Viognier Tasting Notes

The renaissance of a White Rhone varietal



One of the great stories of the past decade has been the renaissance of Viognier.

With new producers in the Rhône Valley as well as an explosion of producers from emerging regions like Virginia, Washington state and Paso Robles, all pushing for cleaner, purer expressions of the grape, consumers were offered exciting new alternatives to more familiar varieties. The response has been an resounding success.

With its flamboyant peach and floral aromatics, smooth texture and generally soft acidity, modern Viognier has struck a cord with consumers’ palates. If there is a hiccup to be found here, it’s the delicate balance of sweetness that many Viogniers need to balance out that faint edge of bitterness which comes with many of the wines.

Photo courtesy mswine via Flickr/CC
Viognier, like most aromatic white wines, is a rather phenolic grape and phenols can be bitter. Phenols also imbue a wine with richness and perfumes, so as winemakers push their wines to be more viscous and powerful in the mouth, they tend to also draw more phenols into their wines by extending skin contact during the fermentation process.

The touch of sweetness that many Viogniers posses helps to balance out that bitterness, though some wines show a bit too much sugar for my palate. While it can be a minor issue it’s one worth mentioning, particularly since so many producers seem to have found their sweet spot today, producing wines that are both aromatic and balanced if a little less oily and bitter than in years past.

I was able to taste quite a few Virginian Viognier during my visit there last year. While none were included in my recent tasting of the variety, I can attest to the mighty fine quality of the region’s efforts. Producers such as Blenheim, Veritas and Horton are all putting out wines that deserve to be noticed. I hope to report on additional Virginian, and for that matter Texan, Viogniers in the months and years to come, but today let’s take a look at some recently tasted examples from around the globe.



2010 Seven Hills Viognier Columbia Valley  14.2%

Very nicely aromatic with hints of grilled pineapple over perfumed floral undertones and a bed of French toast dusted with vanilla, cinnamon and maple. A touch of wood sweetness greets the tongue. This firms up quickly to show good tension and acid spine supporting rather rich, fairly opulent floral peach fruit. There’s a touch more pineapple on the back end along with a hint of lemongrass before this drifts away on the firm and fairly long finish. Really well made, they really nailed this even if it’s not my style. 91pts

2010 Eberle Mill Road Vineyard Viognier Paso Robles 14.9%

This is full of fruit blossoms on the nose, with layers of lemongrass, lychee and jasmine over bitter orange fruit. Big on entry, this is a rich wine. It is a bit slick in texture but full of flavor with orange, apricot and apple flavors. There’s plenty of acid and a finely managed edge of polyphenolic bitterness that enlivens the palate. This is in a fruitier style to be sure, but one that skates a very fine line. The finish shows a bit more phenol than the palate, but it balances out the sweetness perfectly and lends this a quince jam quality. A nice blend of intensity and structure. 90pts

2011 Praxis Viognier Russian River Valley 13.4%

Lovely on the nose with focus to the exotic floral aromas and hints of creamy peach, grapefruit and ginger. A nice upright style of Viognier, this doesn’t spread across the palate but instead stays nicely bound to the rigid spine of supporting acidity. The texture is a touch creamy and the flavors recall the nose with a creamy style, though the peach, lime and apple flavors are fresh and bright. The finish fades away to a mineral tone before coming back with more creamy, tropical fruit tones. Very cherimoya fruit with a lovely spicy herbal overlay. Not a huge wine but nicely complete. 90pts

2010 Desert Wind Bare Naked Desert Wind Vineyard Viognier Wahluke Slope 14.5%

Lovely on the nose with a bright freshness to the lightly tropical aromas, recalling mangosteen, kiwi, peach and apricot, all topped with tropical floral notes. A vague sweetness adds some roundness here, offering up a fine blend of richness and clarity. The flavors are fresh and bright with peach and limeade on the palate and a lightly floral inner-mouth perfume that includes some fragrant apple skins. The finish is dry and firm, tense even, with good length and fine cut. Lithe and elegant. 90pts

2009 Paul Jaboulet Secret de Famille Viognier 13%

Rather stony and mean on the nose with a vetiver floral accent to the lean, dusty green apple and apricot fruit. Rich but soft in the mouth, this is broad and low on the palate with some earthy, slightly honeycomb-tinged apple, nectarine and quince flavors. The texture and freshness are the appeal here, made evident on the moderately long finish. In fact, the finish shows the full potential of the wine with more quince and apricot jam notes and fine persistence. This is very nice. It is filling out on the palate a bit and delivers a subtle yet elegant Viognier experience. 88pts

2010 Mounts Family Viognier Dry Creek Valley 14.8%

Classic Viognier nose here with clear notes of peach, jasmine, ginger and bitter orange marmalade over toast. Quite soft in the mouth with a light raw nuttiness early on, followed by diffuse flavors of honeycomb, peach and lime leaf fruit. The finish is light and fairly short, showing some alcohol as well as a return of the fine aromatics of the nose, but there’s not a lot to this on the mid-palate. 87pts




2008 Anna Maria Viognier Applegate Valley 12.9%

Rather woodsy on the nose with grapefruit pith, pear, peach and a strong iris floral overlay. Rather soft on entry, this manages to retain some tension in the mouth. It’s a very smooth, supple style of Viognier, working on balance rather than intensity of flavor. With air the fruit does emerge, slowly showing flashes of white peach, raw almond and nettles. Those flavors pop on the finish with a light golden raspberry finale. Very relaxed wine, easy going but not sloppy. 87pts

2009 Saddleback Cellars Viognier Clarksburg 14.9%

A bit hot on the nose with waxy dried fruits, dried peach and notes of vanilla, fennel and mint. Pretty large scaled on entry. An impression of sweetness on the front end is followed by a fairly bright mid-palate delivering simple, plush sweet flavors of peach fruit and pink flowers. Finishes a bit hot and short with some pink grapefruit inner mouth perfumes before the alcohol fully takes over. 86pts

2010 Perry Creek Altitude: 2401 Le Seducteur Viognier El Dorado 14.5%

Dense and lightly honeyed on the nose with big honeysuckle and spice notes over dried peach fruit and a touch of melon. This has a very round, lightly sweet leading edge and is decidedly large-scaled in the mouth. Rich and round with deep flavors of peach pits and candied orange rind, accompanied by some noticeable alcohol. The finish shows a bit more of this honeyed, candied burnt orange character. A big wine that is a bit out of balance, with sweetness, alcohol and polyphenolic bitterness all making appearances on the short finish. 86pts

2010 Brennan Vineyards Viognier Texas 14%

This smells figgy and a bit feral on the nose with some over-ripe mango notes and a touch of buttery caramel. Very soft on entry, this has a caramel edge to the fruit which follows through with the fig promise of the nose. There are gentle floral notes, but this is mostly a dense, figgy wine with soft hints of honeysuckle in the mouth and a very nice spicy finish. Once again a wine whose finish shows the full potential of the wine. While this doesn’t finish with any profundity, it does have good length and presents flavors more in the classic peach and honeysuckle vein. 85pts

2009 Tortoise Creek Wines Le Verger Viognier Pays d’Oc 12.5%

Full of apricots and flowers with some vegetal hints and lime zest. This is fairly fragrant with some chalky, mineral base notes. A little slick on entry, this shows polyphenolic bitterness right up front with apricot fruit working to balance things out. Rather dry and dusty in the mouth, this is a touch soft but pleasant in a neutral sort of way. 83pts

2008 Shoofly Viognier Australia 13.5%

Waxy and sandy on the nose with some nice floral notes. Very honeysuckle and rose stem scented but not very fruity, with just a hint of apricot. There’s a bit of sweetness here and some nice raw cashew nuttiness to go with it on entrr in a rather rich and creamy style. Good acidity lends this a citrus fruit character, though it is creamy with more of a tropical fruit tone on the back end that shows notes of pineapple and under ripe papaya. The finish is short. While there is a lightly honeyed note from thee sweetness, it’s rather earthy and dry, finishing with weird orange juice concentrate notes. 80pts

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Comments

  • Dear Gregory,
    I have to admit being hugely disappointed with Viognier based wines in the United States. One of my great favourite appellations is Condrieu and I try to taste as much Viognier as I can in the hope of coming across such a similar wonderful complex balance between fruit and minerality (which as I'm sure you would agree is the hallmark of this wonderful grape). The sad fact is that all the Californian Viognier I have tasted is basically fruit notes - some very peach and apricot drenched as you rightly point out. But they are all very one-dimensional. I tried just about all the Viognier in Santa Ynes and Ojai recently. It's over-priced and really just fruit forward - very little structure at all.
    Now I'm not saying that all Viognier can reach the heights of a fine Condrieu and be similarly priced. But for example K and L sell Yves Cuillerons Viogner 2010, Vin de Pays Des Collinnes Rhodaniennes at 27.99. Now if you could show me a US produced Viognier that stands up to Cuilleron's in price and complexity I'd be buying it by the case load.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 2:59 PM


  • Snooth User: Buckyboy
    888314 17

    In response to alexharvey, try the Viognier from Pride Mountain Vineyards on the Napa-Sonoma border. It is excellent!

    Mar 27, 2012 at 3:27 PM


  • My favorite right now is Freemark Abbey, but I like dry Vioginer. Also David Bruce Vioginer/Roussane is wonderful.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 3:47 PM


  • Thanks Buckyboy and tastingroomaz. I'll try both Freemark and Pride Mountain Vineyards in the hope of finding some minerality, that wonderful 'gravelly' undertow with balances the powerful fruit that you get in the good Southern Rhone Viogniers. But I do wonder whether the terrain and the soil here is just too good and accounts for why up to now all I find in the Californian expression of the grape is fruit and more fruit.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 4:10 PM


  • Snooth User: RUS
    119003 266

    McManus Family Viognier (CA) is a nice every day wine, as it their Petite Syrah.

    Speaking of Virginian Viognier, I brought the Jefferson Vineyards Viognier 2009 to a tasting last weekend and it was well received. I don't know that it's twice the wine the McManus is, but the law of diminishing returns effects all wine purchases.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 4:15 PM


  • @RUS - I'll also try the Jefferson Viognier. But the question I raise again fellow vinophiles - is does American Viognier have anything other than fruit notes (luscious and fulsome though that fruit can be)?

    Mar 27, 2012 at 4:41 PM


  • Snooth User: jjknight38
    Hand of Snooth
    40356 689

    2007 Bien Nacido Viognier from Anglim Winery in Paso Robles was a brute of a wine! Shared with about 6 people at a summer park and it lasted about 15 minutes.This iteration did seem to find that balance between the phenol bitterness and rich flavors of honey and peach as a counterpoint. Residual sugar...probably, but enjoyable without being too cerebral.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 5:56 PM


  • Snooth User: BettyWine
    644768 2

    I love Porter Creek's Viognier. Has anybody here tried it? I'd love to hear what you think.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 8:28 PM


  • How could you forget about Morgan Clendenen and her brand Cold Heaven. She has been specializing in cool climate Viognier since 1996.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 8:54 PM


  • @StaRitaHills
    Now Cold Heaven is exactly the kind of Southern Californian Viognier that I have tasted extensively and I think is overpriced and extremely limited. It can retail for as much as 34 dollars and is simply not worth it. That was why I posted earlier about the Southern Rhone Viogniers such as Yves Cuilleron's Van de Pays. One has to have a greater sense of what this grape, in fine winemaking hands and good terroir, can deliver. Not simply a ripe mushiness of floral and excess fruit notes. But something more complex and layered. Something that can rival a fine White Burgundy at times.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 10:18 PM


  • @StaRitaHills
    Now Cold Heaven is exactly the kind of Southern Californian Viognier that I have tasted extensively and I think is overpriced and extremely limited. It can retail for as much as 34 dollars and is simply not worth it. That was why I posted earlier about the Southern Rhone Viogniers such as Yves Cuilleron's Van de Pays. One has to have a greater sense of what this grape, in fine winemaking hands and good terroir, can deliver. Not simply a ripe mushiness of floral and excess fruit notes. But something more complex and layered. Something that can rival a fine White Burgundy at times.

    Mar 27, 2012 at 10:18 PM


  • Morgan Clendenen and Yves Cuilleron have been collaborating together on multiple vintages & share the label Domaine des Deux Mondes. Yes Yves crafts a vin de pays, but he is a Northern Rhone winemaker holding 52 hectares in multiple AOPs including Condriue and Côte Rôtie. Futhermore just because a wine is labelled vin pays does not necessarily mean it's a regional wine. With 90 something %of wines in the Rhine being produced in the south I would not be surprised if he was working with some southern Rhine grapes. And of course you know there are no Viognier specific AOPs in the south. Are you sure there are southern rhone grapes in his vin de pays or is it just produced outside of AOP regulation? You wrote of complexed and layered viogniers then in the next sentence white burgundy, Viognier is by nature a less acidic grape than chardonnay. I suggest you drink burgundy if you want burgundy. Viognier should lift from the glass. Good luck with your Paso viogniers.

    Mar 28, 2012 at 1:31 AM


  • Fuck iPads I meant *** Rhône

    Mar 28, 2012 at 1:33 AM


  • Thanks @ StaRitaHills for the information about the collaboration between Cuilleron and Morgan Clendenen - very interesting. And yes, of course your right that Cuilleron is a Northern Rhone producer, famed for his Condrieu. The vins de pays des Collines Rhondaniennes come from the Rhone wine hills which apparently allow them to go as far as parts of the Loire, Ardeche as well as Southern Rhone. And you are right too that great Viognier should lift from the glass. But I stand by my main point which is about powerful structure of good Viognier. Not just 'specious perfume and sweetness' as Jancis Robinson once put it. Opulent with fruit yes but also with sufficient acidity. Now where do I find that in American viognier?

    Mar 28, 2012 at 2:18 AM


  • Being that Virginia is known for its Viognier and including not one in this review is a smack in the face to Virginia winemakers. Yet you include a Texan Viognier? I think that taints the validity of your review altogether. Although I always stand by the motto - "Drink what you like and ignore the wine snobs."

    Jul 03, 2012 at 2:39 PM


  • Snooth User: redwine89
    503255 74

    I really enjoy the Alexandria Nicole Viognier from Columbia Valley, Washington State

    Oct 19, 2012 at 3:45 PM


  • Snooth User: messygonzo
    1327679 35

    I love Porter Creek's Viognier. Has anybody here tried it? I'd love to hear what you think.

    Aug 02, 2013 at 6:11 AM


  • extremely good

    Sep 09, 2013 at 3:19 PM


  • Snooth User: cglaw2013
    1341096 33

    beautiful

    Sep 11, 2013 at 4:06 AM


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