Going a little off the reservation with the Illahe Vineyards Viognier. This is the one grape the Ford family actually sources from an external vineyard. If you’ve been following my Oregon Wine series these past two weeks, then you know that the Illahe Vineyards has its own unique micro-climate and terroir situation in the middle of the Willamette Valley. Viognier is a funny grape in that it can technically grow “well” in both warmer and cooler climates. But, because of its tendency toward mildew, and the extremes in acid-sugar balance between picking “too early” and “too late,” the white grape benefits from areas that can support longer growing seasons.

Goschie Farms is just such an area. The east Willamette farm, known primarily for their hop farming, is situated along the valley floor, where day time heat and evening coastal cooling are at two polar opposite extremes. This means that those fussy Viognier have access to an overall well-rounded temperature and — you guessed it — long growing season. The Fords first purchased these Viognier grapes when Goschie Farms had an extremely successful harvest and excess fruit they couldn’t sell. Illahe bought an experimental bunch and found the white wine sold quite well. Now, it’s a regular part of their collection.

About the Wine: Illahe Vineyards 2016 Viognier is made from 100% Viognier grapes sourced from the Goschie Farm in Willamette Valley Oregon. After harvest, the grapes were destemmed and soaked overnight. They were fermented in cool, stainless steel tanks.

12% ABV

Flavor Profile: Out of the bottle, the Illahe 2016 Viognier emits an almost fishy aromatic — as in the umami of fish oil or fish sauce. In the glass, the Viognier is nearly water-clear with just a shade or a shadow of yellow, creating a faint Champagne-like visual (sans bubbles). Initial aromas are quite floral with hints of soft nuts like cashews (that could be the “umami” scented earlier) and the slightest scent of cold butter. Swirl and sniff again, and the wine opens up with smells reminiscent of an oaked Chardonnay (although oaked this is not). Take an even deeper breath in and find that thin line of acidity cutting through. At the top of the glass there’s a subtle flower arrangement of edible flowers (honeysuckle, chamomile, day lily, fern).

The initial texture is quite smooth, almost creamy, making me think of a tropical sherbet — if tropical fruits like pineapple, mandarin, mango, kiwi could all be soft with round, smooth textures. And, in fact, the finish leaves you with a bit of tartness, similar to the tartness found in a greek yogurt — so the sherbet thought completely makes sense. There’s a good, solid line of acidity through and through that lets that tartness linger for a deliciously long finish, inviting you to take another sip (and another and another…)

Food Pairing: I paired the Illahe 2016 Viognier with a pan-fried halibut served with coconut rice topped with chopped mango and slivered almonds, and a side of crispy kale. Perfect pairing full stop. The dry meatiness of the fish brought out that umami in the wine, while the mango and coconut rice played nicely with those fruit flavors. The coconut rice enhanced that yogurty quality, and all-in-all both the flavors and the textures of the meal and wine went hand-in-hand. I would drink this wine again and pair it exactly the same way.

More Info: You can learn more about Illahe Vineyards by reading my review of Illahe Vineyards 2014 Project 1899 Pinot Noir (the wine I think truly defines Illahe Vineyards) and their truly unique Rosé of Tempranillo. Learn more about Oregon Wine History and the Willamette Valley AVA by reading my previous articles.

I received the Illahe Vineyards 2016 Viognier as a sample for review. (Cheers, Bethany!) Retail: $17. For more information about their available wines and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Illahe Vineyards website.

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