Friday, June 05, 2009

To co ferment or not - THIS is the question that has been bugging me all day

Ok, so this has been bugging me all day because I knew that I had read an article about this recently and had been involved in a conversation about this topic somewhere as well - I think it was with the winemaker at Vin d'Orrance in South Africa, or perhaps the winemaker at Cono Sur.

I know that I have listened to the question being answered as to why to coferment Viognier and Syrah and how it affects the color of the wine - actually the conversation I was part of was about cofermenting Viognier skins with Syrah, but it achieves the same result. I looked around and found the answer in this blog. I knew it had to do with the bonding properties of the phenolics of the Viognier - I just didn't know how to properly verbalize it. Here is the answer - I have included the entire text just for fun.

This is taken from the Ridge Vineyards blog written by Christopher Watkins and titled - 4488: A Ridge Blog

Some Follow-Up On The Viognier Question: Co-Fermentation and the 2005 Ridge Vineyards California Syrah Lytton West
May 28, 2009

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!

Tags:co-fermentation, Eric Baugher, viognier, west coast wine net
Posted in Rhone varietals, Syrah, Tasting Notes | No Comments »
Hurrah Syrah! -or – To Blend Or Not To Blend: The Viognier Question
May 7, 2009

So, I was doing some reading on West Coast Wine Net recently (which, if you’ve not yet had a look at this site, is something I highly recommend doing!), and I fell into reading a series of comments and observations debating the merits and qualities of Californian syrah:


In one of the comments, someone made mention of the fact that they felt it was a very bad thing (I won’t quote directly, as I don’t know the individual) to blend viognier with high quality syrah. Given that Ridge has made any number of syrahs (and all of a very high quality, in my opinion) over the years that include a percentage of viognier, I was inspired to have a close and contextual look at one. Accordingly, we’ll be pouring our 2005 Lytton West Syrah in the Monte Bello Tasting Room this weekend; this syrah features 6% viognier.

If you’ll be in the area, I encourage you to join us at Monte Bello to try this fascinating blend, and if you’ve tasted this wine before and have some thoughts, I encourage you to send in your comments! I’ll be posting a new version of RIDGE IN THE ROUND after the MBTR staff has had a chance to re-visit this wine.

Tags:Syrah, viognier, west coast wine net
Posted in Rhone varietals, Syrah, Tasting Notes | 2 Comments »

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