Viognier is perhaps the most well known of the white grapes in the Rhône Valley. It is the only grape in Condrieu, the wine growing region in the Northern Rhône.
We almost lost this grape in the mid 1960’s, when there were only 8 acres left in the Northern Rhône. Luckily it found a resurgence and is now grown in North and South America, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even Israel. It has become one of the grapes found to thrive in Virginia in the US.
It is thought that Viognier is an Ancient Grape originating in Croatia. The stories of how it came to the Rhône are many, one tale has the Roman Emperor Probus bringing it to replace the vineyards that Emperor Vespasian destroyed.
(The locals in Condrieu evidently revolted and the Emperor thought it was because they were drinking too much wine, so he tore up the vineyards).
There is another legend that says that the vines came on a cargo ship down the Rhône River heading to Beaujolais when a local group of outlaws captured the boat near Condrieu.
Viognier grows best in a long warm growing season, and tends to be a low yielding variety. It is prone to powdery mildew and is finicky about when to be harvested. Too early and it lacks aromas, picked late and it gets oily.
This grape can produce full-bodied white wines. While it can be made into a single variety wine, as in Condrieu, it is also one of the rare white grapes that is often used in red blends, adding softness and perfume.
This is a wine that should be enjoyed young. As it ages it becomes crisp, but can lose it’s aromas.
Warmer Climate Viogniers seem to age a little better. It is often made into a dessert wine by picking “late harvest” when the sugars have concentrated in the grapes.
When you put your nose in a glass of Viognier you are likely to smell peach and honeysuckle and perhaps tangerine. When it is barrel aged, notes of vanilla pop. It is fruit forward wine with lower acidity. In your mouth it is lush with a fullness and viscosity.
Like Chardonnay you will hear a lot about Oak or Non-oak or neutral oak aging. Adding oak to this grape of course adds the vanilla and clove aromas that you would expect and rounds the mouth feeling creamy, where as non-oaked will pump up the tropical fruit and florals and be brighter.
There is another difference also, climate…much of the Viognier in California is grown in warmer climates, but some winemakers are diving into the beauty and elegance that a cooler climate Viognier can bring.
If you are setting out a cheese platter, lean toward fattier nuts like cashews and macadamia nuts and the same with cheeses, go for a triple cream, then add some aged gouda and gruyere.
try serving at 55 Degress
let it warm up releases more aromas
When pairing Viognier lean toward white meats, chicken, pork, shellfish like scallops and don’t be afraid of creamy sauces.
It also works great with aromatics like cardamom, coriander, ginger and curries.