viognier to their best wine with terrific success.  Rarely inter-planted in Australian vineyards, the two grapes are blended before fermentation, a technique called co-fermentation.  While the characteristics of viognier can easily over-power or alter the syrah flavor profile, when in balance the enhanced color and aromas are significant.

A moderately available, value-priced shiraz/viognier blend, from Yalumba, one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries, the Yalumba Eden Valley Shiraz + Viognier 2008 ($20) is a nicely balanced wine with aromas of violet preceding concentrated dark fruit and spice flavors.  As for a 100% viognier, I recently purchased a Yalumba Y Series Viognier Barossa Valley 2012 ($13) at Cost Plus World Market.  As with previous vintages, this wine expresses more of a honeysuckle bouquet and combines soft tropical and stone fruits through the finish120826l

In California, viognier have traditionally flourished in the Paso Robles, Santa Lucia Highlands, Edna Valley and Russian River Valley appellations.  In recent years, as with most varietals, experimentation has broadened the appeal of viognier into new terroir.  A brief trip last year to Calaveras County introduced me to a few wines that caught my attention.

Located in the middle of a wooded area just beyond the main street in Murphy’s, California, Val du Vino Winery sources grapes throughout the region to produce a variety of fine red and white wines.  I find their 2011 Val du Vino Viognier Calaveras County Dalton Vineyard ($25), similar to previous vintages.  It conveys nice honeysuckle aromas with very forward stone fruit flavors of peach and apricot and a nice finish

Adding 11% of the highly acidic picpoul grape to viognier from the Dalton Vineyard, the 2011 Twisted Oak Calaveras County Viognier ($19) maintains good balance with concentrated tropical and stone fruits and a slightly astringent finish.

Surprisingly, California is neither the only, nor necessarily the best producer of viognier in the United States. It seems that “Old Dominion,”  the state of Virginia has the terroir, the will and over 100 wineries to produce highly rated viognier and a few other varietals.  The soil and extended warm growing season around Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate allows the grape to fully ripen, exposing provocative aromas and full tropical and stone fruit flavors.  This is secondhand information provides incentive to plan a trip to the Washington D.C. area.

1116555xInvestigation of viognier has peaked my interest in finding new wines that reveal its characteristics, individually or in a blend.  Two wines top my wish list, one a highly rated Santa Barbara County syrah and the other a rare blend.  Rated in the mid-nineties, the 2008 Ojai Vineyards “Roll Ranch Vineyard” California Syrah ($40) is co-fermented with 2% viognier.  Many reviews boasted those deep dark berry flavors, but all emphasized a copious floral nose.

Finding viognier in the company of marsanne or Grenache blanc is not anything out of the ordinary.  They arguably, comprise the greatest white blends of them all. For these reasons, the 2011 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($12), an unusual blend, peaks my curiosity. 122046lReading consistent comments like “intensely aromatic” and “added floral and spice” tells me that the 21% viognier from Lodi has tamed, to some degree, the crisp acidity of the 79% chenin blanc grapes from the Sacramento Delta.


Viognier has certainly not supplanted Chardonnay, or most white grapes as the preferred wine for California palates. However, along with the expanded production of chenin blanc, albarino, verdelho and the Rhone blend grapes, viognier stands tall as a white varietal that gives us enormously fragrant aromas and complex flavors.  It’s global presence and adaptability to east and west coast climates implies that it is here to stay.

Viognier pairs well shellfish and poultry, especially recipes containing bridge ingredients like peach, pear, honey, dried flowers or piquant spices.  A personal favorite is “Duck Breasts with Honey, Ginger and Lavender” from Sid Goldstein’s “The Wine Lover’s Cookbook.”














Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2012


Many of the distinguished films in 2012 were difficult to watch.  Writer/director Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, a frontrunner in the best foreign film category, boasting a brilliant performance by Emmanuelle Rivas, slaps us in the face with the harsh reality of the struggle to die with dignity.  Joaquin Phoenix delivered a Brando-esque performance with his self-destructive character in “The Master” another difficult view.  John Hawkes’ character in “The Sessions”, confined mostly to an iron lung, was somewhat claustrophobic, but the sex therapy created a nice balance.  The following films were my standouts in 2012, each compelling in their own way, a few actually easy to watch.

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild

The entire “Beasts” scenario is noteworthy, 30-year -old Benh Zeitlin writes and directs his first film, conceived from memories of a childhood vacation to New

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Orleans.  Amidst devastation and squalor in a poor bayou community after hurricane Katrina lays the story of a dying man, helping his young daughter to endure the immediate danger while preparing her with the strength to survive being orphaned.  It is the struggle with endings and the joy of life to seek new beginnings in one package.   Zeitlin found the perfect “Hushpuppy” personality in a young local girl with no previous acting experience.  Quvenzhane Wallis now has an Oscar nomination.

9. Django Unchained


Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s revenge films have always stood out from the others, each with in-depth scripts and great characters whose appeal comes from the fact that they don’t seem to belong in the existing environment.  Such is true with Dr. King Schultz, a German gentleman bounty hunter played by Chistoph Waltz, who offers slave Django  (Jamie Fox) freedom, revenge and money to help him identify several individuals “wanted dead or alive”.  Samuel Jackson as the dominating head servant, Don Johnson and Leonardo Di Caprio, as plantation owners each deliver outstanding performances.  Waltz deserves an Oscar in a competitive category.


8. Moonrise Kingdom

From Wes Anderson, the director that bought us “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore”, comes the quirky story of two young twelve year

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

old children who, certain that they have fallen in love, decide to run away prompting chaos in the small island community.  The terrific ensemble cast of Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton are comfortable delivering Anderson’s weird and wonderful script.

7. Bernie

Jack Black’s performance as Bernie Tiede in the peculiar film “Bernie” is one of this year’s best.  Black’s eccentric character becomes a perfect match for his new job as



assistant director of a funeral home in a small, odd community in east Texas.   He soon has the entire town charmed, including Marjorie Nugent (Shirley McLaine), the disliked local wealthy widower.   The plot thickens and certain strange circumstances have the burg engulfed in a storm with Bernie sitting in the middle.  Matthew McConaughy delivers a noteworthy performance as Sheriff Buck.

6. Rust and Bone

Despite lofty expectations and disappointing accolades, I found “Rust and Bone” to be a wonderfully written story, involving a complex

Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone

plot of  “boys wants girl-girl doesn’t want boy-girl needs boy-boy needs girl”.  The evolution of the relationship between Stephanie and Alain is, to say the least, extraordinary and the characters are portrayed brilliantly by  actors Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.  Ms. Cotillard

deserved an Oscar nomination.

5. Silver Linings Playbook

Had it been written and released in the 40’s, I visualize a young Tracy and Hepburn in the lead roles.  This is the consummate anomalous

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

love story, one that can only work with great acting from Cooper and Lawrence who generated “Spence and Kate-like” chemistry.    Robert DeNiro and Jacky Weaver aptly enhanced the dysfunctional milieu and director David O. Russell proved that he is very good, following his earlier release, “The Fighter”.  Definitely the feel good film of the year with dazzling performances.

4. Argo

The premise of this true story is bizarre, another potentially volatile situation, unfolding during the 1978 hostage crisis with Iran, involving

six Embassy staffers who escaped and hid at the Canadian Embassy.   The story of the uncanny rescue was kept secret for 17 years and is now



exposed to the public under the direction of Ben Affleck and producer George Clooney. Despite knowing the out come, the threat of discovery

keeps you on the edge of your seat. The brilliant cast featuring Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston inject some “Hollywood” into this out of the ordinary authentic tale.

3. The Intouchables

The Intouchables

The Intouchables

Those complaining that French films are too cerebral and boring should see “The Intouchables”, France’s entry in the foreign film category.  When a grieving, wealthy quadriplegic needs a caretaker, he takes a risk on a street-smart, black Muslim ex-con who is only interviewing as a stipulation of his unemployment.  This is the story of two very different people coming together at a time when each can help one another.   In a very entertaining way, this film reminds us that, although we live in varying circumstances, we all really are the same.


2. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s meticulous authenticity and Daniel Day-Lewis’ virtuoso performance as our 16th  President is, alone, worth the price of admission.  The story focuses on the end of Lincoln’s life when he was obsessed with uniting the country and abolishing slavery before the end of the Civil War.  Exceptional cinematography reveals the story by placing the viewer in a beautifully illustrated virtual book.  Adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals” this film is already an American classic.


1. Zero Dark Thirty

A film chronicling the discovery and execution of Osama Bin Laden could have gone wrong in so many ways.  The balance of authenticity

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

and a film that would captivate an audience recently absorbed in the real drama would be a difficult task.  Director Katherine Bigelow created a fictional account, encased in reality that mesmerized me and, most importantly, left many judgments with the viewer.   Visual realism, striking cinematography, Mark Boal’s story and the fact that Jessica Chastain pulled off one of the year’s most challenging roles makes Zero Dark Thirty, in my subjective opinion, a great project and the best film of 2012.