Virgin Wines: Viognier
Viognier is one of the more aromatic grape varieties. It's tasty and rewarding to drink, matches well with unusual food, and is fuller flavoured and fruitier than Chardonnay. It's a wine that appeals to everyone, especially those who aren't keen on Chardonnay but who want to drink a white wine with character.
Tough Little Cookie to Grow
Viognier is a finicky grape. Pick it too early and it can be thin and flavourless, pick it too late and it becomes oily with none of the peach and honeysuckle aromas that it should have. It's also a sickly little beast, prone to picking up all the mildews, moulds and pests in the vineyard. Even if the grapes toe the line, it's easy to kill the flavours during winemaking. It takes a skilled, patient and courageous vintner to make a decent, well-balanced Viognier. So when you crack open your next bottle and are savouring your first delicious mouthful, take a moment to appreciate the skill and hard work that's gone into it.
A good Viognier should taste really fruity, bursting with tropical fruit such as pineapple and melon, as well as peach and pear. It should have good acidity to balance out the fruit, adding crispness, and it shouldn't taste too much of alcohol. If you can't taste the fruit, or taste the alcohol first, this is a sign of an unbalanced Viognier. Oaking can easily overpower its delicate fruit flavours so you'll rarely find an oaked Viognier, except for the most expensive wines from Chateau Grillet or Condrieu. When you find a good one, you'll know it. Oaked Viognier is rich, lush, and sensual.
Home Sweet Home
The two tiny appellations of Chateau Grillet and Condrieu in the Northern Rhone are the spiritual home of Viognier. The steep slopes, minerally soil, and cooling breezes are ideal for this fickle grape to thrive.
Since the 1990s Viognier has been planted more widely across France, mostly to blend, but increasingly to make lighter, fresher wines than their Northern Rhone relations. Most of these are well within the budget of most wine drinkers at around £5-7 so look out for Viognier from the Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence for some real bargains!
Before 1990 it was rare to find Viognier anywhere else than France. It's since been adopted by California and Australia, and these two winemaking powerhouses have helped shove Viognier onto the world stage and become a serious wine drinker's tipple. The rest of Europe, South America, South Africa New Zealand and even Japan are experimenting with it too. Not bad for a grape that nearly died out!
Viognier is an excellent wine for blending, adding fragrance, fruit, alcohol and silky smoothness to wines. In Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone, winemakers are allowed to add a small dash of Viognier to their signature spicy Syrah. Try New World Shiraz-Viognier blends for pocket-friendly delicious alternatives to these Northern Rhone premiere wines.
Increasingly New World winemakers are experimenting with Viognier in blends of other white grapes and making some real lip-smackers. Try Viognier and Chardonnay for a fruity but refreshing wine, Viognier and Chenin for a citrussy treat, or even Viognier and Riesling for an aromatic sensation.
Aromatic wines can stand up to strong flavours, so try Viognier with Chinese, Mexican or Spicy Thai as well as white meats. It's also one of the only wines that match Sushi really nicely. Of course, you can always drink it on it's own.