Do you viognier?
Is it a dance move, a color or architectural discipline? Just saying the name of this wine makes you feel more stylish, doesn’t it? Say it aloud: vee-oh-NYAY.
Viognier may be mispronounced, misunderstood and misjudged, but because of viognier’s thick skin, it hopes you’ll come around one day to enjoy the properties of this delicious and often delicately complex wine that originated in the Rhône region of France. Easily overlooked on the restaurant wine list, viognier is worth your attention by the glass or bottle.
Viognier comes in a variety of styles, from fruit forward and perfumed to tropical and floral. Even the color of bottled viognier can vary along with the balance of sweetness to body. And it’s quite the enigma that this green-skinned wine grape has thrived so well in such different worldwide environments far away from its origin.
Of the 22 types of Rhône wine varieties, it’s easy to understand why viognier can be viewed as the current darling of white wines. The wine drinker who may have a dislike of chardonnay due to its typical oak or acidic characteristics is often pleasantly surprised at the discovery of viognier. The varietal can be light and crisp on the palate with hints of jasmine, nectarine and honey, or a little bolder with spicy, exotic aromas that hold up against smoked fish, spicy sushi, rich cheeses and sauces. As with chardonnay, some winemakers will allow the harvested viognier to go through malolactic fermentation, which will give the wine more weight and body and lowers the acidity as well.
Growing viognier can be tricky and requires a bit of tenacity from the vineyard owner. The grape clusters can grow unevenly, causing uneven ripeness. If the grapes ripen too quickly, the sugar and alcohol levels are too high without enough acid to balance the wine, yet colder climates that don’t heat up adequately prevent the grapes from ripening at all. It’s a challenge to find exactly the right place to plant viognier vines. In the old days, farmers might plant their syrah and viognier vines right next to each other, creating quite the blending opportunity when both varietals receive the same exposure to sunlight, rainfall, fog, elevation and minerals from the soil.
Despite the challenges, viognier vineyards are now firmly planted in Italy, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and British Columbia as well as Washington, Oregon and California; it’s proven itself to be a tough and persevering grape. In California alone, the grape thrives in varying heat/cold, soils, moisture and elevations from southern areas of Temecula all the way up the West coast through Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Napa. Across the United States, viognier grapes are grown in the AVAs of Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Shenandoah Valley, to mention just a few. The viognier wines from these varied regions are both flexible and complex enough to keep the interest of winemakers and wine enthusiasts alike.
Viognier is uncomplicated yet classy enough for any occasion. Keeping a mid-priced viognier available in the chiller can be the perfect solution to impromptu dinner guests or last-minute hosting gifts. Both cork and screw top enclosures maintain the integrity of the wine while it’s stored in cool areas. Some of this writer’s favorite viognier wines are blended with chenin blanc, which naturally contains a higher level of acid that provides great balance to the exotica of the viognier.
For a special treat, look for late harvest viognier, a dessert wine made of the most ripe viognier grapes left on the vines through October and November. The wine is then chilled and filtered so it does not continue to ripen in the bottle, producing a nectar-like delight. It’s frequently described as having fig, apricot, marmalade, banana and tropical fruit flavors with a creamy finish.
September weather still retains a bit of heat, while the evenings, cool with those post-summer breezes, signify the gradual change of seasons. With the advent of fall vegetables as an accompaniment, viognier can be a lovely chiller enjoyed as you prepare the main meal or while you’re enjoying the evening twilight. This is a year-round wine that is well rounded and balanced.
Now when someone asks, “Do you viognier?” you can safely say, “Yes, please!” HLM
Sources: foodandwine.com, hospicedurhone.org and sunset.com.
Tips for Enjoying Viognier
Now that you’ve discovered this delightful wine, expand your viognier experience with fragrance and flavor. Serve it chilled; swirl and taste tangerine, stone fruits, honey and citrus zest. Notice the aroma of violet, jasmine, allspice and clove.
Pair with something different:
- Seared tuna, sushi, sashimi
- Shellfish such as crab, prawns, scallops and lobster; scampi style or grilled
- Spice-rubbed chicken, turkey, salmon or sturgeon.
- Roasted vegetables such as carrots, turnips and squash
- Cream sauces with warm, aromatic spices
- Moroccan and Ethiopian dishes such as tagines
- Mild curries of Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine