I Love French Wine and Food - A Midi Viognier

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					If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Languedoc-Roussillon
region of south central France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun
on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Viognier.

Among France's eleven wine-growing regions the Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest
in actual area and ranks fourth in acreage planted in wine grapes. This area, which
includes the Midi, was once known for producing huge quantities of questionable
quality wine called vin ordinaire. Now, however, in part due to the influence of
Australian winemakers, the region is producing more and more fine wine. Unlike
most other regions of France, many Languedoc-Roussillon wines, such as the one
reviewed below, are identified by their grape variety on the label.

Don't think of this region as being uniform. For example, Languedoc tends to be flat,
whereas Roussillon is hilly. In addition, several areas with their own unique
combination of microclimate and soil (terroir) produce their own AOC (Appellation
d'Origine Controle) wines, which tend to be more expensive. Sooner or later we'll be
looking at some of these wines in our series. There are almost 50 AOC wine
appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon; covering the entire range, red, white, rosé,
sparkling, and sweet. This diversity is not surprising when you consider that the
region grows over 30 grape varieties.

The Viognier grape was on the edge of extinction about forty years ago. At that time it
was restricted to France with a grand total of about 35 acres. Times have changed and
this grape is now grown in California, Italy, Australia, Chile, and Canada, with more
countries on the way. The classic Viognier wines come from the Northern Rhone
Valley of eastern France, but we probably won't be reviewing them because of their
limited availability and high cost.

Of course the Languedoc-Roussillon region has many places to visit. We'll just focus
on a single city, Carcassonne whose population is about 45 thousand. Talk about
location. This city lies on a hilltop on the route leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the
Mediterranean Sea. And it's not far from the Spanish border. Small wonder that it
dates back well over two thousand years. The Romans fortified it about 100 BC.
Carcassonne has the longest standing city walls in all of Europe. Its name comes from
Dame Carcas, who fed the last of the city's wheat to a pig in clear view of the French
Emperor Charlemagne. He mistakenly believed that the besieged city was in no
danger of starvation, and called off the siege.

The Aude River divides the fortified upper town, La Cité, from the newer lower town,
La Basse Ville. The upper town is basically closed to private cars. Among the upper
town sites to see are the Fortress, the Bascilica of Sainte Nazaire, Museum of Chivalry,
Arms and Archery, and the Museum of the Middle Ages, focusing on military history.
The lower town has a fine arts museum and, in season (April to mid-November), an
Australian Animal Preserve with kangaroos and emus.
Before reviewing the Languedoc-Roussillon wine and imported cheeses that we were
lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a
few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful
region. Start with Huitres de Bouzigues (Oysters from Bouzigues). For your second
course savor Bourride (Fish with A?oli, a local mayonnaise). And as dessert indulge
yourself with Creme Colane (Dessert Cream with Lemon, Vanilla, and Dill Seed).

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at
the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed Domaine des Salices Viognier 2005 13% about $12

Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Over the past decade, Viognier has
shown remarkable success in the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon (a.k.a., Midi).
Once confined to vineyards in northern Rh?ne, today Viognier is thriving not just in
the Midi, but throughout other warm climate regions around the world. Enjoy this
fruity, low acid, aromatic wonder with lightly spiced seafood dishes, turkey breast or
grilled salmon.

My first meal consisted of baked chicken leg with the skin on in a medley of spices
(garlic, onion, cumin, and uncharacteristically tame Moroccan Harissa), rice, and
green beans. I identified apples, pears, and a floral taste in the wine. I liked the acidity
and the way that it cut the tasty grease of the chicken skin. The wine was a good
accompaniment to fresh pineapple. I tried an off-the-wall combination by finishing
my glass with jalapeno roasted almonds. The wine went dead. I don't blame the
Viognier for this mismatch.

The next meal was an omelet with brown mushrooms, red onions, and American
cheese (a mistake). The Viognier was moderately acidic and very slightly sweet with
light fruits. Frankly, I preferred sipping the wine to this combination. There is a
well-known rule when pairing a wine to dessert: make sure that the wine is sweeter
than the dessert. I broke the rule with a homemade cheesecake that simply denatured
the wine. On the other hand, the wine held up better with a homemade chocolate cake
that wasn't as sweet.

My final meal was vegetarian. There was a moderately spicy broccoli mushroom sort
of quiche that contained no cheese. The wine was very refreshing and almost ethereal.
The other dish was a sweet potato, olive, and rustic potato concoction held together by
crushed crackers. The wine was somewhat less exciting than before but still fine. As
often with vegetarian meals, I was still hungry. Always on the lookout for an
unconventional pairing, I tried dried, lightly sweetened cranberries. They killed the
wine. Why stop there? Candy-coated peanuts went better. They turned up the wine's
acidity but the combination was good enough to go back for seconds.
The first cheese was a goat's milk cheese, a Palet de Chevre from the Poitou
Charentes region of central-western France. This cheese looked and tasted more like a
Camembert than like a goat's milk cheese. But the wine was quite fruity and pleasant
with it. The second cheese was a nutty tasting Gruyere from Switzerland. Once again
the wine was fruity and a bit acidic. Just before the wine and cheese tasting I went to
the local supermarket. On the cheese shelf was a local Asiago, a sharp cheese
originally from northern Italy. Usually I don't taste local cheeses with these wines, but
because I actually preferred this local Asiago to the imported version, I thought that
I'd make an exception. The combination was quite good; the wine came out fruity and
lightly acidic. Slices of fresh tomato perked it up even more.

Final verdict. I liked this wine and intend to buy it again, even more so at its relatively
low price. I'll let you in on a secret; this is the first Viognier wine that I liked to any
extent. I plan to taste other Viognier wines in this series. I don't promise that I'll try
the top-of-the-line offerings from the northern Rhone Valley; they are quite pricey.