Viognier is a type of white wine grape which is typically associated with the Rhone Valley in France. The popularity of this grape is growing incredibly fast and it is now produced in many regions across the world. The cost of Viognier has also risen, although it is now available at reasonable prices in some supermarkets. This growth has led some wine enthusiasts to comment that Viognier is the ‘new Chardonnay’.
The history of the Viogner grape is unclear. It appears have originated in Dalmatia and later brought to the Rhone Valley. One legend states that the Roman Emperor brought the grape to Rhone as early as 281AD. The Viogner grape was once a fairly common plantation in the Rhone Valley, however, in the 1960s the grape was endangered and almost extinct. This has since turned around, the popularity of the wine has grown and plantations have increased meaning the grape is no longer under the threat of extinction.
The Viognier Grape – Viviculture
The Viognier is a highly difficult grape to successfully grow. It is prone to mildew and yields are relatively low as well as being highly unpredictable. Extreme care must be taken to ensure the grape is not picked until it is fully ripe, if picked too early the grape does not possess its rich taste or aroma. Equally, the grape should not be picked too late as this leads to wine with an oily texture and lack of aroma.
The Viognier Grape – Characteristics
When picked when fully ripe the grape is coloured deep yellow and has a distinct perfume and high alcohol content. Wines produced from the Viognier grape are famous for their glorious floral aromas which contain notes of orange blossom, violet and acacia. However, the aromas can be lost when the wines are around three years old. This is largely why Viognier wines are best consumed young, usually hitting its peak at around one year. However, some Viognier wines can stay of excellent quality for up to a decade. They also tend to contain distinctive fruit aromas, usually of apricot and peach. Viognier wines are usually dry despite their light colour and floral aroma and are currently extremely fashionable due to their complexity, richness and character. The Viognier grape is used to make a variety of different wines, it is often blended but can be used as a varietal. Viognier wines go well with foods that have plenty of flavour. They work well with spicy meals such as curries and stir fries as well as fish and chicken dishes.
Areas of Plantation of the Viognier Grape
The Viogner grape is most commonly known for its plantation in the Rhone Valley of France. It is the only approved grape for the wine Condrieu grown in this area. Chateau Grillet is another excellent and typically expensive wine in this region to use the Viognier grape. This wine differs from many other Viogiers as it ages particularly well, up to two decades. The grape tends to be blended with others such as Marsanne, Rolle and sometimes even Chardonnay. Here it tends to add fragrance and complexity to the wines. However, there are also significant plantations of the Viognier grape outside this region. In the past two decades the grape has been planted in large quantities throughout the world. One of the main areas where plantation is common is in North America. In this region, California produces high quantities that are particularly high in alcohol content. The area currently produces four times more Viognier than France. Other areas in North America such as Colorado, New York, Texas and Oklahoma also produce Viognier. The Viognier grape is also popular in Australia where the Yalumba region produces the highest quantities. Regions in South America such as Chile and Argentina also heavily use Viognier, here they are experimenting to produce fantastic varietals of the grape. These varieties of the Viognier grape tend to age better than the Condrieu produced in the Rhone Valley of France. The Viognier wines of Chile have been particularly well received, and some Australian and South African versions have proved very popular.
Considering the grapes near extinction less than fifty years ago, the growth in popularity and acreage of Viognier is remarkable. Plantation of the grape has rapidly expanded in its traditional homeland of the Rhone Valley in France. However, in the past decade it has been planted across the world, particularly California which produces some excellent wines.