The Problem with Viognier

I tasted six different Viogniers yesterday accounting for 4 different appellations. They represented three different recent vintages. Not a single one delivered anything that could remotely be considered "crispness" on the palate and in most cases the best description of the texture of these wines was "flat".

In my mind this is unacceptable. In fact, it leads me to the point of not even considering the varietal when I contemplate which white wine to buy or drink. I felt like I was drinking flat Mountain Dew.

I believe the problem might lie in the winemaker’s desire to draw out as much of that "tropical" character that so many people look and hope for in Viognier. It means they try to get their grapes as ripe as possible before picking. This in turn often leads to diminished acidity, higher alcohols, and a palate feel that is more akin to worn satin. "Smooth" is nice, but it doesn’t help when confronted with a cream sauce.

The other distinguishing feature of 4 of the six Viogniers was a clear bitterness and metallic quality in the wines. I don’t know what causes this feature. But I don’t think it’s something that is natural to the variety.

What I’m wondering is this: Perhaps Viognier might be better utilized as a blending grape. I’m not talking about the traditional practice of tossing in single digit amounts of Viognier into otherwise red Rhone varieties. I’m thinking of a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and and riesling. I’m thinking of the idea of using Viognier to deliver a hint of tropical-ness to to a blend of other whites, rather than trying to get as much "Tahiti" out of Viognier delivered all alone.

There are not that many varieties that disappointment nearly across the board as Viognier does. For years Sangiovese from California truly disappointed me but it seems that glitch has been taken care of due to more years of experience. I’m hoping CA vintners find a better approach to Viognier.


20 Responses

  1. AL - May 25, 2007

    The joy of viognier for me is in the acidity and ripe apricot flavors. trying to get it too ripe is like what some winemakers try to do with Sauv Blanc, where they totally overblow the variety character and it turns out like a weak insipid chard.
    I wouldn’t throw it away by blending it with the chard unless it was already too ripe and flaccid, but otherwise it would work with the riesling as a blender.

  2. AL - May 25, 2007

    The joy of viognier for me is in the acidity and ripe apricot flavors. trying to get it too ripe is like what some winemakers try to do with Sauv Blanc, where they totally overblow the variety character and it turns out like a weak insipid chard.
    I wouldn’t throw it away by blending it with the chard unless it was already too ripe and flaccid, but otherwise it would work with the riesling as a blender.

  3. Stephen - May 25, 2007

    You were somewhat vague on what regions the Viognier came from, and while I sympathize – getting a flabby white is never fun, I would not condemn the whole variety. I actually had Viognier last night and it was crisp and refreshing in the heat and humidity of New York. As a lower profile grape with rising popularity it is certainly possible that people are trying to produce it without the proper conditions or skills to do so. So I encourage you to not write it off just yet.

  4. Marcus - May 25, 2007

    I can understand where you are coming from because I recently tasted the difference between great refreshment and flat pop back-to-back with two French Viogniers: see
    It’d be interested to know which appellations you’re reflecting on. Some of these French Vin de Pays made entirely of Viognier are quite remarkable. Vin de Pays are not appellations and producers operating within their regulations often have a lot more freedom to craft the wines they want. The Laroche 100% Viognier varietal from every recent vintage is a total success story.

  5. Richard Shaffer - May 25, 2007

    I have had similarly negative experiences with Viognier in the past.
    However, I recommend you find yourself a bottle of Yarden Viognier 2004 or 2005 – really the first great viognier out of Israel.
    It’s excellent.

  6. Fredric Koeppel - May 25, 2007

    Viognier really is one of those grapes that not only performs best on its home ground, in the northern Rhone, but really doesn’t perform up to snuff anywhere else. And in California too many producers try to put the grape through the whole aggressive chardonnay treatment of barrel fermentation, malo-, and barrel aging. I have had too many viogniers from Calironia that were either insipid or raging piles of wood.

  7. tomcwark - May 25, 2007

    Maybe what we need is a viognier grown in the eastern reaches of the Green Valley appellation, try to pick it at about 24 degree brix and that is then produced in a stainless steel tank. It might or might not need to go through malolactic fermentation. I don’t need my viognier to be over the top tropical. A nice hint would be good. But i do insist it have a hint of acidity.

  8. el jefe - May 25, 2007

    hi Tom – Today I agree with you more than I ever have. Like a pinch of salt or dash of pepper in cooking, a little oak goes a long way with Viognier. Flabby and flowery does not work for us either….

  9. Garry Clark - May 25, 2007

    You should try and track down a bottle of the Saxenburg estate Guinea Fowl white, from the Stellenbosch. It is a blend of about 60% Chenin Blanc and 40% Viognier.

  10. wineguy - May 26, 2007

    Qupe makes a nice 50/50 Viognier/Chardonnay blend called Bien Nacido Cuvee. But before you give up entirely on Viognier see if you can get a taste of the Blair Fox 2004 Paradis Road Viognier…

  11. Dr. Debs - May 26, 2007

    Hmmm. I must just be drinking the good stuff :). I’ve had viognier from Twisted Oak and Peachy Canyon that had great balance. The fruits were not tropical, but those of ripe summer orchard fruits. I would hate to see this used as simply a blending grape. It’s a good food wine on its own when it’s made properly.

  12. Tish - May 28, 2007

    Try a good Albarino, like Fefinanes (about $20) or the value-priced Nora ($10-$13). Not as lush as a good Viognier, but similar fruit-basket character and reliable tang. Incidentally, Gallo is now importing an Albarino, Martin Codax, so look for the catergory as a whole to rise in profile…

  13. QVinho - May 29, 2007

    Escorihuela Gascón Viognier 2005

    A bodega Escorihuela Gascón é parte do grupo Catena Zapata, e não deixa nada a desejar a matriz, caso desse excelente branco produzido 100% com Viognier. Esse exigente varietal originário de Condrie, vale do Rhne, fic…

  14. Dezel - May 29, 2007

    Hello Friend,
    I would have to say that Viognier can be hit or miss, but since it is a popular local white wine alternative here in Virginia, most examples tend to be good to great. For some reason Virginia does not face a number of growing problems associated with Viognier.
    I drink quite a bit of it myself, and it is naturally low in acidity – as a matter of fact the grape has a nasty habit of developing high sugar levels combined with low acidity which is prelude to ruin in my opinion. Some winemakers like to oak it, and for my taste it’s really not a favorable match. With a good Viognier you can obtain the full mouth feel, creaminess and body without oak aging – and who wants to camouflage Viognier’s best attribute – the nose.
    If you are curious, I would recommend seeking out Virginia’s Rappahannock Cellars Viognier 2005 or Michael Shaps Kings Family Viognier 2005 (which I’m sipping on tonight) which are excellent local examples; no doubt. The 05 Michael Shaps recently received high praise in Saveur magazine.
    In fact, I lean toward the more lush and tropical examples myself, but Virginia tends to be more stone fruit and citrus with a surprisingly good level of acidity.
    BTW – even though it did not do well in a Viognier blind tasting I held, I think the Condrieu examples, even though pricey, should spark your interest – more acidity and mineral character (usually).
    For grins, Check my site and see which California Viognier took 1st place in my blind tasting; I was almost ashamed to post it (lol). You are surrounded by Trader Joes on the West Coast, perhaps you have tried this off dry example?
    Give Viognier another shot – it can be gem!
    Happy Sipping!

  15. Jack - June 5, 2007

    Tom, You just didn’t have the Porter Creek. Hit your redo button.

  16. mark - June 10, 2007

    Funnily tried a Viognier Semillon yeterday from the Adelaide Hills [Australia] K1 wines.
    This was an interesting blend, good citrus fruit, lightly aromtic,balanced aciity, with great mouthfeel. It wasnt a wine I search out again, but it certianly had some appeal.

  17. Tina Caputo - June 18, 2007

    My first experience with Viognier was of the tasty Rhone (Condrieu, etc.) variety, when I worked for a French importer. Yum! I’ve never quite found a CA version that lived up to the Frenchie stuff–I’m not a fan of oaked Viognier. I have to agree that Virginia is producing some very nice V-wines, though!

  18. Jin - September 1, 2009

    Hi everyone. So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.
    I am from Britain and learning to speak English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: “Nettingthis side reaches confirming dark extensions under a potential, moderate sensitivity that triggers as a artificial p-glycoprotein onto which dosages can use follicles.”
    With respect ;), Jin.

  19. BR - September 27, 2009

    I am a winemaker in Eastern Washington. My first Viognier (2008), I ML’d. Sad to say the fruit nose disappeared. No surprise in hindsite. However, the wine like a Chardonnay displays an institutional familarity some people like. I have tasted several non ML’s Viogniers that at first impact appear crisp, fruity, only to have the initial OMG replaced with “maybe to light not enough body.
    I do believe this is not the whole story. A compromise is needed. Possibly partial ML and rest not? I will try it this crush. I believe this is a great variety.

  20. Kunal Mittal - November 11, 2013

    I generally agree, however there are many winemakers who are able to make a really good Viognier in California. We personally, have a phenomenal California Viognier that does not have the typical bitterness or flatness described here.

    We barrel fermented our Viognier to bring out the aromatics and balance the acidity. We used neutral barrels to limit the flavor influences and let the terrior speak for itself.

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