Regional Varieties: Albariño Aligoté Amigne Arneis Chasselas Colombard Cortese Fiano Grechetto Grenache Blanc Malvasia Istriana Marsanne Muscadelle Muscat of Alexandria Ortega Palomino Parellada Petite Arvine Prosecco Rieslaner Roussanne Savagnin Scheurebe Seyval Blanc Tocai Friulano Torrontés Vermentino Welschriesling
One of the mainstays of white Rhône wine, Viognier has declined in popularity along with the majority of the world's other white wine grapes, as the trend shifts more towards red wine. Probably an ancient grape, it has certainly experienced its ups and downs over the years. Popular throughout the history of white wine growth, Viognier battled with extinction in the 1960s, but it survived.
Viognier is a delicious grape, and can certainly make good wine, so there is a reason for the grape's general rarity. The grape is extremely difficult to vinify, and growers are often lucky to get the grape off the vine, as its resistance to mildew and other disease is poor. It is only good if picked at the right time, and will produce highly alcoholic, perfumed wines of notoriously high quality. Thus Viognier strikes a compromise: it is much more obscure than grapes like Chardonnay, but few low-quality Viogniers exist.
Wine connoisseurs who prefer classic, intense white wines will always associate Viognier with Condrieu AOC, one of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the Rhône. The Rhône is dominated by reds, but the varietal Viognier Condrieu competes well with them on many levels. Full-bodied and rich but dry, the best Condrieu often sports distinctive peach aromas. These wines are the main example of oldstyle Viognier. Despite Condrieu's quality, even the best examples should usually be drunk young, as the low acidity of the grape means that the wine can lose its fruity bouquet if aged for too long. Within Condrieu, the even more exclusive Château-Grillet vineyard is said to be the source of highly refined wines. Availability of these wines are quite limited, Château-Grillet in particular, and wine critics seem to think the clamor is well justified.
Not all applications of Viognier are as sensational--or exclusive--as Condrieu. Other Rhône examples are often mixed with more typical grapes Marsanne and Roussanne, which somewhat reduces the idiosyncrasies of the wine. Vins de pays that are not fine wines can be found in the Languedoc, but the title belies the fact that these wines can often be quite good. Viognier is also allowed in red blends; in Australia and the Rhône, it can add an unusual aroma to Syrah.
Since the grape's near-extinction in the 1960s, it has experienced a rejuvenation in France. As a result, it has spread across the rest of the world as well. High-alcohol Viogniers from California show promise, as well as those from other states and the cooler climate of Canada. South America and Australia have plantings too. Viognier is also grown in Japan.