You may remember a post from a couple weeks ago regarding Syrah and Viognier:
The post was sparked by a comment on WestCoastWineNet indicating that someone felt that one should never blend Viognier with quality Syrah.
I had the opportunity to correspond with Monte Bello winemaker Eric Baugher recently about these two varietals (which I was very eager to do, as Ridge doesn’t actually “blend” the two per se; rather, we co-ferment …), and he very kindly put some thoughts down for me, and accordingly, for you!
“The idea of co-fermentation isn’t new, we see greater complexity and color develop when zinfandel co-ferments with field varietals such as petite sirah, carignane, alicante bouschet, mataro etc. In the northern Rhone valley, viognier has been used in small percentages to co-ferment with syrah to aid in stabilizing the abundant color of syrah and to temper tannin extraction. This has been successfully done for hundreds of years. I would also say that viognier has a few extra weeks of ripening ahead of syrah, so in the northern Rhone valley, on a cold year, the viognier might bring ripeness to the wine.
Now, in Dry Creek Valley, the weather is much more favorable for bringing syrah to full ripeness. The challenge for us is that the viognier can become extremely overripe by the time syrah is harvested. Fortunately, we have two small parcels of viognier that have northeast exposure to help moderate the rate of ripening so in the fermenter the brix doesn’t increase significantly.
Chemically, there are non-pigmented phenolics within the viognier skins that have a strong affinity for bonding to side-groups of the anthocyanin pigment of syrah. Once these bonds are formed, they remain soluble and stable within the wine and provide a deep blue/purple spectrum of color. Viognier also has a beautiful pungency of apricot, peach, and white flower which helps lift the total aroma of syrah which tends to be dark and gamey.” -EB
My original post referenced a specific Ridge wine, the 2005 Lytton West Syrah, which features 6% co-fermented viognier, and my experience with this wine (we have been pouring it in the MBTR with some degree of regularity lately as it’s very much moving into an exquisite stage of early optimum pourability …) very much jibes with Eric’s assessments above; to me the viognier performs three very key roles here: 1) Intensification and preservation of coloration, 2) Enhancement of viscosity/silkening of mouthfeel, and 3) Counterbalancing of aromatics. Put another way, the viognier does wonders for the color, and accordingly the aging and development of this wine; it also soothes and rounds out the mouthfeel, taking the oft-times rough, even granular chalkiness of syrah and giving it a far more luxurious palate encasement; and it delivers a brilliantly floral and lively counterbalance to the deep and dark syrah aromatics.
I am a tremendous fan of the ’05 Lytton West Syrah, and although syrah from the Lytton property is of extraordinarily fine character and quality, this wine most certainly benefits from the addition of the co-fermented viognier.
RIDGE In The Round was unable to schedule a tasting session for this wine the last time we poured it, so I’m going to get it on the menu again this weekend, and hopefully, I’ll be able to post a RIDGE Round Table Report next week!