Excellence in Obscurity
Viognier is not that common of a grape; most of my friends who like wine but stick to the standards like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, haven’t heard of it. But, those of us who have explored California wine country have stumbled upon the delicate and complex Viognier. Even in its home in the Northern Rhone in France it is not very widely planted with less than 300 acres of vines. Viognier started to gain popularity in the United States in the early 1990s and it has in fact been said that there is more acreage planted in California than in its homeland.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this low number of plantings and relative anonymity is because Viognier is a notoriously fickle grape and is very sensitive to where it is planted. Viognier does not grow in a reliable or predictable fashion and it tends to ripen slowly, which leaves it exposed to animal predation. As such the best Viognier grapes come from warmer climates. In fact, the biggest difference between French Viogniers and those produced in America is its ability to ripen more fully. This is the reason why Viognier from America tends to be bigger and more fruit forward while Viognier from France tends to be a little bit more restrained and delicate.
The appeal of Viognier is its bright ripe fruit character that is present on both the palate and in the aroma. The best examples of the varietal showcase flavors and scents like honeysuckle, ripe peaches, bright melon, and orange peel. The grape itself is naturally relatively low in acid and is typically made into bold full-bodied white wines with a creamy texture and an aroma that bursts from the glass. In fact Viognier is occasionally blended in small amounts with Syrah to enhance the aroma and add a floral, fruity undertone.
Viognier, perhaps in part because of its relative obscurity, is an underrated wine in its ability to pair with food. It is truly a unique wine with a rich creamy texture a balancing acidity and that bright floral fruity palate and aroma. It pairs quite well with foods that suggest sweetness but are not actually sweet. This includes preparations that pick up on those fruity, sweeter flavors like slow roasting, caramelization, smoking, and even deep-frying. Viognier can even pair well with rich, buttery, creamy foods because the wine can match the food in texture and the light acidity can help to cut through the richness. Which is one of the reasons Viognier is fantastic with a huge array of cheeses. And what more do you need really?