A Guide to Viognier Wine
Viognier is a full-bodied white wine from the south of France. Prized for its fragrant aromas of peach, mandarin, and honeysuckle, Viognier can also be aged in oak to add a rich, creamy taste with hints of vanilla. If you like to mull over bolder white wines like Chardonnay, Viognier is a variety you’ll love.
The taste of Viognier varies from softer notes of citrus, tropical and floral to creamier fragrances of vanilla with spices of nutmeg and clove. Dependent on the winemaker and how it is produced, the intensity differs from light and delicate with a hint of bitterness to bold and creamy. If you like Chardonnay, you will like the weight of Viognier, and you will notice that it is often a little softer on the acidity, a little lighter, and more fragrant.
On the palate, the wines are generally dry, although some producers offer a slightly off-dry style that embellishes the peach aromas of Viognier. This variety of wine is famous for its oily feel in the middle of the tongue. Drier types are less fruity on the palate and offer a subtle bitterness, almost like the crunch in a fresh rose petal.
If you like Viognier…
- Look for the dry Moscatel from Portugal, the Torrontés from Argentina, and the dry styles from Müller Thurgau to mirror the floral elements.
- If you like the vibrancy of a creamy oaky Viognier, you’ll also like oak-aged versions of Marsanne, Roussanne, Trebbiano, and Chardonnay.
How to serve Viognier with food
The secret to combining dishes with Viognier wine is to fully respect its delicate floral notes and medium acidity. So, as a rule of thumb, focus on embellishing and expanding the base flavors of the wine while making sure the foods you pair aren’t too acidic or too greasy. A notable example might be pairing a bolder weight Viognier from Paso Robles, CA, with an apricot and almond chicken tagine served over saffron rice. The dish’s aromas should enhance the fruit flavors and the creaminess of the wine.
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
- It is the only permitted grape in the French wine region of Condrieu and the enclave AOC of Chateau-Grillet in the northern Rhone.
- Viognier was nearly extinct in the 1960s, with only eight acres planted in the Northern Rhone and about 80 acres worldwide.
- In the United States, Viognier is the greatest commonly planted white Rhone varietal wine.
- 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.
- Viognier is sometimes used to soften the edges and add complexity to red wines, especially when blended with Syrah.
- Powdery mildew is particularly prone to Viognier.
- Viognier is a grape that ripens early.
- 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!
- Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
- Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
- The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019