Viognier delivers flavor intensity of red wine

Posted: January 31, 2013

Buzz: It felt like 20 below the other day, and I was in line behind a lady buying white wine. Who'd want to drink cold white wine when it's freezing out?

Marnie: You'd be surprised, Buzz. A lot of people simply prefer white wines over reds, and the temperature doesn't have much to do with it. We don't stop drinking juice or soda or milk in the winter, so why not enjoy our chilled wines as well? White wine consistently outsells red in the U.S., and Chardonnay is almost twice as popular as cabernet sauvignon.

Buzz: I don't get that either. If you're gonna drink wine, why not go all the way with a stronger red? White wine is for wimps, if you ask me.

Marnie: I can't agree on that. It's true that many white wines are lighter-bodied than reds, meaning lower in alcoholic strength. But plenty are weighty enough to go head-to-head with big reds. In fact, the whites we drink in cold weather tend to be full-bodied styles from warm regions like California and Australia.

Buzz: I wish I was in a warm region right now.

Marnie: Where reds do clobber whites is in flavor intensity, not body or strength.

Buzz: Told ya whites were wimpy. What gives reds that edge?

Marnie: They often taste stronger because their flavor-packed grape skins are used in winemaking. Whites are typically more subtle because their skins are discarded before winemaking begins, resulting in a milder flavor.

There are a few white grapes that are exceptionally pungent, though, which leads to white wines whose flavor intensity can rival a red. These are usually lighter whites, like moscato, but in rare cases we can find the full body of a style like Chardonnay combined with moscato-like aromatic power. Viognier would be the best example.

Buzz: Vee-oh-what? Never heard of it.

Marnie: It's spelled V-i-o-g-n-i-e-r, but pronounced Vee-own-yay. You should try it - it's popular in California and makes big rich white wines bursting with peachy flavor and floral perfume.

Buzz: Peaches and perfume? Guess you want me to get in touch with my feminine side.


Marnie Old is Philadelphia's highest-profile sommelier. Her latest book, Wine Simplified, is a crash course for the wine curious for the iPad and iPhone, available via the iTunes App Store. Marnie consults for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and is an adviser to the beverage trade. For more: marnieold.com. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.

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