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Viognier

by Staff Writer - R. Meoki | June 30, 2011

Viognier is a white wine with aromas of apricot, peach and other tropical fruits. The scents vary depending on the age and the growing conditions of the vine. The classic Old World style (classic wine making regions in Europe) of Viognier is crisp, dry and intense. While cooler regions of California produce a style closer to the French classic, wines from warmer areas are richer and fuller. Like Chardonnay, Viognier shares tropical fruit flavors. Even with little or no wood aging, Viognier can be as full-bodied as an oaky Chardonnay, but tends to have a much more unique fruit charm. Viognier has a deep golden color. Because the prime appeal of Viognier is its fresh and intense fruity aroma, it is a wine that should be consumed young in most instances.

Viognier Grapes and History

This Viognier white wine grape was once very common, but it is now making a comeback from near extinction. By 1965, Viognier vines were almost extinct, with only a few acres being cultivated in Condrieu, in the Rhone region of France. Since then, Viognier has been making a strong comeback, first in Condrieu and then in the south of France in Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. As time went on, the plantings spread to California and Australia.

Viognier is not an easy grape vine to grow. Until the vines are many years old, they do not produce their best fruit. The plants are susceptible to all kinds of diseases and pests, the grapes ripen irregularly, and the yields tend to be sparse. The introduction of phylloxera insects (phylloxera attacks the roots of grape vines and eventually kills the plant) had a disastrous effect and it took a couple of decades for production to recover.

Unless the grapes are allowed to ripen to maturity, their yields can be low and somewhat unpredictable. If the grapes are harvested too early, then the flavors and aromas do not have the time to develop properly. The Viognier grape grows best in warm areas and prefers a long growing season. When they ripen properly, the grapes are a deep yellow, producing a golden wine that is high in alcohol. Viognier vines are drought tolerant, but they can also be easily infected with powdery mildew in damp conditions or humid climates. The grape's tendency to develop high sugar but low acid can result in wines with neutral flavors and high alcohol.

It may be rare for France to permit using a white wine grape in a high-end quality red wine. But in the vineyards of Cote Rotie, Viognier vines are planted among Syrah wines. The red and white grapes are harvested and vinified (to make wine) together to produce the highly regarded Cote Rotie red wines.

Since making its comeback, there are also relatively new plantings in Australia, Brazil, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and South America. There are also United States plantings in California, Colorado, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. As California wineries experiment with Viognier-Chardonnays, Viognier-Chenin Blancs, and Viognier-Colombards, being used as a blend for wine may be the grape's ultimate outcome or destiny.

Viognier Food Pairings

Viognier wines are not recommended for aging, as the floral aromas tend to disappear within three years. Despite their sweet aroma, Viognier wines are dry with a creamy taste. Some sweet dessert wines are produced from late-harvested Viognier grapes. With a unique and sweet aroma and flavor such as Gewurztraminer, Viognier is usually made in a dry style and seems to appeal more to someone who appreciates Chardonnay.

Viognier goes well with Vietnamese, Thai, Indian or other spicy foods. Spicy dishes, such as spicy oriental stir-fry, dishes made with curry and Thai-style dishes made with coconut milk are well suited with Viognier. Other dishes that pair well with Viognier are fruit salsas and grilled fish or chicken. Viognier should be served at around 52F which is cooler than room temperature. This cooler temperature lets the deep flavors of the wine come out. Be careful not to chill the wine’s temperature too low because if you serve a white wine too cold, then your tongue cannot taste its flavors.

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