Apricot, peach, honey, spice and maybe a touch of butterscotch? Sounds delicious, wouldn’t you agree? For those familiar with viognier, this is a typical description of this relatively common grape varietal found across the globe.
Some circles regard viognier (pronounced vee-on-yay) as a great wine to switch seasons. For many, the season for tart New Zealand sauvignon blanc is coming to an end. Viognier is an excellent fall white wine, not too crisp, not too rich.
The home of viognier lies in the northern Rhone Valley of France, but the grape can be found being grown just about anywhere grapes are grown. Ideally, the varietal prefers a long, warm growing climate in order to fully ripen. California and Australia are known for their quality viognier because of their friendly climates. In California, the best examples come from the central coast viticultural area. As for Australia, the Eden Valley is home to its best expression of this varietal.
Interestingly enough, viognier is often blended with syrah in small amounts. Why would someone blend a white grape variety with a red grape variety?
Oftentimes, syrah can struggle to fully ripen on the vine, and a small addition of viognier can soften its acidity and add body and aromatics.
In the southern Rhone Valley, the variety is typically blended with other white varietals: marsanne, roussanne and grenache blanc. These wines are familiar to most when labeled as Cotes du Rhone blanc. These are excellent wines that offer excellent value, complexity and versatility. Prices start at $10.
Those searching for 100 percent viognier should start by asking if they are thirsty for a lighter or a richer style. Depending on your palate, each style can be found in various countries and/or regions. For a lighter and crisper version, France is your place. Excellent wines can be found from the Languedoc and Provence regions of southern France. For a richer, fuller and fruiter expression, which typically appeals to most chardonnay drinkers, California and Australia can fulfill your curiosity.
For those wishing to taste the greatest expression of viognier, look no further than Condrieu or Chateau Grillet in the northern Rhone Valley, just south of Vienne. As always, the best vineyards are those on hillsides with poor soils. Unique to these appellations is the fact that they are largely composed of granite soils, which offers structure and minerality to the wine unlike anywhere else. These wines are not cheap because of the varietal’s naturally low yields, in addition to very small plantings. Prices start at $70. Ouch! Yes, they are expensive, but with one sip, you will understand why.
While it’s a bit early to mention Thanksgiving, this varietal makes for an outstanding pairing with turkey and its accoutrement. It also will accommodate roasted vegetables, pork loin, halibut and white cheeses.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.