Viognier is an aromatic variety and it is a grape with high extract, so it is packed with wonderful scents and flavors. What separates Viognier from other aromatic varieties is that Riesling, for example, has high aromatics that show through right away. Viognier has low, rich aromatics which means you have to work for it a little bit, but they are deep.
It is a grape of lower acid, but high sugar, which makes for higher alcohol wines. In addition to floral aromas bringing late Spring bouquets to mind, Viognier is associated with stone fruits, particularly apricot.
Lower acid grapes tend to do well in warm to hot climates and Viognier is no different. They are low yielding, which only adds to their flavor concentration. While most grapes are picked based on their sugar level and balance with acid, Viognier is best picked based on flavor.
Most Viognier wines drink young, but they are capable of aging. The problem is if you treat them like a Chardonnay, which is a non-aromatic variety, and sit them on oak, it will mask their seductive natural flavors, as will exposure to oxygen. The choice between using stainless steel or barrels for fermentation makes for very different wines. Viognier can stand alone or it can be blended with Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne. Interestingly, because of the aromatics it adds, it is also a blending partner of Syrah.
In France, Condrieu is the wine to look for. Viognier has the exclusive in this small appellation located in the Northern Rhone. Another place to look is Chateau Grillet, which was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. These wines are capable of aging, but are hard to find and pricey. On the more affordable side, look for Vin de Pays d’Oc of Languedoc. Elsewhere in France, you are more likely to find it as a blending mate. Cote-Rotie is where the Syrah/Viognier blends occur.
In the New World, Viognier can be found in Napa or in the Central Coast of California, where the amount of plantings have been increasing at a fairly good clip. There is also much buzz about the samples coming from Virginia, and they can also be found in Oregon and Washington. Outside the U.S., they can be found in Australia, Chile or Argentina.
Try to find an Old World Viognier (Condrieu or some Vin de Pays d’Oc of Languedoc) to compare with a New World Viognier. If you are unable to find one of each, try to at least sample different regions. In other words, grab a couple bottles and enjoy!
On The Label
Viognier, Condrieu, Chateau Grillet
In The Bottle
Stone fruit, floral, green fruit, citrus fruit
At The Table
Thai, Chinese, Indian, creamy sauce, soft cheese, root vegetables
Photo credit: http://188.8.131.52/images/grapes/web_char-viognier.jpg