Yalumba is the wine producer that introduced viognier into Australia in 1980 and remains that country’s largest producer. Its recommendation is that you should buy a bottle of viognier and prepare a suitable accompaniment such as a flavoursome and spicy Moroccan, Indian or Thai dish.
James Millton, founder with wife Annie of the Gisborne organic winery Millton Vineyards, believes viognier is the best wine match with Japanese food. He spent some time trying to convince me that viognier and sushi was a heavenly match, supporting his thesis with drawings of the human tongue. Millton makes a pretty decent viognier.
My favourite match with viognier is gorgonzola cheese and slice of fresh pear. I am salivating at the thought of it.
Like the kākāpō, viognier was once close to extinction. In 1968, there was only 14 hectares of it, all in the northern Rhône region in France, where it is the white grape of the Condrieu appellation. Unlike the kākāpō in New Zealand, viognier is now well established in France and the New World, although the variety is in decline in this country.
While it is embraced enthusiastically by a small group of wine enthusiasts (there is even a Viognier Day on Feb 25), it has never been in danger of becoming a mainstream grape variety. Add to that the challenge of getting viognier grapes properly ripe in this country and it is easy to see why the vineyard area has shrunk by 46% in the past decade.
Good viognier has a delicious, almost sumptuous richness and a heady and often quite floral perfume. Yalumba’s chief winemaker, Louisa Rose, describes great viognier as “seductive, luscious, opulent, viscous, full flavoured with exotic aromas of lychee, musk, rose, pear, apricot, peach, nectarine, ginger spice, citrus blossoms [and having] long, silky rich textures”.
Viognier needs to be fully ripe and certainly not over-cropped for it to achieve its characteristically heady perfume. Viticulturists who taste grapes throughout the ripening process talk about the sudden, almost overnight blossoming from green to exotic flavours, which gives a relatively small picking window if they wish to harvest their viognier at optimum ripeness. If they leave it on the vine for too long, this already low-acid variety is in danger of becoming bland and coarse.
Too many examples of viognier in this country lack consistent richness and ripeness. They might hit the mark once out of every two or three vintages.
A small amount of viognier, perhaps 3-5%, is sometimes fermented with syrah to produce a wine that is deeper in colour, more perfumed and has a silkier texture as a result. This is a relatively common practice in Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhone and not uncommon in this country. When the practice was first introduced in New Zealand a decade or two ago, wine labels would often refer to viognier, although today there is seldom any reference to the addition of this white grape. Retailers claim that mentioning it confuses wine drinkers.
Waiheke winemaker Man O’ War adds a small amount of viognier to its Bellerophon Syrah, whereas its Dreadnought Syrah is made from 100% syrah. It is worth buying a bottle of each to decide whether you favour the addition of viognier or not. I like them equally, enjoying the silky seductiveness of Bellerophon and the rugged syrah-ness of Dreadnought.
Bob’s Top Picks
Yalumba 2018 The Virgilius, Eden Valley, $50
Complex, savoury viognier with hints of struck flint/fireworks, subtle tree fruit and apricot blossom. The wine opened up after a few minutes in the glass to reveal more pronounced stone fruit and citrus characters. Tight, concentrated wine supported by a backbone of fine tannins.
Yalumba 2020 The Y Series Viognier, $16.95
Flavoursome viognier with floral/honeysuckle, vanilla, apricot blossom and subtle spicy flavours. Soft and succulent wine that offers extraordinary value at this price.
Man O’ War 2016 Bellerophon Syrah/Viognier, $35.95
Elegant red co-fermented with a small amount of viognier, which has contributed a lifted floral aroma while promoting a silkier texture. Appealing sweet berry fruits, spice and floral characters. Good now but should develop well.
Read more from Bob at therealreview.com