Dream of a white Christmas.

Vivacious Viognier… the white wine for winter

Outside of truly obscure regional white wine varieties like Switzerland’s Chasselas or Austria’s Grüner Veltliner, Viognier is arguably the world’s most overlooked white wine grape variety.

Wines made from Viognier are all honeysuckle and herb scents aromatically with distinct undernotes of raisin and well-suited for winter sipping.

Rescued from obscurity and dwindling interest in its own home in the France’s Rhône Valley, just about 35 years ago, Viognier was taken on by curious winemakers and grape growers worldwide – most notably Australia’s Yalumba winery who planted 1.2 hectares of Viognier in the Barossa in 1980.

As they developed their Viognier from vine to wine, Yalumba’s winemakers discovered that the trick to making really expressive wines from this fickle white grape was leaving the grapes on the vine until they started to shrivel just a little. So, yes, those subtle raisin-overtones are absolutely legitimate!

Today, Yalumba Y Series Viognier (624502) $16.05 is close to being a ‘New World’ benchmark.

Lots of apricot and honeysuckle aromatics lift off the glass with tropical fruit flavours over candied lime and mandarin orange. And, of course, there’s that full-bodied, almost ‘oily’ texture that Viognier so often delivers.

It is a difficult variety to grow and vinify, hard to cultivate and not naturally predisposed to producing reliable yields. Moreover, thick-skinned Viognier grapes have naturally low acidity and require a great deal of sunshine to ripen properly. Too much heat and they yield overblown, hotly alcoholic wine that lacks the fresh, steely, apricot zing that is part of the variety’s appeal.

‘Paradou’ in the old Provençal language does not mean “paradise” but refers to the old watermills that once dotted the landscape. Le Paradou Viognier(154252) $13.60 is grown on limestone slopes with a little bit of clay, in the Languedoc in the south of France. There’s no oak ageing involved in this very light style of Viognier.

A vary pale gold, there are subtle floral notes, lemon rind, delicate honeyed peach and an earthy minerality.

The terroir required to produce quality Viognier is warm and sunny, with specific soil types. The steep granite slopes of the northern  Rhône valley have proved able to create expensive and relatively rare perfumed white wines. Australia’s best plantings are in loam and clay soils. Californian vines seem to thrive wherever they are planted.

From Mendocino County, Bonterra Organic Viognier (573691) $17.90 is enhanced by a splash of Muscat that adds sweet grape charcteristics to the fresh apricot and peach flavours on this California Viognier. Fermented in 70 per cent stainless steel and 30 per cent oak barrels, the wine is then aged in oak for 6 months to pick up its intriguing twist of vanilla.

Traditionally, in France, like so very many ‘Old World’ wines, Viognier was seldom – if ever – made entirely and solely from that one grape.

Marsanne and Rousanne were often added in various proportions to white wines while Viognier itself was often added to Syrahs from the northern Rhône Valley to impart a honeyed floral perfume to these sturdy red wines.

Grown in clay and limestone soils north of Avignon in southeastern France, Domaine De La Bastide Cotes Du Rhône Blanc (132092) $18.05 artfully marries 70 per cent Viognier, with 20 per cent Roussanne, and 10 per cent Bourboulenc – also known as Blanquette and Clairette Blanche. Subtle scents of honeysuckle, apricot and fragrant violets lead into a crisp medley of mandarin orange, poached pear, and honeysuckle flavors.

Here in British Columbia, grape growers and winemakers are deliberately blending some of their finest white wines from the same melange of Rhône-ish white wine grapes.

From Naramata’s Terravista Vineyards ‘Figaro’ (206276) $25.00  is a luscious blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Marsanne.

Apple, pear, apricot and peach flavours simmer in a honeysuckle-kissed mouthful that finishes with intriguing spritz of ginger and acacia or hazlenut.

Blended from 50 per cent Viognier, 41 per cent Roussanne and 9 per cent Marsanne Le Vieux Pin 2013 Ava  (775064) $36.35 offers up honeysuckle, a dusting of white pepper, and the scents of white flowers.

On the tongue, candied lemon rind and baked apple pie flavours lead, with a rich and textured finish with soft notes of dried apricots, apples and spice.

These richly fruited and spicy Viogniers will pair perfectly with our sturdy winter dishes.

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