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.