Grape of the Week: Viognier


Viogner, UC Davis

I know we’re past Valentine’s Day now, but why not give it a long finish and take a look at this very exotic, sexy grape.

Sexy? Absolutely. Sensual? Oh, yeah…

What to expect
If you haven’t gotten around to trying Viognier, please let me encourage you to take the plunge and dive into what Jancis Robinson has referred to as “The hedonist’s white wine.”

This is one big, voluptuous kiss of ripe peaches and apricots, orange blossom, tropical fruit and honeysuckle. And heady, too. Viognier won’t let loose with all those wonderful aromatics unless it’s plenty ripe, so it’s quite common for it to be upwards of 14% alcohol. Of course, the alcohol gives it considerable heft, by white-wine standards so when you’re feeling burnt out on Chardonnay you can easily substitute the highly perfumed Viognier.

I’ve learned the hard way that It isn’t easy to get it right. Poorly made, it can remind you of the syrup in the can of fruit cocktail your Mom served you when you were a kid (I suppose I’m dating myself here.)

It’s usually dry but occasionally you’ll find a sweet one. Not my cup of tea – the sweetness can be cloying – Viognier isn’t a high-acid grape.  Some examples have oak imposed on them, which is hard to understand for a grape with so much up-front charm. If there’s a chance to taste before you buy, go for it!

As recently as 1985, virtually all of it was grown in its homeland, the Rhone Valley in southern France, and there only a total of about 85 acres. From the northern Rhone – the Condrieu and Chateau Grillet – it’s usually 100% varietal. In the southern Rhone and now elsewhere in the world it takes very well to blending, most often with other Rhone whites like Marsanne and Roussanne.

These days, thanks to those gorgeous aromatics, plantings in southern France are off the charts and Viognier has become a world traveler. It’s scattered all over California and there’s lots of it (relatively speaking) in Paso Robles, where Rhone varieties are so popular. There’s some here in northern California too, but it’s probably never going to be Chardonnay-like in terms of acreage.

Good Eats
I have to say that a glass of slightly chilled Viognier, all by itself, is quite wonderful. But, it just loves Asian and Indian cuisine and pairs well with sushi. Try it with  sweet proteins like shellfish, pork or duck, especially when fruit is used in the sauce. Cooked your chicken in orange juice? Perfect! Put a little mango salsa on your grilled ahi? What a pair. Cheers!

Send me your wine question   I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!

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