Viognier is a white wine grape originating from southern France. In less than twenty- five years, this grape has gone from obscurity to international recognition. Viognier often produces a distinctive straw yellow to golden-yellow wine with a rich, full body. Viognier has become one of the more “fashionable” white-wine grape varietals as an alternative to Chardonnay, providing a rich, luscious, full-bodied mouthfeel. Although often a stand-alone varietal throughout much of the world, Viognier is unsuspectingly blended in small amounts to lighten the red wines of France’s northern Rhône Valley and Australia.
Viognier is a highly intense and aromatic grape varietal. If the wine is aged in neutral oak barrels or stainless steel tanks as common practice in France, Viognier can produce a fragrant wine that shows off the floral, tree fruit (peach), tropical fruits (tangerine, pineapple, mango, and apricot), and bakeshop (honey). If Viognier is oak-aged, as is common in the New World, the wood barrels add further complexity by contributing elements of bakeshop (anise, vanilla, and toast).
Viognier wines are predominantly dry, although sweet late-harvest dessert wines are made in select locations. The vinification techniques range widely depending upon the whim of the winemaker. Occasionally, winemakers will allow skin-and-juice contact for a brief period of time prior to fermentation—while others may allow the wine to undergo malolactic fermentation, oak aging, and aging on the lees. Each of these techniques contributes more richness, weight, and complexity to the wine while softening the acidity. These wines maintain a low- to medium level of acidity with a rather high alcohol content hovering around 14 percent. The grape prefers moderate environments with a long growing season but can grow in cooler areas as well. Viognier alcohol can easily get out of hand, so some vintners leave a touch of residual sugar (though unnoticeable) to mask the spice and heat. It’s a grape with low acidity; it’s sometimes used to soften wines made predominantly with the red Syrah grape to add a floral perfume quality and tame tannins.
France (Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon). In the New World, Viognier has increased dramatically in the Central Coast region of California as well as in Chile.