After all, there is nothing like the glow of warmth from a Shiraz or a Cabernet. But reds are not for everyone. If you have been happily sipping your favourite Sauvignon Blanc all summer, you might prefer to stick with a white.
And while savvy blanc does really well as an aperitif even on a chilly evening, there is often a need for rounder, softer flavours when it comes to a roast chicken or a plate of pasta.
This is when Viognier comes into its own. It bridges the gap between bright, citrus and gooseberry-fresh wines and heavier, rounded, oaked whites.
With its honeysuckle and floral notes, rounded palate, nectarine and apricot fruit, it usually has enough freshness to lift the palate while happily settling alongside a wide variety of food, from a simple salad to a light curry sauce. Viognier is a great between-seasons grape.
It is a total mystery to me why some people have difficulty pronouncing Viognier – but they do. That’s why people are happy to pick up a bottle in a supermarket, but don’t order it in a restaurant. Maybe it is something to do with the “g” in the middle, so just ignore it. Vee-on-yee-ay is about the right way to say it, but if you get as far as Vee, then a wine waiter will probably know what you mean.
Viognier is a historic grape variety that was on the point of extinction just 50 years ago. “In 1970 there were just 11 hectares of it in the whole world,” said Louisa Rose, chief winemaker at Yalumba, the Australian company that has probably done more than any other to spread the cultivation and popularity of this grape.
Those lonely vines were in Condrieu, by the river Rhône in France, and they were the remnants of a much larger vineyard which had diminished over centuries, mainly because the land was steep and difficult to work. But it was here, on a bend of the river, where the sun shone on the vines all day, that the most magical, perfumed, apricot-scented wines were made.
When the impending extinction of such a great grape was noticed, the wine world rallied round, and vines were sent to various parts of the globe.
Just three plants were sent from France to an agricultural research station in Australia, and by 1980 they had propagated enough vines for Yalumba to plant its first Viognier vineyard.
It chose to plant in the relatively cool Eden Valley, in the eastern part of the Barossa in South Australia, and I remember visiting that vineyard on my first trip to Australia. Since then, Yalumba’s Viognier wines have become the global flagship for the variety.
But they are not the only ones. Viognier has spread around the world, finding homes from Chile to South Africa, Lebanon, New Zealand and California. France, too, has learnt to love Viognier again, not just in Condrieu where it almost met its demise, but across the Languedoc where cool sites and careful winemaking produce elegant wines at a fraction of the price that Condrieu commands.
Here are some to try...
Pierre Jaurant Viognier 2020, Languedoc, France, Aldi, £4.49: A bargain wine with all the right apricot flavours and a soft, rounded palate.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2020, Chile, Asda, £6.50: A light style of Viognier with apricot and peach flavours that go perfectly with roast pork and lightly spiced dishes.
Les Jamelles Viognier 2020, Pays d’Oc, Co-op, £7.35: A rich, fragrant style of Viognier with spring blossom on the nose and full-flavoured peaches and apricots on the palate. Simple, flavour-full drinking.
Laurent Miquel Nocturnes Viognier 2020, Pays ‘d’Oc, France, Waitrose, down from £9.39 to £6.99 until Tuesday: Grapes are picked at night to retain all the aromatic flavours. This has the scent of freshly cut melon, with peach and apricot notes and zippy freshness along the palate.
Yalumba Y Viognier 2020, South Australia, Sainsbury’s, £8.50: The first step on the Yalumba Viognier ladder and this has all the typical apricot and pear flavours with a rounded, broad finish.
Viognier, Les Fleurs Sauvages 2019, Pays d’Oc, Abbotts & Delaunay, Majestic, £9.99, down to £7.99 on a mix-six deal: Made by a Burgundian winemaker in the South of France, these grapes are picked in the early morning to keep all their fresh flavours and its shows in the bright apricot and peach flavours, hints of ginger spice and a clean citrus finish.
The Hermit Crab Marsanne Viognier 2020, d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale, Australia, Field & Fawcett, York, £13.95: Viognier blends particularly well with other Rhône varietals and this mix of Marsanne and Viognier is deeply aromatic with ginger spice adding to the peach and nectarine fruit. Rounded and full, this is a good match with spicy noodles or a creamy curry.
Domaine Bégude Le Paradis Viognier 2020, Pays d’Oc, France, Majestic, £15.99 on a mix-six deal: A stylish Viognier from sometime-Yorkshire residents James and Catherine Kinglake from their organic vineyard in the hills of Limoux, just a stone’s throw from Carcassonne. This wine reflects its high altitude, with a streak of freshness supporting juicy white peach fruit.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2018, Latitude Wines, Leeds, £16.99: From the original site where those first Viognier cuttings were planted in Australia, this wine shows the freshness of the site and the age of the vines. It has depth of flavour, with complex layers of fruit, backed by a streak of citrus and a firm finish which make it a real joy to team with food.
Yves Cuilleron Viognier 2020, Les Vignes d’à Côté, Rhône, France, Martinez Wines, Ilkley, £20.99: This excellent producer owns vines right on the corner of the river in Condrieu, but those wines are eye-wateringly expensive. This is made with the same degree of care from vines just outside the Condrieu appellation. It has all the right honeysuckle aromas, with nectarine fruit, and a fine balance of flavours and freshness.