Viognier is a white grape that is steadily gaining popularity as people search for new ideas in the wine world. It’s origins are unknown, but it is thought to come from Croatia, and certainly goes as far back as Roman times. It is not easy to grow and produces low yields, a factor that almost saw it disappear in the 1960s. It has a long growing season, and needs warmth to ripen late, otherwise it tends to lose much of the aroma and taste, so patience is required !
Initial success came when it established itself as the only AOC grape to produce Condrieu , a superb white wine from Northern Rhone. It has the potential to produce lush, soft character wines, full of aromatics, peaches, pears, and violets. In good ripening years it has flavours of apricots and honeysuckle, so it certainly has the ability to make good, enjoyable wines that have great flavour and finish.
From the 1990s it started to expand; in France as a blending grape around the Languedoc, and more recently as a varietal in its own right. In the Cote Rotie it is often combined with Syrah, up to 20% of the blend, to lighten the style and colour intensity. In other Southern areas it is blended with Marsanne, Roussane and Grenche Blanc, all helping to produce more modern styles for todays markets.
In California the plantings have grown since the 1980s, and here Viognier gives a fuller wine as the warmth delivers all the good aromatics and flavours. It’s popularity has seen it expand to Oregon, Washington, Virginia and Texas, as well as north to Canada’s British Colombia. It is now growing fast in Chile and Argentina and particularly Australia in the regions of the Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, Barossa and McLaren Vale, where it is full of the apricot and honeysuckle styles. In New Zealand, so far it has reached Waiheke Island near Auckland.
In the New World it is common to go for earlier picking and quite often the skins are left in contact with the juice to extract more flavour, even to the stirring of the lees. The style captures more acidity and therefore a crispness particular to these wines, and in some of the hotter regions it is not uncommon to find some redidual sugar in the wines, giving a full rounded finish.
In aromatics Viognier is floral with that peachy, apricot scent. In taste the peachy, appley flavours are there with nutty hints in those slightly aged wines . Either way the grape has loads of style and flavour and is still developing around the world –it is one to watch as well as enjoy.
It is meant to be drunk young and served chilled. Enjoy with a warm summer salad, rissoto, chinese dishes, thai dishes, chicken and salmon. It is also lovely on it’s own as a full flavoured wine. The Baron de Badassiere Viognier is a great example of this. It’s versatility is a great part of it’s growing success.