Viognier is a tricky grape variety for a winemaker to get right. But when they do, it is one of the most charming and complex white wines. The problem is that it ripens unevenly, and when it gets fully ripe it can be weighty and alcoholic; equally if it is green (unripe) it becomes bitter. But when it hits that magic spot it has a gorgeous violet perfume, zesty grapefruit and apricot flavours that linger on the finish. At its most complex it can have a mineral finesse and ages to produce more honeyed exotic flavours; typically in classic versions like Condrieu from the Rhone region in France.
So picking a bottle can be a lottery, you are in the hands of the skill of that winemaker. Australian styles are more luscious and stone fruited. The Southern France styles can be more delicate and have that grapefruit zesty freshness. But both share that heady perfume that makes Viognier so distinct.
Another key factor that can change the style of Viognier you are tasting is whether it is oaked or un-oaked; best to check the back label to find that out. If it is oaked the wine will be taste sweeter in fruit, with a creamy richness and have a fuller body. The unoaked styles tend to be more delicate and zesty in flavour.
A late ripening grape, it can easily reach sugar ripeness but needs time to develop flavour complexity; balancing that is more difficult in warm climates. It is naturally low in acidity, high in sugar, and has some phenolic weight. Winemakers tend to avoid giving it a malolactic fermentation to ensure it retains vibrant aromas. If the wine is oaked, then care is needed to ensure it doesn’t become to heavy in body and flavour. Some winemakers use lees stirring in their style to add texture and richness to flavour.
Chardonnay, Muscat, Roussanne, Malagousia (Greece), Malvasia, Fiano
France: Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon
Australia: Barossa, Eden Valley
Chile: Limari, Colchuagua
USA: California (Paso Robles, Monterey, Sonoma, Napa) , Columbia Valley, Walla Walla
South Africa: Paarl, Stellenbosch, Elgin
New Zealand: Hawkes Bay, Gisbourne
Tagines, Thai curries, Roasted root vegetables