This often mis-pronounced grape is being found on more tables and taking up more room in wine store racks – thank goodness! What a delicious and complex wine this grape can become! It can also offer wonderful easy-drinking values. I love it because it can come in so many forms – single varietal, in a white wine blend, or even in a red wine blend.
Due to the fact that the grape is naturally low in acidity, Viognier can be tricky to pick and produce. It has to be harvested at just the right time to maintain that balance between acid and fruit. It also lacks longevity, even at the high-end, so even when you’re buying “collectible” bottles, they are meant to be drunk within a few years.
What makes Viognier so appealing? Hard to put a finger on it, but for me it's the combination of aromatics and texture that make it so delicious. The nose is full of apricot, peach and perfume, while on the palate, you have this lovely, rich coating texture that is all from the grape rather than oak or malo-lactic fermentation. One drawback (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is the alcohol levels can be high. Still the wines are a pleasure to drink.
Viognier is also a master blender, both for white wines as well as red. In white blends, its favorite partners include other Rhone varieties like Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. For red wines, it is actually co-fermented in small amounts with Syrah. The original region using this blend, Cote Rotie permits up to 20% of Viognier in its wines though its usually a much smaller percentage. Oddly enough, the addition of Viognier actually deepens the color of the Syrah and definitely boosts its aromatics. So successful in Cote Rotie, the practice has been picked up elsewhere, most notably in Australia, where you commonly find Shiraz + Viognier blends.
Where does Viognier grow best? As a single varietal wine, you have the classic all-Viognier, all the time appellation, Condrieu. Condrieu is situated in the northern Rhone and produces some of the most delicious and complex Viognier you can find. Within Condrieu lies Chateau Grillet (pictured to the right), a small appellation of only a few hectares, which also produces only Viognier. Always under single ownership, this small production of Vigonier has a higher price tag, mostly due to its scarcity. California is also making some awesome Viognier, a few of my favorites being Cline and Bonterra. Australia has also found a niche with Viognier – Yalumba is doing great stuff with the grape and has an excellent organic Viognier.
When it comes to Viognier in blends, head to the Rhone where you’ll find it in many of the Rhone whites (though not in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites, as it is not one of the 13 permitted varieties). And, like the single varietal wines, California and Australia are making some excellent white Rhone blends with Viognier.
For Syrah/Shiraz with Viognier? Cote-Rotie is the classic place to find this. But the hefty price tag and scarcity of those wines may send you looking elsewhere, in which case head to Australia. They have really embraced this blend and producers like Innocent Bystander, d’Arenberg and Yalumba are making some quite delicious examples. Do watch those alcohol levels though… they can get up there!
For food pairings, I love sipping it with roast chicken or a rich pasta sauce. My corny side loves to enjoy it on its own watching the sunset.