Viognier for the Holidays!

Viognier is among the world’s most aromatic whites, with a rich, viscous fullness, often a relatively high alcohol content and even some distinct spiciness on the palate. If, for example, you’re used to light, innocuous Pinot Grigio, this wonderful grape might just knock you over – it makes one of the most distinctive white wines on the planet. And depending on where and how it’s made, you’ll get flavors or aromas of almonds, fennel, citrus, honey, apricots, white peach, pear, and so much more.  In fact, this wine is so rich you may perceive some residual sugar even when there isn’t much. Most Viogniers are made to be dry table wine, but there are several late-harvest dessert Viognier wines, too, and I recommend them as an alternative to Port when you want something different – say, with a honey cake or fruit pie.

Outstanding Viognier-based wines now come from just about every continent and many countries, including Australia, USA (Washington, California and Virginia are big producers), Argentina, South Africa, Canada and even Japan. “Experts” will tell you that the best ones come from France’s Condrieu region, and here in the US, good wines with that appellation can fetch $60-80 and even $100, but you can get decent bottles from Chile for a fraction of that.

Viognier is an outstanding blending grape, too, mixed with larger proportions of Chenin Blanc and other softer varieties. Interestingly, in Australia Viognier is also added as a blending grape to red wines, especially Shiraz – called Syrah in Australia – while in France it’s added to Syrah in several wines from Cote-Rotie, which mean “roasted slope.” In its classic Rhone form it’s often mixed with a few percent of Marsanne or Roussanne. And in South Africa, Viognier is added to Syrah and Mourvedre. So you see how versatile this grape is!

Food Pairings: Viognier is a great wine to pair with spicy Indian or Thai food. It’s also great with white cheeses such as Gouda, especially goat’s milk Gouda, and Brie or Camembert. Viognier goes great with grilled seafood, too, especially shrimp and scallops.

In the US, try Viogniers from Bonterra, Castle or Miner. From France, try E. Guigal, Chapoutier or Guy Bernard. From Chile try Cono Sur (forgive the pun). And from downunder, try Yalumba, Oxford Landing or Barwick Estates. Or as an alternative, Heartland Viognier-Pinot Gris.