Viognier is a relatively new white grape variety to Australia that is rapidly gaining a strong following. Most wines produced are enticingly fruity and richly flavoured however the variety also has the capacity to be made into exceedingly complex and well-structured wines. Wines of this status require a lot of skill and understanding on the part of the winemaker and viticulturist and only a handful of Australian producers are achieving greatness. That said there are plenty of delicious and satisfying wines available.
Despite Viognier first being planted in Australia in the late 1970s, major interest in the variety has only occurred this century. Plantings have increased ten fold since the year 2000 and demand continues to outstrip supply.
The variety is thought to have originated from the area along the Croatian coastline however it laid its roots firmly in the Rhone Valley of France and most people regard this as its homeland. Condrieu is the French appellation which made the variety famous and from here it has spread its tendrils across the globe.
Within Australia, South Australia is the main powerhouse for the variety with the Eden Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Adelaide Hills all having considerable plantings. However mention must also be made to the river regions of south eastern Australia, namely the Riverland, Riverina and Murray Valley, which also have substantial plantings. Today, most regions throughout Australia have a small amount of Viognier planted.
The most distinctive attribute of Viognier is its stone fruit character, most notably that of apricot. It can also show considerable floral and spice tones. In cooler climates you can see citrus whilst in warmer areas there is more honeysuckle. It has good viscosity due to generous alcohol levels and is similar to Chardonnay in that it has a weighty mid-palate and generous flavour, making it a good alternative to this ubiquitous variety.
The best wines have distinctive fruit characters and good palate weight without being overblown or overly alcoholic. Superb examples have a combination of both savoury and sweet flavours, along with a defined structure and good complexity. The worst wines are hot, one-dimensional and overripe and are best avoided. It is recommended that most Viogniers are consumed in their youth to capture their freshness.
Viognier shows its finest colours when paired with food. The lighter more refined styles from cooler climates suit seafood, particularly prawns, lobster and mussels. The richer wines are better paired with pork and chicken based meals. Try to avoid chilli infused dishes which can clash with the inherent spiciness of the variety.
© Toni Paterson 2006