Viognier is an aromatic grape variety known for producing textural white wines with strong stone-fruit flavors. On the nose Viognier wines can be very floral, showing lavender and pollen aromas that are quite honeyed in sweeter examples. Apricots are the variety’s classic flavor association, often with a richness that can be interpreted as ripe peach.
In the late 1960's just 40 acres (16ha) of Viognier vines were all that remained in the world. It took interest from the Yalumba winery, in Australia's Eden Valley, to breathe the first signs of life back into the variety, along with a handful of enterprising wine growers in California (notably Calera in the Mount Harlan AVA). During the 21st Century, Viognier has had a remarkable renaissance, and is now found in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the US, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and even Japan. In some instances the plantings remain experimental, as in Rioja and Piedmont, where local wine laws do not generally permit use of the grape. In other locations, notably California and Australia, Viognier has emerged as a prestigious niche variety.
The reason for Viognier's former decline is also the reason for its current cachet. It is hard to cultivate and not naturally predisposed to producing healthy reliable yields. Moreover, thick-skinned Viognier grapes have naturally low acidity and require a great deal of sunshine to ripen properly. Too much heat and they yield overblown, hotly alcoholic wine that lacks the fresh, steely, apricot zing that is part of the variety's appeal. (© All rights reserved, Wine-Searcher)
It is precisely this difficult balancing act that has led to so many late harvest Viogniers being created. As winemakers anxiously wait for their grapes to develop the right flavors, the sugar levels go through the roof, often leaving a sticky Late Harvest style as the only option. Both Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet produce sweet versions of their wines to complement the dry ones, particularly in hot vintages, which drive yields down and sugar levels up.
The terroir required to produce quality Viognier is warm and sunny, with a specific soil type. The steep granite slopes of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet have proved able to create perfumed Viognier wine that confidently treads the tightrope between feminine, elegant fragrance and sinuous muscularity.
On the Cote Rotie, Viognier is co-fermented into the appellation's Syrah-based wines, and even the permitted 5% makes a significant difference to the final product. Here, the limestone soils of the Cote Blonde have proved well suited to the variety (and certainly better than the darker, ferrous schists of the Cote Brune). Other terrains have not been so successful, particularly those lacking good drainage. Californian Viogniers in particular have tended towards the over-powerful end of the spectrum, many reaching 15% ABV. In Australia, Eden Valley Viognier produces the nation's finest examples of the variety, although the cooler areas of New South Wales are also showing significant potential as Viognier-producing regions.
Synonyms include: Galopine, Viogne, Vionnier.
Related grape varieties include: Freisa, Nebbiolo.
Food matches include:
Europe: Grilled salmon on dauphinois potatoes (dry); glazed apricot tart (tarte aux abricots) (sweet)
Asia: Cashew-nut curry; pork dumplings (dry)
Australasia/Oceania: Grilled kingfish steaks with roasted sweet potato (kumara) (dry); candied orange cheesecake (sweet)
Africa/Middle East: Apricot rice pudding (sweet)