Twenty years ago, John Alban started Hospice du Rhône as an event to promote viognier wines. Over the past two decades it has come to be a global Rhône gala. So, it seemed rather fitting, on this 20th anniversary of HdR, to take a look at just how this variety, almost universally proclaimed as not age worthy, changes over time.
I had entertained the idea of starting a home vineyard on a family property within eyesight of downtown for several years. I had hesitated because I was not certain which cultivars would do well at the site.
2005 Domenico Aglianico, Sutter Creek Vineyard, Amador County contains 8.3% Petite Sirah from Lodi. Like the 2006, it was whole berry fermented, underwent extended maceration and spent 11 months in French and American oak. This wine offered a mature bouquet of cinnamon/nutmeg notes, floral, oaky hints and a vague hint of VA. In the mouth, it was faintly sweet, with very forward and mature flavors of very light briar and tobacco pouch. The body was remarkably light for the alcohol level. Structurally, it was supple, not too grippy and with high acids. A shorter, drying, finish of mature flavors and subdued fruit followed. On the second day, jammy, almost brambly fruit aromas were laced with a vague floral hint. Vague brambly fruit over light, hints of sweetness and light tannins, bright acids and light heat followed in the mouth. The finish, again, was lightly drying with light brambly fruit, oak notes and warmth. This wine was unobtrusive with brisket and the BBQ ribs but heat came through a bit. (15% ABV, 2 bottles tasted, 266 cases made)
The 2008 Witch Creek Aglianico, from Valle de Guadeloupe fruit, was a bit of a stylistic departure from this producer’s Montepulcianos (from the same region). Brambly blackberry aromas, up front, were followed by hints of pepper and smoke and a faint hint of maple syrup. In the mouth, light berries were backed by a faint brininess. This upper medium-bodied wine had supple, slightly astringent tannins, good acidity, and a touch of heat. A medium-length finish carried berry flavors into some astringency. On the second day, it showed some oxidation, suggesting it may not be built for the long-term. Some savory herb and fruit aromas were disitinct. In the mouth, it remained faintly briny, with faint oak notes and hints of brown spice towards the back. There was also a greener edge to the dusty, suede-like tannins. Proportionate acids persisted. Some heat was present on the noticeably shorter, vaguely plumy finish. This wine was lighter than expected and was far less briny than the Montepulcianos. Nevertheless, it matched the brisket and BBQ ribs well. (12.4% ABV, 1 bottle tasted, 140 cases made)
The 2008 Terra d'Oro is 100% Aglianico from the Shenendoah Valley in Amador County. The wine was fermented in half-ton bins and was pressed directly into barrels after seven days of skin contact. It spent 16 months in 100% second fill American oak. The initial aromas consisted of a smoked bacon note up front, oak notes and, fainter berries in background. In the mouth, slight sweetness embellished fleshy, sweet red fruit. This lower medium-bodied wine was round, rich and plush with a velvet-like texture, good acids, a bit of heat. An upper medium-length finish started with heat and transitioned to some juicy red and dark fruit. On the second day, the fruit aromas were more distinct and consisted of vague, plummy fruit accompanied by spice and vanilla oak notes. The character of the fruit carried onto the palate. Tannins remained fine and velvet-like, but were rather drying, initially. Acids become more declared after a short delay. A pruny note lingered at end of the finish. This riper, somewhat mature-tasting wine was unobtrusive with brisket and the BBQ ribs. (14.2% ABV, 2 bottles tasted, 308 cases made)
The 2008 Mandola Aglianico from Duchman Family Winery, is a 100% varietal wine sourced from fruit grown in the Reddy Vineyard in the Texas High Plains. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then spent 10 months in American oak. The wine started with very brambly, jammy raspberry aromas up front accompanied by plum aromas and light, cocoa-like oak notes. In the mouth, cranberry flavors with a candied edge were the dominant flavor. A faint hint of rose petals was also detectable. Medium-bodied, with slightly dusty, but not bitter, fine grained tannin texture, good acids. The wine became a bit dry and a bit lean or thin-feeling towards the back. The finish was quite long, with berry flavors and some cranberry notes. This wine did better with the brisket better than the BBQ ribs which overwhelmed it. This wine did not hold up well overnight. Aromas of melted butter and kefir dominated with the latter persisting into the flavors. (12.5% ABV, 1 bottle tasted, production volume unknown)
This wine was whole berry fermented, underwent 10 to 12 day maceration and spent 11 months in French and American oak. Aromas of candied cherry aromas up front suggested a little VA. The aromas of brambly blackberry and cherry had a slightly jammy character and gained in presence with a little air. In the mouth, a slight sweetness bolstered very light, fleshy sweet red fruit flavors. Medium-bodied, this wine was tangy with bright acids, not too astringent or too grippy. The medium duration finish was tangy and scintillating with red fruit. Overnight, this wine came into full stride, exhibiting mature and more youthful characteristics, It became quite smoky, with jammy bramble aromas and floral hints. In the mouth, brambly flavors were reminiscent of an aged Zinfandel. Hints of oak were also detectable. Finely-grained, minimally drying tannins and very juicy but appropriate acidity made for a dry, slightly warm structure. The wine finished with juicy blackberry. This Aglianico worked with the brisket, but the BBQ ribs were more challenging for the wine. (15.4% ABV, 2 bottles tasted, 234 cases made)
The 2007 Cougar Aglainico is a 100% varietal wine from fruit grown at the Cougar property in the Temecula Valley. The grapes were fermented in open bin ferments using two different yeasts, spent 18 months in new and neutral American oak and bottled unfiltered. Aromas dill and smoky, jammy briary were accompanied by sweeter oak notes. In the mouth, this medium-bodied wine was savory and briny, with faint briary fruit in background and some oak notes again. Fine grained tannins were a bit drying but the acids were proportionate. The medium-length finish was slightly astringent, with chewy tannins in forefront followed by bright briary fruit. On the second day, this wine delivered lots of rich, jammy fruit (more of a mélange of blackberry and blueberry), light oak notes and faint raisin aromas. Light brininess and oak notes dominated the palate. The texture had become sleeker overnight. The initially drying finish soon evolved blackberry-like, plumy juiciness. The brisket brought the brininess into line, while the BBQ Ribs made for an interesting complexity and synergy. (13.7% ABV, 1 bottle tasted, 248 cases made)