When it’s good, it’s world-class. When it’s bad – well, there’s a reason it’s not always the wine trade’s favourite grape variety.
Where Viognier is grown
Viognier is a relatively late-ripening variety that needs similar growing conditions to Cabernet Sauvignon. So, you’ll find it in warm climates with ample sunshine.
The top examples come from a tiny sliver in the northern Rhône Valley: Condrieu and the superstar icon Chateau Grillet. Coincidentally (or not), research suggests that’s also where it’s from.
Not too long ago, it was a meagre afterthought with just 35 acres throughout France. But plantings have exploded and it is now ubiquitous across the world of wine, with significant plantings in the United States, Argentina, and Australia.
What Viognier tastes like
Viognier is often rich and lush; soft in acidity and high in alcohol; and sometimes has a touch of sweetness. But it doesn’t take much for Viognier to turn into a caricature of itself. It quickly goes from unripe to overripe, becoming fat, blowsy, and boozy with cloyingly sweet canned fruit aromas.
When done well, there’s nothing quite like it. It can be rich and unctuous, without being cloying. It can be delicately perfumed, with orange blossom and honeysuckle, without smelling like potpourri. And it has the most amazing fruit: juicy apricot and nectarine that tastes like it was just plucked off the tree.
Condrieu has arguably the most restrained and mineral examples, sometimes tasting like an exotically ripe Chardonnay. Chateau Grillet is one of the greatest white wines in the world with aromatic intensity, delicacy, and power rolled into one. In New World countries like Australia and the United States, a bottle of Viognier is more likely to be packed with fruit. Kind of like a can of Dole sliced peaches. They’re more likely to be pampered in the cellar with lavish oak, too.
What to pair with Viognier
Roasted chicken in a cream sauce is a winner. Lobster with melted butter and a bottle of Chateau Grillet will change your life. Mild curries work nicely, too – just don’t go too overboard with the chilis, because the variety’s high alcohol can accentuate the spice.
How to pronounce Viognier
Other than Gewurztraminer, Viognier is the most butchered grape variety name. It’s a mouthful, kinda like the wine itself, but you do say it: vee-own-yay.
What to buy
Cono Sur 2020 Bicicleta Reserva Viognier ($10USD / $10CAD)
2020 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier ($18USD / $22CAD)
Eden Valley, Australia
2019 Tablas Creek Vineyards Viognier ($35USD)
Paso Robles, California
2019 Domaine Georges Vernay Condrieu ($130USD / $135CAD)
2018 Chateau-Grillet ($400USD)