Corks+Forks: Cantinetta’s Saffron Papperdelle with àMaurice Viognier

Down-home Tuscan cooking with a touch of Washington white wine charm.

If you don’t remember, the summer of 2009 was hot. You bought your first real six-string at the five and dime, you were sweating and whining about the heat like most Seattleites naturally do all the while the grapes in the vineyards of the Pacific Northwest were getting fat and tan, with sugars inside the fruit and bronzing skin on the outside. For the novice, a hot growing season (from spring bud-break of the plant to the physical picking of the fruit during harvest) typically results in high brix (sugar in the grape) and even higher alcohol content as a result.

Reach back into your grade school memory and recall photosynthesis: the reaction where water and carbon dioxide are combined through the power of the sun to form sugar in plants or, in this case, vines. From here, the sugars are fermented into alcohol through the aid of yeasts which literally eat the sugar and spit out alcohol. Sexy, right?

As a grape variety that thrives in a hotter, longer growing season, Viognier is truly its sexiest when it is picked fully ripened. In the grape’s classic region of Condrieu in France’s Rhône Valley, vineyards of Viognier are picked at a sugar level that results in wines with 13% average alcohol content and strong aromas. Although the grape can handle the heat, the easy breezes of the Columbia Valley offer an acid component to the fatty, fleshy wine to ultimately balance out a wine that can be flabby.

With nearly 400 acres planted in Washington state, more vintners are discovering how the grape handles the unpredictable seasons of the Northwest. First planted at Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley nearly 30 years ago, Viognier is often blended with Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne (the latter two being its siblings from the Rhône) and now, copied from the Australian style of Syrah, red is co-fermentation with a few percentage points of the white wine.

Back to the summer of 2009 — it was warm out there in them hills of Eastern Washington so it came as a blessing to growers, grapes and winemakers that 2010 was a smidgen cooler, allowing the fruit to develop into deeper complexities and nuances, instead of just gooey, globby ripe fruit that packed a punch of booze. 2010 has been this particular wine writer’s favorite white wine vintage for many Washington and Oregon producers.

The Restaurant: Cantinetta Seattle — This quintessential Wallingford abode was built into a brick building in the winter of 2008/09, with a serious cocktail bar (that comes sans a menu), a respectful wine list featuring Tuscan gems plus the best of the Northwest and all to the smell of handmade feature pastas boiling. Cozy up into a corner table and catch a glimpse back at the city as it simmers in the sunset and you sip a model-made Negroni and narrow down whether you want the duck sausage or the daily fish catch after your annihilate three pasta dishes.

The Dish: Saffron Papperdelle ($18) — Souped up with Dungeness crab and panna fresca cream, the wide-noodle house-and-hand-made delicacy of Cantinetta is enhanced with more lavish flavor through the exotic grace of saffron spice.

The Variety: Viognier — Known for its floral bouquet and its palate of fleshy, ripe stone fruits of apricot and citrus flavors of orange and lemon, Viognier is making its presence known in the United States with California’s Central Coast and its Rhône Rangers leading the pack by planting more than 2,000 acres. And, ironically enough, Viognier was crowned the official state grape of Virginia last year, whose warm climate is a match for the grape. And their names are similar.

Why It Works: Rich, meet Rich. Fortunately, the Viognier richness is balanced out with some assertive acid so pasta richness is complemented yet contrasted in just one sip. 

The Recommended Match: àMaurice Cellars 2010 Viognier, Columbia Valley ($25) — Fermented in French oak and put through malolactic fermentation to smooth out the possible rough edges, the toasty notes of the wood come out on the nose but since the barrels had a bit of age on them (two years), the tone is found deeper in the palate with its round, full-bodied structure. Loaded with fresh blossoms on the nose and fleshed out by citrus and nectarine fruits, the palate is accented by firm acidity, silty mineral tones from the land and the undeniably higher alcohol content of the grape.

Finishing rich yet vibrant, this wine is robust on its own and a complementary partner to an equally boisterous pasta dish.

Cantinentta Seattle | 3650 Wallingford Ave, Seattle | (206) 632-1000