Viognier is an iconic grape from the Northern Rhône in France grown in Condrieu AOC and Château-Grillet, a domaine with its own designation. From these benchmark appellations, it makes prestigious dry to off-dry white wines that feature stone fruit, floral notes, a full-body, a slightly oily texture, and high alcohol. Viognier is the only white grape permitted in the Northern Rhône. It’s quite low in acidity because its signature aromas and flavours don’t emerge until late in the growing season when sugars start to dominate over tartness. Viognier is a difficult grape to grow owing to its vulnerability to rot and it produces naturally low yields.
Ampelographers trace Viognier’s clouded roots to the Ancient Romans’ presence in the area who are thought to have brought it from present-day Croatia. However, this grape’s origins, truly, are lost in the fogs of time. All we know is it’s been in the Rhône Valley for quite a while and gone through many highs and lows in popularity. Viognier is closely related to the Piedmont grapes Freisa and Nebbiolo.
Outside the Rhône, Viognier is cultivated in Old and New World wine regions. In South Africa, Viognier first arrived in 1989. While it still covers a relatively small vineyard area, its cultivation is widespread. Paarl has the greatest quantity followed by Swartland, Stellenbosch and Elgin.
Fun fact: In the Northern Rhône, up to 20% Viognier can be added to Côte Rotie Syrah to add body and aroma to the famous red. It also tempers colour extraction.