Viognier: from void to victory
Posted on March 22 2016
Today, it seems extraordinary to consider that, in my early wine education, there was a “Viognier void”. In 1985, Jancis Robinson noted that “I was able to identify records of just 32 ha (80 acres) of it planted in the entire world”. A bit like an exotic tropical fruit, it was so rarely seen in the UK back then. However, thanks to significant increases in planting across the globe I am now making up for lost time. Not only has my adventurous, thrill-seeking side seen me devour plates of passion fruit and lychees over recent years but also crave countless wines made from the Viognier grape.
A perfect introduction would be Le Paradou Viognier 2014 because it hints subtly at the great potential of the variety. It has delicate white flower and ripe peach aromas and a very fresh, citrusy flavour. If you have never tried this food combination you should: give it a go with asparagus (with, say, a lemon butter and shavings of parmesan).
Now step up, quite literally, to Pesquié ‘Terrasses’ 2014, which comes from a third generation family estate, who own terraced vineyards on the slopes of Mount Ventoux. The 350 metre altitude and poor limestone soil give this wine its clear definition. It is also unoaked, allowing the majority Viognier element of this blend to shine brightly through and deliver lots of pineapple, white peach, star fruit and yellow apple flavours, all of which bounce along very nicely.
If you sample just one Viognier make it one of Yves Cuilleron’s: they are sublime, terroir-driven, food-friendly must-trys. His ‘Les Vignes d’à Coté’ 2014 has notes of lime, peach and banoffee pie and a persistent dry, granitic finish. This is the first time ever I have described a wine as a ‘banoffee pie’ but stay with me here. It derives mainly from the 6 months spent absorbing its lees as well as from the oak barrels it is aged in. Try it as an aperitif with some buttery chilli prawns.
From the best and oldest vines Cuilleron lovingly nurtures, comes Condrieu ‘Les Chaillets’ 2012. Rejoice in its opulent, ripe apricot, juicy mirabelle, creamy textured, toasty note, with a hint of star anise and cooling granite. Avoiding the Thai food match cliché, I suggest it with shellfish or delicate fish, for example, langoustine with lemon and fresh sage.
Outside of the Rhône Valley, Viognier is also very widely planted. There is plenty of it to explore from the South of France and its popularity has now extended to all corners of the globe. Notable examples come from South Africa, where as part of a blend, it can be stunning. Assembling a wine from other grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Rousanne, Marsanne or others, gets me salivating. Disregard exceptional examples from Chile, California, Australia (now boasting more plantings than any other country) and New Zealand at your peril.
From an endangered species, the grape has survived, thrived and become, not only victorious, but happy and glorious!