What is Viognier?
From near extinction, to a vibrant revival, Australian Viognier is going from strength to strength. To help us learn more about this elegant wine, we reached out to a few experts with winemakers from Yalumba, Soumah and Claymore Wines.
Marnie Roberts, Claymore Wines’ chief winemaker, sums up this luscious and complex white variety:
“Viognier can be a bit tricky to get right as it has a tendency to have variable crop loads, favours warm, but not hot climates, and requires specific attention to harvest time as it provides a small window for ripeness,” she says. “In saying that, if you get it right, the perfume and aromatics, as well as flavour and delicate mouthfeel produce an absolutely stunning wine.”
Viognier’s spiritual home is in France’s northern Rhône appellations of Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie, however, it is thought that it originated in Dalmatia (Bosnia) and was imported into France around 280AD.
While Viognier is popular now, it came close to extinction in the 1960s, largely because of its low yields and unpredictability in the vineyard. By 1968 there were only around 14 hectares growing in northern Rhône.
Luckily for wine lovers, by the 1980s a few Californian wineries and Australia’s Yalumba had become very interested in Viognier, ensuring its rescue and a new lease on life.
Viognier in Australia
Australia’s diverse climate results in a broad range of Viognier styles from the elegant, fragrant style to a luscious, full-bodied white wine.
While, Viognier is grown across Australia in regions including Barossa, Adelaide Hills, Hunter Valley, the Yarra Valley, Riverland and the Limestone Coast, it’s in the Eden Valley under the care of Yalumba, that it has really flourished and produces some of the world’s best white wines.
Considered one of the world’s most influential producers of Viognier, Yalumba was responsible for the first significant plantings in Australia when they planted 1.2 hectares of vines in the Eden Valley’s Vaughan Vineyard back in 1980.
For over 40 years they have nurtured the variety in their Yalumba Nursery from the early Montpellier 1968 clones used for nearly half of the early plantings, to instigating a clonal development programme in consultation with the great Viognier makers from around the globe.
What the Experts Have to Say
Louisa Rose – chief winemaker, Yalumba
A leader within Australia’s wine industry, Louisa’s career with Yalumba spans over 20 years with her passion for Viognier and her developmental work of the varietal making her name synonymous with Viognier in Australia.
“After many years of work and experimentation, we have six individual wines in our Yalumba Viognier collection,” explains Louisa. “In 2005, eight different clones propagated in the Yalumba Nursery were planted on the south-eastern part of the Yalumba Eden Valley vineyard in the Virgilius Vineyard. It’s now the most clonally diverse planting of Viognier anywhere in Australia – giving my team and I, the opportunity to create wines of great promise and diversity.”
“Viognier is exciting to drink and talk about – it goes so well with our food based lifestyle,” says Louisa. “There is still a long way to go to make the variety known to all the wine drinkers out there, lots of talking and tasting and spreading the world.”
Scott McCarthy – chief winemaker, Soumah
Located in the Yarra Valley, Soumah specialises in wines from eastern France and across to northern Italy and refers to their Viognier as Goldie Locks, “as it has to picked just right!”
“It’s the peaches and cream characteristics that we seek and in our quest, we’ve planted three distinct clones of Viognier,” says Scott. “However, it is not only about the creamy lusciousness of the wine, it is also about a refined yet nervous spine that leaves a fresh clean-cut finish.”
“If we pick too early we lose the peaches, if we pick too late we will deliver an oily, clumsy wine, so it has to be just right, a goldilocks temperament so to speak, and we endeavour to get it just right every year!”
Marnie Roberts – chief winemaker, Claymore Wines
Claymore Wines’ Shankly Vineyard is one of the very few plantings of Viognier in the Clare Valley.
“Our Viognier is grown in a small pocket in Watervale that provides ambient sunshine and daytime warmth but cool nights. This allows the delicate florals and juicy acid to gradually develop and gives us the opportunity to have a bit of a play with it. We pick at a lower end of ripening (about 10 baume) to retain the juicy acid and delicate nature to allow us to stop fermentation prior to complete dryness for an off-dry to sweet style of this grape,” Marnie explains.
“Our Skinny Love Summer Viognier is made with minimal intervention ensuring that the mouthfeel is super appealing, like biting into a red delicious apple. It’s an extremely pretty, delicate and approachable wine.”
Viognier Tasting Notes
The distinguishing characters of Australian Viognier include stone fruit, predominantly apricot, perfumed scents and high alcohol. Viognier responds positively to oak, adding richness to the texture and a nutty complexity that complements the apricots. Viognier is also regularly co-fermented, or blended with Shiraz to give further complexity and fragrance.
“When great, the wines are seductive, luscious, opulent, viscous, full-flavoured with exotic aromas of lychee, musk, rose, pear, apricot, peach, nectarine, ginger, spice, citrus blossoms and long silky rich textures,” explains Louisa Rose.
Similar in weight to Chardonnay and Rousanne, it pairs well with a great range of foods including rich seafood, red and white meats, and spicy dishes like Indian, Thai and Moroccan.
“In short Viognier is a fabulous food wine,” says Louisa Rose. “It goes with everything from the spicy northern African to Asian cuisine, from white meat to reds meat, and with all the earthy flavours and textures such as mushrooms, wasabi and root vegetables, plus it’s just at home with a cheese plate.”
“Viognier covers the foods and occasions that you would expect a white to, and then seamlessly moves into those that you would normally associate more with red wines and it is often called the red wine drinkers white wine,” she says.