Viognier is a delicious aromatic grape that varies in profile from region to region. It is a lost step child that barely registered on the radar 50 years ago. Its origins point back to Northern Rhone but there is some additional evidence that Croatia may be its birthplace- this is also the birth place of Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel so it’s not that unlikely to consider this plausible. In 2004, DNA profiling conducted at University of California, Davis showed the grape to be closely related to the Piedmont grape Freisa, and to be a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo adding yet another potential chapter in its history.
Today, Viognier is grown all over the world and is best suited to regions with plenty of sun and cooler nights and close to a body of water- to maintain its natural acidity. All the rest is influenced by where it’s grown, when its picked and the choice to oak or not to oak-distinguishing the two main styles. Oak gives it a richer creamier mouthfeel with spices and vanilla in the mix, no oak enhances the floral tropical aspects of both the nose and the palate. It also requires a longer warmer growing season to ripen fully and with traditionally lower yields it can be a challenge.
In France, it is the only white grape permitted to be used for Condrieu (Rhône Valley) wines where it is produced as a single varietal or added into Syrah, to add a more floral aromatic to the wine and to stabilize the color. It is also made into a dessert wine here with a unique way of ‘picking’ the over ripe grapes known as à l’assiette- a plate is held under the vines which are then shaken allowing them to fall onto the plate and collected. This is a common method used in South Australia for olives using a sheet!
There are diverging thoughts as to Viognier’s origins, but no matter where life started, it is an extraordinary wine with impressive aromatics, a delicious mouthfeel and flavor profile. Three styles exist and I’ve reviewed one of each style from France, Australia and California. Let me know which one you like best.
Alain Jaume Domaine Grand Veneur ‘Blanc de Viognier’ 2018– France
The Grand Veneur Estate was part of the original plantings by Pope Jean XXII in 1320 and named Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This should be enough to convince you to try this wine. The Domaine dates back to 1826 founded by Mathieu Jaume but It is Alain Jaume’s two sons Sebastien and Christophe that now oversee every aspect of the Winery. Known for their attention to detail, it shows in all their wines but especially their ‘Blanc de Viognier’.
The aromatics of white flowers (reminiscent of Grandma’s floral talcum powder) mixed with soft white peach makes you want to pause before taking a sip. The palate has an inviting mouthfeel with seamless layers of white peach and pear with just a hint of ginger, orange peel and tart citrus on the finish. Impressive balance and amazing freshness. Totally enjoyable! Enjoy now: 2 – 4 years patience will be rewarded.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017– Australia
From the first sip this is an immediately impressive wine. It’s part of the new Samuel’s Collection of wines dedicated to Samuel Smith, the original owned and founder of Yalumba 170 years ago. This wine is a culmination of his dream celebrating his spirit of provenance, working the land and being a good steward for future generations. Once you taste this you’ll agree, Thank you Samuel Smith!
An enticing combination of fresh apricot, ginger and white flowers beg you to take a sip. The creaminess on the palate is the first thing you notice but it’s the rich depth and complexity that will cause you to want to savor the moment. The palate is long and rich and an almost seamless blend of stone fruits, honey flavors with just a hint of orange and spices on the finish. Impressive freshness and complexity now but give it a few years and wow! Be ready to have your patience rewarded. Decanter- 95pt.
Vina Robles Viognier 2018– California
Sourced from their Huerhuero Vineyard planted at the highest point on the Estate- warm during the day and cooled by Pacific breezes in the afternoon. Ideal growing conditions for Viognier and only seeing stainless steel, this is a really nice varietally correct example from Paso Robles and rounding out our Viognier travels around the world. Throw in Certified Sustainable and all Estate grown fruit and you have a total package.
Fresh clean nose of floral and tropical fruits is a delightful prelude to mouthfuls peach, tangerine peel, citrus with secondary notes of ginger, honey and almond on a long finish. Like the other examples, this has a lively freshness and focused balance. Definitely one to pour at the party this summer. Meant to be drunk fresh in the first few years.
Because of the aromatic nose and the beautiful balance, this varietal is ideally paired with spicy foods such as Thai or Sichuan (Northern China) dishes.
Vine & Table Wine Director