Viognier is traditionally grown in France's northern Rhone valley, but it has also been doing well in the New World, for example California. Viognier wines from France's northern Rhone valley tend towards strong floral aromas; Viognier wines from Languedoc in the south of France tend to be drier, more acidic, lighter in texture, and have more citrus flavors. Wines made with Viognier grapes should generally be drunk young (before 18 months or so) and well-chilled.
If a Viognier wine is made in a stainless-steel tank, the peach and apricot flavors are brought out. If it is made in oak barrels, layers of vanilla and spice will be added. Especially when made in steel tanks, Viognier wines are sometimes confused with Gewu?rztraminer because they have similar characters and sweetness. Like Gewu?rztraminers, Viognier wines are best served after being decanted a bit to help release the strong aromas.
Viognier grape vines tolerate low water conditions and drought fairly well, but are susceptible diseases and thus difficult to grow. Even in good conditions, the vines don't produce a lot of fruit and what fruit is produced can ripen unevenly, making it difficult to create much wine from them. If the Viognier grapes are picked too early the wine will be bitter; picked too late and the wine is syrupy. It can also be difficult for winemakers to balance correctly once they do have a batch of properly ripened grapes.
Origins & History of Viognier
It's unknown where exactly the Viognier wine grapes came from. Some believe that it has an ancient heritage and there are many stories of how it originated with the Romans. DNA testing has revealed that Viognier grapes are related to the Friesa grapes and cousins to the Nebbiolo grapes.
At one point the popularity of Viognier was so low that it almost disappeared entirely. In fact, by 1968 it may have been near extinction with an estimated 30 acres of the vines still existing in France — premium red grapes had become so popular that most Viognier vines had been ripped out to make room for more profitable varieties. Even today, some writers consider Viognier "exotic," but it's growing popularity is making it more widely available — including with many lower-cost options. Unfortunately, there are still less than 800 acres planted even in the Rhone and Viognier vines don't start producing good wine grapes until they 15 or 20 years old.
Viognier Wine Producers to Watch For
- Joseph Phelps
- Château Grillet
- Domaine Chèze
- Yves Cuilleron