“Viognier is now beginning
to pop up all over the world,
but its home is in the Northern
Rhone Valley in France. A
generation ago it wasn’t found
My last wine-guy moment of responsibility took place at
an out-of-the-way fish restaurant in Cape Town. The waiter
was happy to take us all on a detailed tour of the catches
of the day… all filleted and ready for the grill. South Africa
is blessed with two oceans filled with fish. They are also
blessed with a climate well suited for wine. The quality
of South African wine should not be daunting. There are
plenty of good cabernets and chardonnays for comfort,
and even a few syrahs and sauvignons to surprise us. But
dig a little deeper and you’ll find exotics like chenin blanc
and the elusive viognier. I knew next to nothing about
any of the wines on this particular list, but a flash of relief
washed over me as I found a few bottles of a local viognier
that the waiter could recommend.
When made properly (that is to say when made by
someone who is willing to wait for just the right time to
harvest, and not go nuts with the oak barrels) viognier
grapes make perhaps the most delicate and unique wines.
Violets and wild flowers often dominate the aroma, and it’s
common to associate melons and peaches on the palate.
It is not hard or steely like chablis, but rather softly
seductive. At first taste it almost always stops the show—it
is as close to an instant success as you can get. And if
you really want to impress, you can learn to pronounce it
instead of shyly pointing at the list.
Viognier is now beginning to pop up all over the world,
but its home is in the Northern Rhone Valley in France. A
generation ago it wasn’t found anywhere else.
Once In a Lifetime
Take it from whence it came. Condrieu is one of the
smallest wine districts in France, and they only make wine
from viognier. Try the wines of Georges Vernay for
something traditional, or Cuilleron for something a little
more modern and complex.
Whenever You Can
There are bargains to be found just outside of Condrieu.
Try some of France’s more rebellious producers that work
within the Vin de Pays classification. Look for Ogier,
L’ Hortus or Villard.
Whenever You Want
Look to the New World! Qupe in California, for example.
Don’t pass it by if its blended with other grapes as, South
African Mullineux is. Ask around and experiment.