August 17th, 2017/ BY Michael Pinkus

Get to know Viognier more intimately

On an oenophile’s journey of discovery, one must find oneself, at the very least, curious about Viognier. Viognier is one of those grapes that you should get to know more intimately. If you’re an Australian wine fan (or were), you’ve seen its name on bottles that usually start with Shiraz and it’s still a very popular combo today. And those who have visited Creekside Winery in Ontario and tried their award-winning Broken Press Shiraz/Syrah have experienced a Canadian version of Shiraz/Viognier.

Viognier adds a softening element to Shiraz and a floral sensation to the aromas, lifting the wine and making it more fragrant. On its own, Viognier is the perfect alternative to Chardonnay and a real step up in flavour from the bland Pinot Gris/Grigio that seems to be sweeping the globe.

Viognier’s classic home these days is the Rhône Valley and is exclusively responsible for Condrieu wines, from the region, though it is said that the grape’s native home is Dalmatia, in what is today Croatia. It is also a grape with an interesting and checkered past: at one point, in 1965, it was on the brink of extinction with only eight (known) acres planted. Today, thankfully, it is a grape on the rise in many countries, and makes for a great foil to Chardonnay, though Vio shows more aromatics at its core than Chardonnay. However, it is also one of the harder grapes to grow. Whereas Chardonnay grows like a weed wherever it is planted and has the reputation as a winemaker’s grape, Viognier requires a diligent viticulturalist who knows the difference between ripe and the alternative. The reason is that under- or over-ripe Viognier makes a wine that is unpleasant and bitter, lacking the aromatics and flavours that make it so interesting. The other problem is that it does not take too kindly to oxygen, thus barrel fermentation or aging has to be carefully considered and used sparingly or else you’ll lose all those beautiful aromatics for which the grape is known.

The more you delve into the world of Viognier, the more you’ll realize it sounds like Pinot Noir (the heartbreak grape) with all its finicky eccentricities – but, funny enough, Viognier is actually related genetically to Italy’s Nebbiolo grape.

In my opinion, there never seems to be enough Viognier around, and that’s a shame, because it can be such a delicious wine and one you should really seek out to make your own opinion about. If there’s any justice in the world, Viognier will have its day very soon. In the meantime, here are more than a few options for beginning your discovery.

 

 

Nyarai Cellars Viognier 2015, Ontario ($22.95)

Aromas of grapefruit zest and peach — easily mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc — even the palate shows signs of the Blanc with plenty of citrus pith-like bitterness on the long persistent finish … pineapple sweeps in on the nose and on entry into the mouth, before turning citrus mid-palate. It’s a well-made complex version of Ontario Viognier.

Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2015, Australia ($13.95)

There’s some lanolin and creaminess within, plus a touch of vanilla, then it finishes a bit soft and sweet. If you search your palate, you might also find a hint of ginger.

Bonterra Viognier 2014, California ($19.95)

It has a bit of blousiness at the beginning, but when the touch of tropical kicks in, this one is quite enjoyable.

EastDell Black Label Viognier 2014, Ontario ($17.95)

First vintage off this 4-acre single-vineyard planting. Aromas are pineapple, peach, apple and floral. Very alluring, the flavours keep that tropical feel with some mineral and green apple inter-mingling between that juicy, fresh finish.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2016, Chile ($10.95)

Fun and exotic fruit kicks things off with citrus and hints of liquorice along for the ride. There’s even a touch of sweetness. This one is always a winner, especially when fresh and young.

Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2014, France ($14.95)

Floral and spicy with plenty of white fruit notes and a drop of the tropical just to give it some edge.

Cline Viognier 2015, California ($19.95)

Comes across on the sweet side of Viognier with honeyed peaches and tropical fruit; there are also hints of banana and pear lingering on the palate.

Delas Viognier 2015, France ($13.95)

Lemon/lime meringue seasoned with anise, pepper and gentle spice. Nice mouthfeel with a lemony finish.

Nyarai Cellars' Steve Byfield
Yalumba Organic Winemaker Heather Fraser
Bonterra's Lead Winemaker Jeff Cichocki
 

 

Pillitteri Viognier 2013, Ontario ($17.95)

As simple as Viognier gets, with plenty of floral and peach, it leans a little towards the sweet side, plus there’s a hint of guava lingering on the finish.

Clay Station Unoaked Viognier 2014, California ($17.95)

Even though they come right out and tell you they did not use oak, there is still a fun creaminess to the wine along with floral and orange-clementine notes.

Malivoire Stouck Vineyard Viognier 2015, Ontario ($26.95)

Tropical aromas and flavours à la pineapple, mango, guava and melon. This wine was barrel fermented and then aged for 6 months, resulting in a spiced-up finish amongst all that delicious fruit, plus beautiful acidity and minerality to round it off.

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Reserve Series Viognier 2014, British Columbia ($15.95)

The acids come across a little low but there’s some typical peach pit, tropical fruit and lanolin notes that make it interesting and enjoyable. Chill well.

Barone Montalto Viognier 2014, Italy ($15.95)

An interesting Viognier from unexpected place: lanolin, floral, peach, nectarine and citrus.

JoieFarm Viognier 2014, British Columbia ($28)

This Viognier comes across very Gewurzt-esque with its spicy-rose-petal pleasantries, sweet edginess and tropicality. Surprisingly, though, this one’s got bite on the finish.

Gabriel Meffre Laurus Condrieu 2013, France ($71)

Apple, melon and white peach fruit flavours meld well with hints of anise and almond on the slightly bitter finish; gentle acidity balances it off.

D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne 2015, Australia ($17.95)

A typical, if not partial, Rhône Valley blend from Australia – where they’ve made a habit of copying the famous French valley: melon rind, floral and lanolin with a very dry finish.

Signos de Origen La Vinilla Chardonnay/Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne 2015, Chile ($16.95)

This multi-grape blend is fun and flavourful but it’ll take you a few sips to get into it: a little spice with pineapple, pear, apple, peach and biting acidity; good news is once you pop you won’t wanna stop.

Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2015, Australia ($99)

Aromas are blackberry, herbal, pepper, smoked meat and blackberry. Flavours come across soft and lush at first, with plenty of dark fruit, pepper, spice, meaty and mineral notes – great layering. Finishes with white pepper and an almost chewable meatiness.

Small Gully Mr Black’s Concoction Shiraz/Viognier 2013, Australia ($24.95)

Smells are on the brawny side, but the palate is surprisingly easy with gentle spice, mocha, blackberry, cherry, raspberry and smoke.

Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2012, Ontario ($42.95)

Aged 24 months in 30% new French oak this wine doles out what Syrah should: meaty, smoky, brooding dark fruit, tart cassis, smoked meat, and robust tannins. With 4% Viognier waiting in to shine through, plenty of fruit lies in wait. There’s even a hint of mocha on the finish, just to make you say “wow.”