Viognier (pronounced vee-on-yay) is a variety of white wine grape that produces gorgeous, full-bodied white wines. We’re lucky it’s still around, too. It has a reputation for being a headache for winegrowers, demanding exactly the right growth conditions and requiring the perfect timing for harvest. Its plantings dwindled during the 1960’s due to blight and bad weather, but it’s made a significant comeback since then. Here we’ll talk all about Viognier, why we love it, and how to pair it perfectly.
Viognier is a finicky grape to cultivate, which was part of the reason for its decline. The grape is thick-skinned and requires a lot of sun to ripen. Too much heat ruins the grapes, however, meaning cooler nights are needed to ensure balance in the final flavor profile. This protects their acidity, which is fairly low, and helps preserve the peachy, apricot notes characteristic of the wines.
Retaining that acidity while balancing fruitiness requires perfect ripeness, so the timing of the harvest is also critical. Pick the grapes too early and the aromas and flavors will be weak. If picked too late, the wine will lose the aromas it developed and be too oily on the palate. As the grapes remain on the vine, the sugar levels increase, too, making them sticky and sweet in late harvest. This has led some winemakers to produce sweet versions of these wines.
Weather was a big part of why the plantings of this grape declined so steeply in the 1960’s. There was a devastating couloure, a phenomenon that halts grape development. The plantings have recovered since then and, on the whole, the wines have experienced somewhat of a renaissance. The trickiness of Viognier cultivation is well-known, which means it attracts some of the finest and most ambitious winemakers.
Viognier is primarily grown in France, where it’s the sole variety in the appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet, which are located on the west bank of the Rhône River. Elsewhere in the Rhône region, it’s blended with Chardonnays, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Rolle, and Roussanne. In some areas, such as Côte-Rôtie AOC, winemakers also blend Viognier with red wines for both flavor and color stabilization.
There are also now significant plantings in the United States, particularly along the coast of central California. It’s grown in many other American wine regions, including Virginia, where it is considered the state’s signature white wine grape.
Viognier plantings also thrive in other areas of the world, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America.
Viognier Flavor Profiles and Pairings
Classic Viogniers are gloriously fruity, reminiscent of ripe peaches, tangerines, and apricots. They are also perfumey, with aromas of honeysuckle and rose. They also often have herbal notes, offering hints of lavender and chamomile. If oak aged, Viogniers develop a wonderful, rich creaminess similar to an oaked Chardonnay.
They have medium acidity and fairly high alcohol, so it’s best to pair them with foods that will highlight all these delicate flavors without overpowering them.
For a cheese course, Viognier goes well with creamy and buttery cheeses. Try it with farmer’s cheese, fondue, goat cheese, and light blue cheeses. It’s also great with Brillat-Savarin, Tourmalet, Livarot, Pave d’Auge, and Stanser Rotelli.
For the main course, pair Viogniers with roast chicken, quail, or pork chops with apricot sauce to highlight the flavors of stone fruit. They also pair well with shrimp, lobster, and a variety of fish, including salmon, tilapia, and halibut. Some Viogniers also pair well with mildly spicy Asian dishes, such as Pad Thai, curries, and kormas.
Vegetables, Herbs, and Spices
Vegetables that accentuate the flavors of Viognier include bell peppers, onions, leeks, fennel, and squash. The fruitiness of the wine will match apricots, mangoes, oranges, passionfruit, and currants, as well.
Viogniers are wonderful with dishes brightened with orange and lemon zest. They also pair well with dishes featuring fennel seeds, green onions, chives, ginger, lemongrass, and fresh herbs, such as dill, sage, and thyme.
How to Serve Viognier
Like all wines, it’s important to serve Viogniers at the right temperature to fully appreciate their flavors and aromas. We suggest serving them slightly chilled, around 52F, from a white wine glass. Once you open the bottle, it should be good for several days if you seal it with a stopper and put it in your refrigerator. If you plan to save the wine longer, you should consider a wine preservation system to ensure it’s still tasty when you are ready for the next glass.
While these wines are often consumed while young, more complex vintages benefit from cellaring for up to ten years.