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Grape Varietals

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More than most white wines, Viognier is always threatening to coax the word "exotic" out of wine critics. It's also gaining popularity among those looking to branch out from Chardonnay.

Flavors and aromas: Its exotic profile starts with the heady aromatics—honeysuckle, apricot, spice, and everything nice. The perfumed aroma is not just a tease, leading into generous gobs of melon, apricot, and peach on the palate. With its big fruit and relatively low acidity, Viognier pleases most fans of big, buttery, tropical California Chardonnay. Body-wise, not unlike Gewürztraminer, Viognier tends to be fleshy and viscous. And even though it's shy in the acidity department, the strength of its fruit helps the flavors linger.

Color: Ranges from pale straw to light golden.


Prominent plantings: Viognier is native to France's Rhône Valley, where it is the only grape grown in the tiny appellation of Condrieu. Examples from Condrieu tend to be extremely expensive. Fortunately, however, Viognier is an ancient grape enjoying a growing modern escape from obscurity, thanks to plantings in the South of France, California, and Australia. As new vineyards start to bear fruit, prices should drop and more bottlings will appear each vintage.

Pairing with food: Viognier is not especially crisp, but still quite nice when paired with simple chicken dishes; pasta with a creamy sauce; heftier fish (salmon, Chilean sea bass) and lobster; even pork and ham.

Insider tip: For those who just like the wine's generous fruit-basket of flavors and aromas, Viognier is a great sipping wine to enjoy simply by itself.

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