Vine varieties: Viognier

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The 1980s’ explosion of interest in red Rhône varieties was echoed in the 1990s with their white counterparts. Although a handful of California producers dabbled initially with Marsanne and Roussanne, the majority of entrants cast their lot with Viognier. Indeed while in 1995 its cradle, the condrieu appellation in France, boasted about 200 acres of the variety, California planted at least 600 acres in the 1990s alone, and boasted more than 3,000 acres by 2013. Pioneers included Joseph Phelps, Ritchie Creek, La Jota, and Calera but the first major commitment was made by John Alban, who planted 30 acres in San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley district in 1989. Quality and style have been about as variable as the prices, with many expensive offerings being mediocre at best, presenting an oaky, Chardonnay-like profile with little Viognier character. Many lesser priced wines with very little, if any, oak influence, can be charming. A more recent Rhône white grape to emerge has been Grenache Blanc. There isn’t much of it, at under 300 acres in 2013, yet many a blend features it along with Viognier and Roussanne. These wines can be greater than the sum of their parts.