Not the easiest white grape to grow or turn into fine wine, Viognier – vee-OHN-yay – is slowly but surely recovering from the edge of obscurity it suffered from in the 1960s.
More than 50 years ago Viognier vines were planted in a few scattered vineyards in the northern Rhône Valley in south-eastern France. Less than 30 acres of vines remained in Condrieu, including the legendary Château Grillet.
A subsidiary of South America's largest wine producer - Concha y Toro - Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery was founded in 1993. As well as focusing on sustainable and organic production in their vineyards, Cono Sur also works within socially responsible and environmentally conscious practices.
Light on its feet but perfectly balanced between zippy acidity and fresh fruit, Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier $10.99 is also a very affordable place to start exploring this gently aromatic white wine. Behind the opening aromas of honeysuckle, flavours of green apple, peach and apricot swirl across the palate.
Although the iconic and expensive wines from Condrieu, including Château Grillet, are beyond the reach of most, Viognier is now being grown in France's Languedoc and producing vesry tasty wines at a fraction of the cost of Condrieu.
A simple country wine - Vin de Pays d'Oc - Paul Mas Viognier $13.99 is a rich, deeper, sun-kissed white wine. Lush aromas of candied ginger, sweet peaches, apricots and violets lead into similar flavours with lemon rind and pineapple undertones as this full-bodied wine warms in the glass.
Viognier has extremely floral aromas, notes of jasmine, perfumed violets and sweet honeysuckle are always present to some degree. In hotter vineyards, the grapes can slide from lusciously floral to a rich, sweet, almost oily character with a twist of bitterness.
Australia's Yalumba, worked with Viognier for almost 20 years before releasing the first vintage of their premium Viognier – The Virgilius – in 1998. Winemaker Louisa Rose discovered the balance between ripe fruit, the importance of retaining natural acidity, and the high phenolic bitterness of excessive skin contact.
Today's Yalumba Y Series Viognier $17.49 is a benchmark example of this aromatic white. Aromas of honeysuckle and
jasmine veer into peach and apricot, apple pie and clove. Lemon and grapefruit are the first obvious flavours, with apple, honeyed peaches and dried apricots right behind. Ginger, wisps of jasmine and cloves linger in the finish.
A cutting edge Spanish winery in La Mancha, Dominio de Punctum specializes in wines that go beyond organic to biodynamic, supplementing the soil with complex natural preparations and farming by the phases of the moon.
From Dominio de Punctum, Viento Aliseo Organic Viognier $17.98 is made from night-harvested grapes and fermented in stainless steel tanks. Delicately chalky notes of dried apricot, lemon and bitter orange aromas emerge as the wine opens in the glass. Almost reluctantly, flavours of apple peel, pears, peaches and crushed almond come forward.
Pioneer grape growers in Chile's Colchagua Valley, Bisquertt Family Vineyards was founded in 1965 by Don Osvaldo Bisquertt. In 2000 they planted their first vineyards in the Marchigüe zone of the Colchagua Valley.
Bisquertt's La Joya Gran Reserva Viognier $19.98 opens with delicate aromas of lemon, lime and pineapple. There's a rich 'textural' feel – some weight and density on the tongue, but far short of the 'oily' element the variety can sometimes display – and lots of subtle apple and pear flavours that veer towards mango and guava.
British Columbia winemakers are realizing the cool-climate/hot desert conditions in the Okanagan Valley can provide ideal opportunities for growing and ripening this elusively difficult aromatic white wine grape.
Named after the address of the winery, 1775 Naramata Road, along the beautiful Naramata Bench, Bench 1775 Winery is a celebration of land and place. Winemaker Val Tait has made a specialty of extracting the richest aromas and flavours from each of the blends and varietal wines she makes.
Lots of rich domestic 'orchard' and tropical fruit notes in Bench 1775 Viognier $24.90. Not quite bone-dry, this is a fruity mouthful of honeydew melon, tangerine, mango and pineapple flavours. As always, Tait's deliberate focus on fully-fruited, juicy wines that are uncompromisingly true to their varietal characteristics produces a textbook Okanagan Viognier.
Next time you need a break from Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, try a Viognier!
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