Viognier is a full-bodied white wine, originating from southern France but now grown worldwide. The history of Viognier wine has not been smooth-sailing, with the wine almost becoming extinct in recent years, before being revived and adopted by wine growers around the world.
Many of the qualities of Viognier can be compared to Chardonnay, but it also has its own unique qualities and flavors, with a few different variants available depending on the growing region and production method. If you’re yet to try this bold, fruity and aromatic wine then this guide will bring you up to speed with everything you need to know and explain why it shouldn’t be missed off your must-try list.
Viognier Wine: An Overview
The Viognier grape is primarily grown in the Rhône valley in the south of France and typically is a dry white wine, with alcohol levels ranging from 13.5% to 15%. As well as distinct fruity aromas, one of the telltale characteristics of Viognier is the oily sensation experienced on the middle of the tongue, this can also be a key way to identify Viognier grapes in wine blends.
Typically dry, although some producers make it slightly off-dry to make the most of the peachy aromas in Viognier.
Although Viognier is fairly widely cultivated, there are substantial difficulties and barriers to producing a great vintage which winegrowers must carefully navigate and anticipate. One of these is that the vines are naturally very low yielding, which makes them less profitable than more prolific grape varieties. Even with these low, unpredictable yields, the grapes must be picked at exactly the right time to avoid ruining the harvest. If picked too soon then the grapes will not have had the chance to develop their full fruity flavors, but if picked too late then the taste becomes overly oily and loses its signature perfumes and aromatics.
With this in mind, lovers of Viognier should be extra grateful for the dedicated producers around the world that devote their time to producing this tricky but rewarding wine.
Did You Know? Viognier Facts
In 1965, the Viognier grape almost became extinct due years of decline after high levels of Phylloxera insects were brought into Europe from North America in the previous century and killed the roots of the vines. Further to this, the remaining healthy vineyards were then largely abandoned at the start of the century after World War One and by the mid-1960s there were only eight acres remaining, producing just 1,900 liters of Viognier wine per year.
Although it has made the Rhône Valley its home, the exact origins of the Viognier grape are in fact unknown. It is presumed to have been brought to France by the Romans from Dalmatia (now Croatia), and some legends date it back to as early as the year 281 AD.
Winemakers have an important decision to make when it comes to Viognier and that is: to oak, or not to oak? Aging Viognier wine in new oak barrels gives the wine a creamier taste, with sweetish notes of nutmeg and vanilla, which are commonly found in similar wines such as Chardonnay. This method also adds a creamy taste to the wine and produces lower overall acidity. Choosing to avoid oak and aging the wine in stainless steel tanks produces a starkly different wine, with more floral and tropical fruit flavors. These wines also maintain their higher acidity levels and have a slightly bitter finish.
Aside from the chosen method of aging, growers have the ability to affect the quality and taste of their wines from the same region by monitoring the age of their vines. Vines producing Viognier hit their peak for maximum quality at around 15-20 years old. However, with historic roots in the Rhône Valley, this region has vines that are now over 70 years old.
Viognier Wine Taste Profile
As we have mentioned, the taste of each bottle can depend greatly on the winemaker’s preference of aging method, but overall Viognier is best known for aromas of peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle. The dominant fruit flavors also include mango and rose and can range to more intense notes of nutmeg and clove. Viognier is often compared to Chardonnay due to its similar weight and floral flavors, but key differences are that this grape variety produces a less acidic wine, and has more perfume.
While Viognier is suitable for aging, it is intended to be enjoyed while still young, it is advisable not to age for over three years, as this will cause the wine to lose many of its unique floral aromas and degrade the overall quality of the wine.
Viognier Growing Regions
To get the best from Viognier grapes, they should be planted in sunny regions that enjoy high day temperatures but reach cooler temperatures at night. This is so that the grapes maintain their acidity and if the weather is too hot without this cool relief then the grapes develop high sugar and alcohol levels before they have had the chance to produce their much-loved aromatic flavors.
France is by far the leading producer of Viognier wine, constituting well over a third of all production. The main regions are the Rhône Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon coastal region. Despite its renaissance after near extinction, production volumes of Viognier have still not matched their historic peak in France.
From the Rhône Valley, Viognier is the only grape variety permitted to be used in the Condrieu and Château Grillet appellations. For this reason, if you see a bottle with either of these labels then you can be confident that you are drinking pure Viognier. In other regions, however, this grape can be blended with others such as Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Rolle, and Chardonnay.
Production of Viognier wine in the US has increased dramatically since the late 1980s. California’s Central Coast is the leading production region, with over 2,000 acres of Viognier vines planted. Wines from California are notable for their higher alcohol levels than other typical productions. Other notable growing regions in the states include Pasa Robles, Monterey, Sonoma, Napa, Walla Walla and Columbia Valley.