Today is our intern's last day. She's been great and I'm sure will go on to do incredible things. Out with a bang. Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
Varietal Overview: Viognier
History and Cultivation
This white grape varietal has celebrity status in the Condrieu wine region of the Rhone Valley in France, as it is the only grape that is permitted to grow there. However important this grape may be today for Condrieu, its past happens to be relatively obscure as compared to other varietals. There is speculation that Viognier originated in Dalmatia, which is present day Croatia, and was brought over by the Romans to the Rhone Valley in 281 AD. However, a separate school of thought puts Viognier’s origin in the Rhone under much different circumstances. In this theory, Viognier grapevines were packaged along with Syrah vines that were en route to Beaujolais in France. However, a group of local outlaws intercepted the vessel and took the cargo near Condrieu, where Viognier grapes then were cultivated. Surprisingly, this theory has been backed up by DNA evidence in the recent years that shows a genetic relatedness between Viognier and Syrah grapes; a surprisingly linkage, since these two varietals produce much different grapes, and much much different wines. Even more surprising is that in recent years, winemakers who like to take a risk have been known to blend Viognier with Syrah red wine…An odd combination, but hey, apparently people have been drinking it.
Viognier may be the staple grape of Condrieu, but its acreage is by no means limited just to this region. Currently, Viognier grapes are being grown in the United States, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and even Israel. Although this varietal has been successful in a number of regions, it takes a skilled vintner to understand how to grow and harvest these grapes. Viognier vines are picky in that they must be harvested at just the right time in order to produce wine that is worth drinking. Harvest too early, and the grapes will have little-to-no aromatic qualities and minimal flavor. Harvest too late, and the wine produced tends to be too oily and again lack palatable aromas. In addition, these grapes are particularly susceptible to the vintner’s nightmare of powdery mildew fungus. This being said, much care must be taken in cultivating Viognier vines and harvesting the grapes at the appropriate time.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Like most good wine with a relatively long history, Viognier has its Old World and New World differences. However, scientists have actually identified that Viognier vines in Condrieu are actually distinct from Viognier vines grown in the New World. The Old World strain is what one would typically associate with traditional Condrieu Viognier. Old World Viognier has an in-your-face floral aroma, and is often used in white blends such as with Chardonnay, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc. These blends tend to have a softer, lighter style than Viognier wine alone, which has intense fruit flavors, predominately of apricot, but also including ripe peach. Viognier alone produces wines that are moderate in acidity, and fairly dry. French Viognier will pair beautifully with a wide variety of seafood, shellfish, and roasted chicken, as many whites often do. In addition, this wine will work wonders with vegetable-dominated dishes and salad.
New World Viognier can bring forward some tropical fruit flavors in addition to the rich fruit bouquet that the varietal already has. It is not uncommon to find a hint of pineapple mixed in with lychee fruit in warmer-climate Viogniers from the New World regions. In addition, it is more common in New World production of Viognier to introduce oak-aging to add complexity to the wine and flavors of vanilla and baking spice, and these wines tend to take on a slightly more creamy feel with a distinctive oiliness that is present but not overwhelming. The slightly heavier weight of New World Viognier makes it a great candidate for slightly richer dishes, such as chicken tagine with apricots and almonds.
Try this Recipe with a Glass of California Viognier
Moroccan Chicken Tagine
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cloves garlic, minced
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess skin and fat
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into 1/4-in-thickslices
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons honey
2 large or 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins
1/2 cup Greek cracked green olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside. Zest the lemon. Combine 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest with 1 minced garlic clove; set aside. Season both sides of chicken pieces with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or pan over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke. Brown the chicken pieces skin side down in single layer until deep golden, about 5 minutes; using tongs, flip the chicken pieces over and brown the other side, about 4 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a large plate; when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and discard. Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have browned at the edges but still retain their shape, 5 to 7 minutes (add a few tablespoons of water now and then if the pan gets too dark). Add the remaining minced garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spices and flour and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, honey, remaining lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Add the chicken (with any accumulated juices) back in, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the carrots, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes more. Stir in the olives, reserved lemon zest-garlic mixture, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice; taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Serve with couscous.
Varietal Overview: Gewürztraminer
History and Cultivation
With a name as obviously German as Gewurztraminer, there is no doubt that this varietal would trace its origins to Germany…except it doesn’t. In fact, Gewurztraminer grapes were thought to have originated as a wine-producing varietal in France, particularly in the Alsace region. With a further dive into the history of this varietal, however, researchers found that this grape actually comes from the town of Tramin at the foot of the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. Why the German connection? This region of Italy is historically German-speaking, and therefore this solves the mystery of where this varietal got its name. Gewurz is German for “spicy”, and obviously the latter part of the name refers to the originating town of Tramin. Put this together, and we have “Spicy Traminer”, or a way to denote a spicier varietal of grape coming from the town of Tramin.
There are more than one Tramin-born grape varietal, however, an all are somewhat genetically related to the green-skinned varietal Sauvignin Blanc (not to be mistaken with Sauvignon Blanc). Eventual mutations in either the original Sauvignin Blanc or one of the Traminer grapes led to a red-skinned variety which eventually became Gewurztraminer (which still produces white wine, however). Somewhere along this genetic journey, the grapes were transported over to Alsace from Italy. It is unclear, however, whether the Gewurztraminer grapes we know today were already around before this journey took place, or after arrival in Alsace.
Today, Gewurztraminer grapes are still growing happily in their hometown of Tramin in Italy, predominately via a pergola system. In addition, these grapes are currently being cultivated in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United States. Although these vines are known to be vigorous in the field, they are fairly fussy when it comes to soil and climate. For this reason, the Germans have been attempting to cross-breed to create a Gewurztraminer clone which is easier to grow and care for. As it is now, Gewurztraminer grapes prefer a moderate climate that does not get too hot, but warm enough and dry enough in the summer to limit yield and add more balance to the grapes. If the summer gets too hot, the naturally-high sugar in these grapes becomes overwhelming and throws off the flavor profile of the wine. The vines are early to bud, but tend to come to ripeness unevenly. Therefore, vintners must keep careful watch over Gewurztraminer vines to ensure that the grapes are harvested at the right time; late enough that the valuable aromas have developed, but early enough that the grapes are not filled with too much sugar.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Fierce and distinct aroma and flavor is the name of the game with this white wine. Lychee fruit is no doubt the main component in any good Gewurztraminer, followed by grapefruit, pineapple, peach, apricot, and orange as well. This wine often has a distinctive floral aroma of rose, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and honey, giving the wine its distinguishing “spicy” nature. Gewurztraminer typically falls on the sweeter end of the spectrum, but can also be made into a drier wine or off-sweet wine as well. Many people like to call Gewurztraminer “grown up Moscato”, since it is spicier an stronger on the palate, but has a similar flavor profile and ability to be made into a sweet wine. Old World production of Gewurztraminer is no exception, as French winemakers will make Gewurztraminer grapes into wine that falls on all ends of the sweetness spectrum, even as far as the sweetest dessert wines made from grapes with noble rot. Because of the tendency for sweetness and low acidity, Gewurztraminer is a home-run with spicier Asian cuisine such as spicy pad thai, middle eastern dishes or even spiced Moroccan dishes as well. Dishes that use ginger will bring out the ginger aroma in spicy Gewurztraminer and work exceptionally well.
New World winemakers must be careful not to plant Gewurztraminer in areas that get too hot in the summer. Because of this, some New World Gewurztraminer bottles have been criticized for being overly-sweet and not balanced (as opposed to the sweetness in dessert wine). However, of those that have perfected cultivation of these grapes, the wines have been wonderful. Mild oak-aging is typically used here, and brings a richness of vanilla that complements the sweet and spicy nature of this aromatic wine. Spicier cuisine is also a safe bet for New World Gewurztraminer.
Try this Recipe with a Glass of Gewurztraminer
Pad Thai with Ginger Peanut Dressing
1 pound udon noodles or linguine pasta
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Thai chiles, halved lengthwise, and seeds removed
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-size cubes
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon chile oil
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 orange, rind removed, flesh segmented
2 Thai chiles diced, seeds removed
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the package directions for al dente. Drain the noodles, then transfer to a large bowl and toss with the sesame oil. Set the noodles aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chiles. Add the cubed chicken to the marinade, toss gently to coat the chicken. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For the dressing: In a small saucepan, whisk together the peanut butter, ginger, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chile oil, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Pour the warm dressing over the cooked noodles, and toss to coat evenly. Set the noodles aside until ready to serve. In a heavy skillet, heat the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat, when the skillet just begins to smoke, add the chicken cubes and sear on all sides until they are browned. Saute the chicken cubes over medium heat until they are fully cooked, about 5 minutes.
Thread the chicken pieces and orange segments alternately on the skewers.
To serve the skewers, toss the noodles with the diced chile peppers and chopped cilantro. Sprinkle the chicken skewers with the sliced green onions. Serve the noodles with the chicken skewers and enjoy hot or cold!