Its descriptors are as hedonistic as a wine can get: the whiff of blooming honeysuckles on a balmy summer evening, slices of juicy, white-fleshed peaches at a farmers market stall, an oversized vase of jasmine blossoms scenting a luxe hotel lobby. But along with Viognier’s beguiling charm comes a fickleness. Low yields, propensity to powdery mildew and a short ripening window—too early and it’s bland, too late and it’s oily and flabby—are headaches for winemakers.
When it’s perfect, it’s fragrant and voluptuous, with alluring notes of stone fruit, honey, star anise and ginger. Louisa Rose, chief winemaker at Yalumba, notes how those flavors can combine with “lovely richness and softness” in quality Viogniers. “Equally important is that fresh, refreshing finish,” she says.
Here are three regions that deftly temper Viognier’s capriciousness into sheer, unapologetic pleasure.
The block of Viognier planted in 1992 by influential Paso Robles winery Tablas Creek, which specializes in Rhône varieties, may be some of the oldest in California that’s still producing fruit. Today, the winery uses Viognier in mineral-driven and elegant varietal bottlings and blends to boost acidity. Though he says it’s hard to generalize, Jason Haas, the winery’s partner and general manager, finds that most Central Coast producers of Viognier, many of which are in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, lean toward a style that’s brighter and more acid forward than lush, fleshy Rhône bottlings.
In vineyards across the commonwealth, which declared Viognier “Virginia’s signature grape” a decade ago, the variety picks up intense aromas of peach, apricot, pineapple and orange blossom. Styles range from dry to sweet to skin-contact orange wine, either barrel- or stainless steel fermented. “It is a great fit for us, as its thicker skins hold up well to our moisture and humidity,” says Emily Hodson, winemaker at Veritas Vineyard & Winery. “A hot summer day here literally has all of the same heady aromatic qualities that you can find in a great glass of Virginia Viognier.”
In 1980, Yalumba was the first winery Down Under to commercially plant Viognier at itsVaughan Vineyard in the Eden Valley, and it remains one of the world’s most renowned producers. Today, Viognier is grown in 25 regions across the country, including the Barossa and Eden valleys and Riverland in South Australia, and Riverina and Murray Darling in New South Wales. At less than half a percent of the country’s total crush, it’s still niche, making it a surprising discovery for curious oenophiles. Whether delicate, fresh and elegant or rich and unctuous, Aussie Viognier lends comparisons to a more aromatic Chardonnay.