A Guide to Viognier Wine

After teetering on the edge of extinction in the 1960s, Viognier now has a stronghold throughout its Old World homeland (including the Rhone Valley appellations of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet) as well as California, Virginia, and Australia. Look for the grape as a stand-alone varietal or in a blend.

Viognier wines are light to medium in body and high to balanced in acidity. They are also aromatic with notes of exotic fruits, flowers, and stone fruits.

Grape Varieties

When it comes to wine, the grape varieties available are almost endless. Those that are of commercial importance make up only a tiny fraction of the thousands of vine varieties that exist and grow around the world. The majority of them belong to the European grape species Vitis vinifera, which has been cultivated for over six thousand years.

While a vast majority of the vines are used for juice and other non-alcoholic beverages, there are some that have been adapted to produce fine wines, particularly those that do well in Northern climates. These include native and hybrid varieties as well as the French-American varietals that have been created by crossing pre-existing grapes with vinifera.

These are the most important grape varieties that winemakers use to craft a wide variety of styles and price points. They take up the most vineyard space in all of the major wine regions of the world.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This grape grows in tight, dense clusters that are sensitive to frost and overexposure to sunlight. It can produce rich, full-bodied wines with high alcohol levels that have a tannic backbone and are balanced by an acidity that gives the wine great structure and length. Cabernet Sauvignon is a versatile grape that can be aged in oak and produces a range of complex flavors from black fruit to earthiness.

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is a thin-skinned vitis vinifera grape that produces medium-bodied wines with low tannin. These delicate wines have a complex flavor profile that includes flavors and aromas of ripe cherry, wild strawberry, and earthiness. It can also age into notes of mushroom and anise. Pinot noir is a very difficult grape to grow, which makes it even more special when the finished product is good.

Riesling

This white grape is very high in acidity, and it can be made in a wide range of styles. Its citrus flavors of lemon and lime are very distinctive, but it can also have a more floral or sweet herbal character depending on the style. It can also be oaked, which imparts another suite of complexities and flavors, including peach, apricot, and melon.

Winemaking Techniques

The Viognier grape is known for producing wines that are full-bodied, with rich and complex aromas of apricot, peach and honey with hints of jasmine, rose, chamomile, and lavender. These floral fragrances are backed by notes of exotic fruits and stone fruit, and spice, including lemon zest, clove, cinnamon and vanilla.

Winemakers can make this variety in several styles, ranging from light and easy-drinking to powerful and intensely perfumed. A full-bodied Viognier will typically be oaked, which adds a richness to the wine that can be balanced by its characteristic acidity.

The terpenes in the skin of the grape give it its unique aromatic character and can be influenced by many factors, including how much sun or shade the vine receives and how old the vine is. In general, Viognier is an early budding variety, and it is therefore prone to spring frosts. This means that careful attention must be given to the vineyard management and the harvest date must be judged accurately as too much time on the vine can reduce the intensity of its pronounced floral aromas and lead to overripeness and a loss of acidity.

As a result of its heady perfume and luscious fruit, this is an extremely versatile variety that can be made in a range of styles and price points. It can be drunk on its own, or it is commonly blended with Syrah and Cote Rotie to produce a rich, exotic and sensuous wine, or even used to create sweeter late-harvest varieties with elements of botrytis.

While there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to structure for any grape, Viognier tends to be a medium to full-bodied white with balanced acidity and fruit. A wine’s structure is determined by the ratio of alcohol to acid, sugar and phenols, with these being affected by a number of factors, such as climate, soil type, and the winemaking techniques employed.

In the cellar, the use of delestage to precipitate out proteins and other fine solids from the juice is highly recommended for this wine to help preserve its aromatic qualities. Using potassium bitartrate can also be effective in protecting the wine from cold stability issues, which may develop as a result of premature oxidation during cold storage.

Food Pairings

Whether it’s young and unoaked, or aged in oak, Viognier can be quite versatile with food. With its sweet, floral notes and fruity flavors, it works well with many dishes that have a hint of sweetness. The wine also pairs well with savory ingredients and flavors that pick up on its fragrance, like ginger or curry. This includes foods that are roasted or grilled or any dish with a combination of sweet spices and/or citrus.

While the grape is most famous for its perfumed aromas of peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle, some wines are aged in oak to add a richer, creamy taste with hints of vanilla. This makes it a great partner to creamy, full-bodied dishes, such as risotto or pasta.

Viognier also pairs well with a variety of savory cheeses, including soft, ripe, and aged varieties. It’s a great compliment to lighter cheeses, such as brie or de Bourgogne, and can even work with more piquant varieties, like gorgonzola. It’s a wonderful complement to the savory flavors of fig jam or olive tapenade, as well as smoked salmon or chicken.

It’s also a fantastic wine for spicy dishes, especially when it’s blended with marsanne, roussanne, and rolle in the Condrieu AOC, or with shiraz and grenache in the Cote-Rotie AOC. Pad Thai, or any other dish with a combination of chicken, shrimp, and fish (or tofu), is a perfect match for this full-bodied white. For a truly unique pairing, try it with shichimi togarashi, a spice mix of chili powder, sesame seeds, and other spices that add a deliciously fragrant note to any meal.

Other Varieties

Viognier is a unique wine in that it is aromatic and perfumey while being a traditionally dry wine. This aromatic quality is due to a group of organic compounds known as terpenes that are produced during the growth and maturation of grapes. These terpenes can be affected by a number of factors including grape variety, growing practices, and winemaking techniques.

Viognier wines have a remarkably diverse range of aromas and flavors, from the sweet tanginess of ripe mango to floral notes like rose petals or jasmine. Some of these aromas can be derived from the grape skins themselves, while others can result from the influence of other components in the wine such as oak. Some wines have a tropical fruit flavor, while others are more peach-like. Some wines may also have notes of spice such as clove, nutmeg or allspice.

These unique characteristics make viognier a wine that is enjoyable on its own, but it can also pair well with a wide variety of foods. It goes especially well with seafood dishes such as oysters with a spicy aioli, or grilled fish topped with mango-poblano pico. It also pairs beautifully with savory cheeses such as gruyere and gouda, as well as nuts. It also works wonderfully with Chinese and Thai food, particularly dishes that feature curry.

The exact origin of viognier is not clear, but it is believed that it was brought to Condrieu by the Roman Emperor Probus. It then spread to neighboring Chateau Grillet and throughout the Rhone Valley. By 1965, however, the viognier plant had declined to only 8 hectares in Condrieu and little more elsewhere in the region. This decline was mainly a result of the phylloxera outbreak and World War I.

Since that time, it has grown in popularity, and it is now the most widely planted white Rhone grape worldwide. Outside of its homeland in France, it is primarily grown in California, although significant plantings exist in Australia, Chile and South Africa. In recent years, it has gained increasing recognition in the United States as a delicious alternative to Chardonnay. Its luscious, springy qualities of blossom, lychee and peach are similar to those of Chardonnay, but it tends to be fuller in body and more perfumey.

What to look for when buying Viognier wines

  • ABV: Viognier ranges from 13.5% to 15% alcohol by volume (ABV). It may not appear like a huge jump, but the extremes will taste like two very different wines on the palate. If you prefer a lighter, leaner Viognier, look for around 14% ABV or lower.
  • Stylistic differences: There are two technical variations that winemakers take when making Viognier: new oak aging or neutral/no oak aging. The new oak aging offers a richer, creamier taste, lower acidity, and aromas of cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. Neutral, oak-free maturing (done in stainless steel) will deliver more floral and tropical fruit aromas to the wine while maintaining its acidity and sometimes a subtle bitter note.
  • Regions: Viognier produces the finest wines when cultivated in sunny areas with mild temperatures on cool nights or near bodies of water. The significance of cool weather is to preserve the treasured acidity of Viognier. When you research fine Viognier wines, you will notice these regional traits.

On this day in wine history:

April 30th is International Viognier day.

Fun facts about Viognier

  1. It is the only permitted grape in the French wine region of Condrieu and the enclave AOC of Chateau-Grillet in the northern Rhone.
  2. Viognier was nearly extinct in the 1960s, with only eight acres planted in the Northern Rhone and about 80 acres worldwide.
  3. In the United States, Viognier is the greatest commonly planted white Rhone varietal wine.
  4. The floral aromas of Viognier wines are due to terpenes (a class of organic compounds found in Muscat and Riesling), which are also found in Muscat and Riesling.
  5. Viognier is sometimes used to soften the edges and add complexity to red wines, especially when blended with Syrah.
  6. Powdery mildew is particularly prone to Viognier.
  7. Viognier is a grape that ripens early.
  8. The Viognier grape is genetically related to the Freisa grape (a red grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of Italy). According to DNA research conducted at UC Davis, it is a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo.

Key dates in Viognier’s history:

1965: Viognier was once quite popular. According to one source, the grape was nearly extinct in 1965, with only eight acres in Northern Rhône producing only 1,900 liters of wine. The wine’s popularity and price have increased, as has the number of plantings.

1980s: Outside of the northern Rhône, Viognier was almost unknown. However, a surge of interest in the 1980s saw it quickly spread around the world’s vineyards.

2000-2016: It had been planted in over 3,000 hectares by 2000, rising to 11,400 in 2010 and then to 16,000 in 2016.

Also read: How to Taste Wine Like A Pro

Want to read more? Try these books!

Viognier- Beginners Guide to Wine (101 Publishing- Wine Series) Wine Folly- The Essential Guide to Wine
References

  1. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
  2. Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
  3. The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019
Categories: Oldest Wine Regions, Wine VarietiesTags: , , , By Published On: October 28, 2022Last Updated: February 27, 2024

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