Saturday, September 21, 2013

Viognier, the Wine With Body

Viognier grapes have a thick yellow skin and produce wines
with a rich golden color.
One of the most important aspects of tasting wine, for me, is what is called "mouth feel." This is the wine geek term that means "body," the sensation  of richness and weight that the wine presents in your mouth. I think of it as "luxuriousness." When I sip, I let the wine roll over my entire tongue, coasting it with richness (or lack thereof). And the one wine that embodies mouth feel is the often mispronounced white varietal, Viognier.

The generally agreed upon pronunciation is 'vee-ohn-yay,' which is about luxurious to say as the wine is to drink. If you really want to sound like you know something, just call it ‘Vio.’

Viognier, a French grape that can trace its roots back a couple thousand years in the Rhône region, began becoming fashionable in the early 1990s based on the reputation of the famous Condrieu appellation in the northern part of the Rhône. Condrieu’s wines are 100% Viognier, not blended, are made in relatively small quantities, and are highly sought after as well as high-priced.  As Condrieu’s Viogniers gained fame, attaining a cult status, vineyards around the world began planting the vines. You’ll find sizable plantings in California, Australia, and South America.

The Central Coast of California is particularly suited to growing Viognier, as the vines do well in a hot, dry climate. Viognier grapes ripen rather quickly, which means that they can rapidly build up very high sugar levels. If harvest is not timed just right, these sugars can overwhelm the delicate fruit/floral aromas common to the varietal – peach, pear, and violet. The grapes also require careful handling once harvested in order to retain the flavors.

Viognier is a wine to drink young, although some exceptional ones can age. I like pairing Viognier with spicy dishes, like Thai and Indian food, as its glyceric – almost ‘oily’ – mouth feel provides a soothing contrast to it.

The Viognier grape is also used in blended wines, and is commonly partnered with other Rhône varietals like Syrah, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Rolle, as well as Chardonnay (the latter blend common in northern Italy). The grape provides the smoothness factor in these blends.

Fortunately for wine consumers, some affordable and quite elegant Viogniers are available. A couple that I like are:

From Paso Robles, Vines on the Marycrest (VOTM) Viognier,* $26 (

From Los Olivos, Tercero Viognier, $22 (

If you’re on a wine budget, Trader Joe’s ( offers a variety of bargain-priced Viogniers and Viognier blends, notably Honeymoon Viognier, $6; Panilonco Chardonnay/Viognier, (from Chile), $4; and The Wingman Shiraz/Viognier, $7. 

So cool down your next spicy meal with a lovely, luscious Vio.

Until next time, Cheers!

* We’ll be sampling VOTM Viognier at the Wine, Women & Wednesdays Networking Salon on Wednesday, September 25 (details at

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