Featured Wine: Pesquie’s Vin de Pays Viognier


My ongoing quest for good value Viognier has come up short of late, much as it has with its equally fickle red cousin Pinot Noir. Viognier’s trendiness has meant a mass of new plantings and greater availability in the stores, good news for a wine that was virtually extinct twenty years ago. But too many European bottlings are inevitably from young vines as yet incapable of producing the length, texture and finesse that can make it the most sublime of white wines or, in the case of well-intentioned American producers, especially in California, these characteristic are likewise sacrificed for high alcohol. Just as with Pinot Noir, the more I see an inexpensive bottle on the shelf, the less I feel tempted to try it: these are not wines you can make properly on the cheap.

So when I saw a Viognier by Chateau Pesquie at the Greene Grape store in Fort Greene over July 4 weekend for $15, I snapped it right up. Pesquie is known among us Rhône lovers for almost single-handedly raising the Côtes du Ventoux appellation out of its co-operative-dominated malaise and into some serious competition with its neighboring Côtes du Rhône, while Pesquie’s top red blend, La Quintessence, can hold its own with the best syrah-dominated blends.

Chateau de Pesquie Viognier: yes, it’s a trendy grape; yes, that’s a trendy-looking label; and yes, it’s a bargain nonetheless.

Pesquie’s Viognier hails not from the Ventoux but from the neighboring Portes de Méditerranée, a region I’ve not seen before on American shelves. But that’s not a problem, not when the quality is this high: this was certainly the best Vins de Pays Viognier I’ve tasted in the last few years, and I would love to compare it to a bottle from the grape’s northern Rhône homeland of Condrieu, where the price differential (Condrieus now start at a prohibitive $50) would surely compensate for the likely nuances in quality.

What makes Pesquie’s Viognier so special? It’s fresh, for one thing: all but the finest Condrieus are best drunk young, and this 2006 vintage can’t have been in the bottle more than a few months. It was lively, for another: winemaker Paul Chaudiere both crushes the grape and racks the must at low temperatures, and blocks malolactic fermentation, all the better to emphasize the wine’s limited acidity. It was also pure, having been kept in stainless steel and well away from the dreaded wood. And thus the grape’s unique attributes were allowed to shine through: that exotic perfume like no other wine, the taste of peaches and apricots, the implication of roses and violets, the rich texture and the creamy finish. Best of all, it was well-balanced, its pronounced 13.5% alcohol level being right on the nose for a grape that can taste sharp if much lower, and flabby as all hell if much higher. Put it this way: I polished off two glasses late at night (I’d served as designated driver for a dinner some 40 miles away, and wanted compensation!) and I woke up without the hint of a hangover.

When I started in on this grape, a Vin de Pays Viognier would not have cost more than $10. Blame the weak dollar as much as the wine’s trendiness for its $15 price tag, but don’t complain to the French; this is far better than American Viogniers that start at the same price and work their way higher. Besides, you could live in London where, despite being but a short hop across the tax-free Channel from the wine’s homeland, the Cow Pub on Westbourne Park Road will nonetheless charge you £25 a bottle. Still, if it’s good enough for the Cow, it’s good enough for your local independent retailer. Pester him or her to get this wine on the shelf, and pronto. Otherwise, those of us who know a fine wine at a good price when we taste it may just have finished off the vintage. Cheers.

(PS: The American importer is Eric Solomon, one of the handful of names you can instinctively trust.)

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November 2021