I recently attended a wine tasting event sponsored by Great Grapes, in Cary, North Carolina, and had the pleasure of tasting Viognier wine for the first time. Viognier, pronounced Vee-own-yay, is a white wine with a crisp clean taste that will give Chardonnay
a run for its money.
The Viognier grape was almost extinct as close as twenty years ago when it was only found in the northern Rhone area of France. Originally the Viognier grape was grown to be mixed with other types of white grapes to bring extra character to the more popular wines.
Viognier grapes were introduced to the United States by way of California in the 1980’s. By the early 1990’s other state’s vineyards were getting in on the Viognier wave. Today you can find Viognier growing not only in California but in North Carolina, Georgia, New York, Oregon, Texas, Colorado and Virginia as well as other areas in France, parts of Europe, Brazil and Australia.
Viognier is a bit more expensive than Chardonnay due to the difficulty in growing the grapes. The Viognier grape vines produce fewer grapes, pound for pound. They have inconsistent yields, year to year, and are highly receptive to mildew fungus. Although they are drought tolerant, extreme moisture due to weather variations can be detrimental. The grapes must be picked at peak ripeness to produce the best wine. The fact that Viognier is becoming a cult wine in the United States is also responsible for the high pricing of the older French varieties. However, the locally grown versions of Viognier wine are still quite reasonable and for the first time taster this may be the way to go.
Viognier wine is described as a white wine with character. It hints at sweetness but is actually quite dry. It has a rich deep color and its somewhat fruity flavor goes well with many types of food including oriental style dishes of chicken or fish and anything you might serve with a Chardonnay. Viognier wine has a spicy peach-apricot taste and boasts a high alcohol content with low acidity. It is best when served while still young.
All of the Viognier wines that I sampled were grown and produced in North Carolina, mostly from the Foothills and Piedmont region of the state. The vines there are still considered young in wine making terms, referring to the fact that they are less than twenty years old. Even so, I have to tell you that I was quite impressed with the taste. I can’t wait to see what a few more years of maturity will bring to the wines of this region.
Look for a Viognier wine the next time you want to try something new and different. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.