From: Willamette Valley, OR
Taste: This charming Willamette Valley Viognier is a delightful testament to the cool climate viticulture of the region. Notes of white peach, nectarine, and pineapple leap out, closely followed by hints of exotic dragon fruit. Underneath, subtle undertones of jasmine and sweet pea weave an intricate tapestry of aromas.
On the palate, a basket orchard and tropical fruits, each flavor distinct yet harmoniously blended, riding on a wave of vibrant acidity. Though a varietal that skews toward richness, this Viognier never overwhelms, demonstrating a refreshing finish that lingers on the palate. An underlying mineral backbone keeps the wine grounded, balancing the exuberant floral nose and rich orchard fruit flavors with a mouth-watering snappiness that keeps you reaching for more.
Pairing: The vibrant acidity and rich fruitiness of the 2022 Illahe Viognier, Willamette Valley, OR, make it an excellent partner to a wide variety of foods. Its lush tropical and orchard fruit notes and crisp acidity pair wonderfully with grilled salmon or roasted chicken, particularly when served on a bed of creamy "dauphinois" potatoes. Seasonal pastas with fresh produce (from squash blossoms to butternut squash) would be a lovely pairing, as well as many salads that can serve as main courses: grilled chicken caesar, salade Lyonnaise, Niçoise salade with tuna or halibut, a zucchini salad with chickpeas and peanuts, a spicy mango and cashew nut salad, or check out the recipe we’re sharing below: Crispy Wonton Chicken Salad by Eric Kim.
Crispy Wonton Chicken Salad
By Eric Kim
About. Illahe Vineyards in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, is known for its commitment to natural winemaking. At Illahe, pronounced Ill-Uh-Hee (a local Chinook word meaning “earth,” “place,” or “soil”), the dedication to artisanal winemaking is palpable. A visit to this vineyard is a testament to the age-old techniques and materials employed to produce exceptional Pinot Noir and white wines. In 2022, Illahe crafted a Viognier that encapsulates the spirit of the season—spring in a bottle.
Winemaking at Illahe Vineyards
At Illahe, winemaking is rooted in the old-world tradition. The vineyard is a small lot, worked on by hand, with a strict no-enzyme or additives policy. Using a gentle wooden basket press and aging their Pinot Noir in French and Oregon oak, the vineyard aligns itself with the practices of the yesteryears. Their winery is a solar-powered, gravity-flow marvel, designed for maximum energy efficiency and minimal environmental impact.
Moreover, the winery harvests rainwater for use during the dry summer months, highlighting their sustainable approach. The building is constructed with its west and north faces buried into the hillside, which helps to maintain a stable temperature throughout the year, offering an ideal condition for the wine aging process.
The Illahe Viognier 2022: A Celebration of Aromas and Flavors
The 2022 Illahe Viognier, with its captivating aromas of white peach, nectarine, dragon fruit, pineapple, jasmine, and sweet pea, is an enchanting promise of spring. The palate is clean, boasting vibrant acidity and culminating in a refreshingly crisp finish.
The winemaking notes reveal that the fruit for this Viognier is sourced from the cool climate of the Willamette Valley. The grapes are destemmed, crushed, and left to soak on their skins overnight before pressing. Fermentation takes place solely in stainless steel tanks, preserving the light and crisp palate of the wine. This Viognier does not undergo malolactic fermentation, ensuring the wine maintains its bright and vibrant character.
The wine exhibits a pleasingly moderate alcohol level of 12.0% and a pH of 3.24, with a residual sugar of 6.50g/L. A limited production run yielded only 2303 cases. This Viognier was harvested between October 22 and October 26, 2022, with a brix at harvest of 19.4. Its complexity and charm originate from the Goshie (73%), Bradrick (15%), and Plagmann (12%) vineyards.
What sets the Illahe Viognier apart is the balanced expression of the grape's exuberant floral nose and rich orchard fruit flavors, supported by a firm mineral backbone and a mouth-watering snappy acidity. This refreshing balance helps this Viognier shine amidst a sea of domestic Viogniers that can sometimes skew too soft.
Willamette Valley: A Cool-Climate Viticulture Haven
The Willamette Valley, the largest and most vital AVA in Oregon, has gained worldwide recognition as a cool-climate viticulture hotspot. Bordered by mountain ranges on three sides, the valley provides higher-elevation vineyard sites and a continental climate moderated by the Pacific Ocean, perfect for creating elegant wines.
The valley is known for its three distinct soil types—volcanic, sedimentary, and silty, loess—creating significant differences in the wine styles among its vineyards and sub-AVAs. For instance, the iron-rich, basalt-based Jory volcanic soils found commonly in the Dundee Hills are rich in clay and hold water well. In contrast, the chalky, sedimentary soils of Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton, and McMinnville encourage complex root systems as vines struggle to search for water and minerals.
The Eola-Amity Hills sub-AVA in the most southern stretch of the Willamette boasts mixed, shallow, and well-drained soils. The close proximity of these Hills to the Van Duzer Corridor (an appellation since 2019) results in grapes with a high concentration and firm acidity, leading to wines that effortlessly express both power and grace.
Although Pinot Noir enjoys the spotlight in the Willamette Valley, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay also thrive here. Recently, there has been a growing interest in other varietals like Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, and Gamay, further diversifying the Valley's wine portfolio.
Viognier: A Vivacious Variety
Viognier, a white grape synonymous with the northern Rhône, is known for producing golden-colored, aromatic white wines with pronounced stonefruit aromas. Although it prefers a warmer climate for fully expressing its aromatic potential, careful viticulture and winemaking in cooler climates can yield delightful surprises, as exemplified by
Illahe's 2022 Viognier.
Viognier wines, due to their relatively thick skins and high sugar levels, tend to be full-bodied and often textural, with a unique aroma profile that includes apricots, peaches, honeysuckle, and a range of herbal notes, including chamomile, lavender, thyme, and even a hint of pine.
Cultivating Viognier is not without its challenges. It requires a great deal of sunshine to ripen properly but can result in overblown, hotly alcoholic wines if exposed to excessive heat. However, with the right balance of ripeness and careful winemaking techniques, Viognier can produce exceptionally aromatic, complex wines that deliver an enchanting length on the palate.
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