For many people strawberries are the taste of summer but for me it’s peaches. I blame a childhood holiday in the south of France where attempts to eat the local peaches with English decorum soon degenerated into “noisy peach-eating competitions”. We slurped, sucked and scoffed al fresco, juice dribbling down our elbows, before seeing who could spit their stone the furthest.
Sheer bliss, but it left me in need of a shower. Which, funnily enough, is how I feel when reading tasting notes for the Viognier grape variety. “Sexy”, “seductive”, “flirtatious” and “voluptuous” are just some of the recurring themes, but you get the picture.
What does Viognier taste like?
Textbook Viognier has a swooning, head-spinning aroma of white blossom, jasmine and honeysuckle with apricots, nectarines and, of course, peaches.
There’s a tendency in summertime to reach for lighter-bodied whites but Viognier usually packs a full-bodied 13% to 15% alcohol.
Viognier has a soft, velvety texture, vaguely reminiscent of the syrup in tinned peaches with – brace yourselves – a dollop of crème fraiche. And yet, despite these sumptuous qualities, well-made Viognier ends on a crisp, dry note.
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Where it's grown
The “bloody Romans” brought Viognier to the Rhone circa AD200. Today it’s cultivated in Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet at the northern (expensive) end of the valley, where a dash is sometimes added to the local reds for a touch more aroma and softness. But Viognier has notoriously low and unpredictable yields and doesn’t perform to its best until the vines are at least 15 years old.
Such diva-like behaviour on the steep, windswept slopes of Condrieu pushed Viognier to the brink of extinction, with vineyards dwindling to some 20 acres by the mid-1960s.
Fortunately, the Rhone couldn’t keep its best-kept secret for long.
Viognier’s exuberant style was embraced with gusto in the early 1990s by winemakers in Spain, Italy, Australia, South Africa and especially California; and a swathe of plantings across southern France has ensured an affordable source of Viognier vin de pays.
Fittingly, Viognier’s obvious charms owe a great deal to youth, its beguiling perfume fading after three or four years. Most arm-and-a-leg wines are “rewarded” for their ability to age. Not so Viognier, explaining why Condrieu is the world’s most expensive early-drinking wine.
Winemakers seldom use new oak barrels with Viognier as the overt toastiness imparted by new wood masks the wine’s floral aroma. Likewise, you should be careful not to over-chill it.
Condrieu, where many Viognier grape vines are over 70 years old.
Pairing Viognier with food
French Viognier tends towards a lighter, fresher style, while those from California and Australia might have a richer tropical tinge of passion fruit and ripe melon.
Being a weightier white, Viognier’s ample vital statistics are a perfect fit with roast chicken and belly of pork; richer-tasting seafood such as crab, lobster and scallops; creamy cheeses; mildly spiced dishes such as chicken korma, chicken tagine and Thai fishcakes with sweet chili sauce; not to mention the retro classic, coronation chicken.
An hour in the fridge should be enough to preserve its fragile perfume and unimpeachable peachiness.
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