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Monday 25 April 2022

Celebrating the many styles of viognier

It is hard to pronounce and often hard to find.

Viognier (vee-on-yay) is a white wine grape variety that is is the only permitted grape for the French appellation Condrieu in the Rhone Valley. 

It is also found in Australia, where Yalumba has spent 40 years exploring various styles of viognier, as well as small plantings in New Zealand, South Africa and the US. 

The grape is sometimes co-fermented with shiraz (Clonakilla being a headliner of this blend), or with other Rhone whites like marsanne, roussanne and clairette. 

Viognier is a low-acid variety that thrives in warmer climates, producing soft, often lush and interesting white wines. 

It also can be used for making dessert-style sweet wines. Expect to find full-bodied and textural wines with apricot, peach and pear flavours to the fore, sometimes alongside ginger and Asian spice notes. 

With International Viognier Day - a Yalumba initiative - just around the corner on April 29, we tasted a range of wines featuring the grape with Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose and Langmeil's James Lindner.

They were: Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2021 (RRP $15), Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2020 ($28), Yalumba Organic Viognier 2021 ($22), Langmeil Three Gardens Viognier Marsanne Roussanne 2021 ($20), Guigal Côtes du Rhône White 2019 ($35), Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2019 ($50) and Yalumba FSW 8B Botrytis Viognier 2020 ($30).

A fascinating range of styles and price points.

Tasting several of the wines later with food, we discovered just how food-friendly the variety can be with its "refreshing bitterness" when phenolics are used in a positive way during the winemaking process.

Viognier can be paired with anything from a curry to blue cheese, making it one of the most versatile of wine choices.

"With food these wines really come into their own," says Rose.

"More so than sipping on them without food."

Launched last year, International Viognier Day is for producers and enthusiasts all over the world.

Until the 1970s, the only plantings of the variety were in Condrieu and Côte Rôtie but in 1980 Yalumba planted 1.2 hectares of viognier vines in the Eden Valley.

Rose, now Yalumba’s head of winemaking, first encountered viognier when she began working at Yalumba in 1992, and the grape has been a passion project for her over the past 30 years.

Today, Yalumba exports far more viognier to the US and UK than it sells in Australia - and has planted additional vines in regions ranging from the Riverland to the Limestone Coast.

“Viognier is a low-acid variety, but it gives a refreshing character from the phenolics and the tannins which come out of the skins,” explained Rose.

“Viognier is at home with food and is particularly suited as an aperitif. The richness and spice in the Viognier bring out flavours and textures in food that otherwise you sometimes don’t see.

“After one sip, I am thinking about what I want for dinner. It’s an exciting wine from that point of view.

“We have watched the Yalumba family and friends go through the same journey of discovery  as the wines have made their way to hearts and minds all over the world.”

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