I don’t have an encyclopedic taste memory of all the world’s obscure grape varieties; I don’t even have a solid grasp on what you might call the second-tier varietals, the ones we’ve all heard of but don’t taste often. So I like to pick a varietal once in a while, buy a few bottles that represent different styles or regions, read around a little, and spend a few weeks idly getting to know the wine. These aren’t scientific or even representative approaches—I don’t buy 30 Albariños for under $20 and blind-taste all of them. They’re simply my way of keeping interested; learning and growing. Viognier has been in my little spotlight lately, and I tasted a great French version a week or so back, which I wrote about, but now I’ve struck upon a very different one that I like equally as much.
I’d bought the bottle in my initial Viognier shopping spree, but I hadn’t opened it right away, and I don’t know when I would have if my wife hadn’t been looking for white wine one night, when I was drinking red. The wine is called the Hermit Crab, it’s actually a blend of Viognier and Marsanne, and it’s produced by d’Arenberg, in McLaren Vale, Australia. They say the name comes from the decomposed sea critters in their limestone soil, and also from the clever fact that Hermit. is the abbreviation for the AOC where Viognier is most famously grown in the northern Rhône. But what matters to me is that my wife opened the bottle on a night when I was drinking red. An old friend was coming over, one who doesn’t drink much and would consider wine appreciation a sort of affectation, or decadence. I’d roasted a good chicken and made a salad of green beans, fresh shell beans, tomatoes, chanterelles, and a little basil and curly endive, and I’d put out the bottles of red and white wine without fanfare, afraid even to ask if my friend would like some; I didn’t want him to feel pressured.
He’s a good guy or we wouldn’t be friends, but everybody’s different, and he does have this puritanical streak. And so even as I enjoyed his company and conversation, I had a very private food and wine experience, simply savoring and sipping and keeping it all to myself—at least until I saw a small smile on my wife’s face. She, too, was quietly enjoying herself, and it was all because of the Hermit Crab. Our dining room floor is covered in rosin paper right now, and the room is bare of furniture, and there are power tools everywhere, but the sight of my wife pushing a wine glass toward me, across the table—wanting me to taste—filled the room with romance. And so did the Hermit Crab, which turned out to be a smooth and lovely wine, with just the plush smell and full body I’m learning to expect from Viognier, but all in balance, all in place. All the way it should be.