Lesson 12 – Grape Talk : Viognier

Viognier [pronounced vee-oh-NYAY] is a white wine grape that was not very well known outside the French wine region Rhône, although wine enthusiasts have long fallen in love with the full-bodied voluptuous white wine from Condrieu and Hermitage. For a bottle of those, many willingly part with US$100 without batting an eyelash. And then there is this very rare wine called Château Grillet, the tiniest appellation comprising of just one property.

Viognier is one of the few white grapes that are frequently added to red wine for a softer and suppler mouth-feel. It makes man-size white wine with intense fruit flavors, stunning aromas and extraordinarily high levels of alcohol, though often too high for its own good. Advent of fusion cuisine led to its discovery which later won the approval of the quaffing public. Its size allows this dry white wine to stand up to spicy Asian-flavored dishes. Later on the same people would find out that Viognier pairs very well with cheese also and that helped to fuel its ascent to stardom in the New Worlds.

Viognier is almost always an expensive proposition because of a number of reasons. First of all, the yield of the grapes is low. To make matters worse it is highly susceptible to (vine) diseases. As a matter of fact, it was on the road to vanishing completely by the mid 80′s. A crop of Viognier is as expensive as premium Cabernet Sauvignon which is always the most expensive grape to purchase.

This grape flourishes in warmer climates with a long growing season. It doesn’t pack much acidity though. Its high sugar levels encourage producers to consider it for sweet dessert wines. However the sweeter the wine, the higher is the level of acidity required to balance the sweetness to prevent cloying. Château Grillet is one of the few that manages to produce a well-balanced sweet wine.

Viognier comes across on the nose with aromas of apricot, violet and apple. On the palate, it hits you with a basket of fruits with undertones of honey. It is always a full-bodied white wine with a finish that lingers on for quite a while. For these qualities, it is well suited for all sorts of stir-fry dishes and is one of the few wines that can handle coconut milk in sauces. Other dishes that bring out its virtues include lobsters, roast chicken, fish like trout and sole too. And for something exotic, try crocodile steak (www.YatsGourmet.com).

When it comes to cheese, best choices are goat cheeses. If you prefer cow’s milk, then better stick to aged cheese with washed rind, like a Livarot, an Artisanal Brillat-Savarin or a simple Piave.

If you have trouble finding a bottle of Viognier in your favorite wine shops, feel free to write the wine tutor at wine@Yats-International.com. Whether you are a red or a white wine person, Viognier will appeal to you with equal intensity.