This post is geared to the Chardonnay lover. By writing this entry, I’m offering an alternative. Try Viognier. Try it just once. I like to think of it as Chardonnay’s unpretentious, articulate, introverted and well-travelled sibling. Here’s how:
On the vine, the grapes are small and thick-skinned. It’s this thicker skin that contributes to a full-bodied feel and weight – we see this all the time in red varietals, but it’s a little less common in whites. This low volume of juice compared to skin lends an oilier texture. When barreled, the oak coaxes the baking spices, vanilla, and minerality to the forefront, while adding a wonderfully creamy texture.
Again, Viognier has medium acidity, which tends to be lower than Chardonnay. So some winemakers, especially in warmer climates, may choose to preserve this precious acidity by aging in stainless steel tanks rather than oak. When made in this style, it will also bring out its fruit profiles of citrus and tropical fruit – peach, tangerine, mango. It can also be quite perfumy, hence a greater aroma profile than Chardonnay – things like orange blossom and honeysuckle are characteristic for Viogner. With age, this turns into dried fruit and almonds.
Viognier is a naturally sweet grape. This elevated sugar content contributes to it being a higher alcohol wine. Depending on the winemaking method, Viognier’s can be made in a variety of styles that range from Dry to Sweet.
The majority of Viognier plantings remain in France, however Australia, the US, Italy, South Africa, and Argentina make up other countries with significant plantings.
Viognier originated in the Northern Rhone Valley of France. Like fashion, wine is incredibly susceptible to trends of the time. In the 1980’s, for whatever reason, Viognier fell completely out of favour – many plantings were uprooted. Viognier managed to find its way back onto the scene in its homeland, this time in the Languedoc-Roussillon area, largely due to its affinity for the Mediterranean climate. The holy grail of Viognier is located in the Condrieu AOC – an appellation located in the North Rhone, where only Viognier grapes can be grown. Within this appellation, we find the Chateau-Grillet, which is the crème de la crème of Viognier.
The best Viognier’s are found in states of Virginia and Washington – again, cooler climates. In California, Paso Robles and Sonoma produce great Viognier’s as well; for how long remains to be seen… Warmer temperatures produce flabby, as well as higher alcohol wines. Being a naturally high alcohol wine, we may start to see the amount of Viognier plantings in California begin to decline.
We grow Viognier! Yay! By we, I mean the Okanagan Valley and Niagara. Site selection is extremely important due to the fact that Viognier buds early, which means that Spring frost may easily destroy the plants.