Viognier wine grape

This powerful, deep-coloured and highly aromatic white variety hails from the northern Rhône valley of France, but is now planted worldwide.  Yet just forty years ago it was almost extinct, reduced to about a dozen hectares, most of them in the little village of Condrieu.
A few more vines were scattered across the nearby Côte Rôtie slope, to be co-fermented with the black Syrah in order to stabilise the wine’s colour and to add perfume.  This tradition of including a few percent of white Viognier in Côte Rôtie has inspired a host of new world Shiraz-Viognier blends, yet it has almost died out in Côte Rôtie itself.
As a white wine, however, Viognier has gone from strength to strength since its brush with extinction.  Almost all of the 200 hectares that can qualify for the Condrieu appellation are now planted with it, and there are thousands of hectares more across France’s southeast.  Australia has lots of it, pioneered by Yalumba in the Eighties.  California and Chile have been enthusiastically planting it too, and a lot of old world nations have given the variety a try.
Its appeal lies in its extraordinary perfume of honeysuckle and apricots, allied to full-bodied flavours of peach and melon, often with a slightly oily quality.  It can be low in acidity, however, and is not easy to grow.  Yields are low, and it is prone to disease, especially powdery mildew.  It likes warm, sunny climates, but needs a long ripening season to develop its perfume.
This never happens before the grapes reach 13% potential alcohol and often considerably more, especially in hot climates.  Unfortunately acidity levels then drop precipitously as the sugar levels rise.  There is perhaps no other grape variety with such a narrow picking window.  Viognier from hot climates is often over-alcoholic, low in acidity and prone to oxidation: all “cheap scent and flab”.  Even Condrieu itself, which can exhibit a steely minerality to offset its exotic perfume, is best drunk young.

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