The history of the Viognier (pronounced vee-on-yay) grape is a mystery, though many experts agree that this white wine grape dates back to the Roman era. One legend suggests that the grape was being shipped to Beaujolais when it was captured near Condrieu.
This white wine grape was once very common but is now quite rare. By 1965 it was almost extinct, with only a few acres planted in the Rhone region of France. The introduction of phylloxera insects had a disastrous effect and it took a couple of decades for production to recover.
Viognier Growing Regions
The Rhone was once the only place where Viognier could be found but recently the wine has increased in popularity and, although still not common, it is planted around the world in wine growing regions such as California, Australia, Italy, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand and South America. In France, Viognier is used in Condrieu and Chateau Grillet as well as in blended wines. It is also available as vins de pays in Languedoc.
California Viognier based wines are higher in alcohol than their French counterparts and include brands such as Clay Station Viognier and Cass Estate Viognier. Viognier is grown in Argentina and Chile, with one popular brand being the Chilean Casilero del Diablo Viognier.
Langmeil Viognier is a popular Australian brand, while other popular Viognier based Australian wines are made by Yalumba. Californian vintners have also experimented with blending Viognier with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Colombard.
Cultivation and Harvesting
One of the reasons why Viognier wines command a high price is that the grapes are difficult to grow. Unless it is allowed to ripen to maturity, yields can be low and unpredictable. If harvested early, its distinctive flavors and aromas do not develop; if harvested late, then the wine may have an oily taste. The grape is also prone to powdery mildew.
The Viognier grape grows best in warm areas and prefers a long growing season. However, it has also done well in cooler areas. When they ripen, the grapes are a deep yellow, producing a golden wine that is high in alcohol.
Hydrocarbons called terpenes, which also appear in Riesling and Muscat, give Viognier wines a characteristic floral aroma. Fruity, flowery and spicy aromas may also be present, especially peaches, apricots and violets. The actual scents vary depending on the age and growing conditions of the vine.
These wines are not suitable for aging, as the floral aromas disappear within three years. Despite their sweet scent, Viognier wines are dry with a creamy taste, though some sweet dessert wines are produced from late-harvested grapes. Viognier works well with Vietnamese, Thai, Indian or other spicy food.