Viognier - (pronounced: vee-ohn-yay); once fairly common around France; now is a rare white grape grown almost exclusively in the Northern Rhone Valley. In 1965, the grape was almost extinct when there were only eight acres planted.
Viognier can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to powdery mildew. It has low and unpredictable yields and should be picked only when fully ripe. The grape prefers warmer environments and a long growing season, but with careful management can grow in selected cooler areas as well.
The age of the vine also has an effect on the quality of the wine produced. Viognier vines start to hit their peak after 15-20 years (the Northern Rhone have vines 70 years of age and older).
The majority of the plantings outside the Northern Rhone are less than 10 years old which mean their potential has yet to be realised. Although low-acidity Viogniers do not require heavy oaking to provide balance, some light use of oak can enhance the overall flavour.
In the Rhone region, the grape is often blended with Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Rolle. In the Côte-Rôtie AOC up to 20% of red wine blends can include Viognier, though most growers add no more than 5%. One of the benefits of adding Viognier is the process of co-pigmentation that is produced which stabilizes the colour of red wine.
Viognier is meant to be consumed relatively young and typically loses its aroma as it ages. Depending on the winemaking style the grape can often hit its peak at one year of age though some can stay at a high quality up to ten years.
Viognier is best known for its apricot, peach and spice flavours, together with high alcohol and low acidity. The highly aromatic and fruit forward nature of the grape allows Viognier to pair well with spicy foods such as Thai or Vietnamese cuisine. The subtle floral notes in some wines made of Viognier and vinified without the use of oak make them a perfect match with sushi and sashimi. Viognier pairs equally well with many outspoken, bright cheeses. Also, shellfish, such as crab and crayfish, are an ideal combination.