To describe Viognier as the bridesmaid of the great whites doesn’t just hold a bitter truth, but a serious lesson in the dangers of the global fashioning and commoditisation of wine. As Chardonnay and then Sauvignon Blanc became international flavours of the times during the 1980s and 1990s, with every wine-producing country in the world jumping on board to produce their own versions or imitations of the great French wines, Viognier was on the verge of extinction.
Save for as little as eight hectares of the grape in the tiny Rhône appellation of Condrieu, there was no other Viognier in the world in the mid-1960s. It was the vitis vinifera victim of Darwin’s survival of the fittest – low and unpredictable yields, and an art in terms of picking at the right time, in a global market that was demanding consistent quality, reliable and quickly increasable quantities, and low prices, it just didn’t stand a chance.
Thankfully, as the world became more adventurous and inquisitive, Viognier found it’s gap in the market; somewhere between the universally appealing Chardonnay and Sauvignon, and the spicy, eccentric qualities of more acquired tastes such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Some credit California with spotting Viognier’s distinctive appeal and importing vines by the boat-load, but wine-makers in regional France were also planting with fervour throughout the 1980s.
Now Viognier is being grown in all corners of the wine-making world and that’s to our eternal benefit and good fortune, for there’s now fabulous value to be found in this gem of wine. On it’s own the wines are typically full-bodied, at times creamy depending on the level of oak treatment, with heady perfumes and distinctive aromas of dried apricot, honeysuckle, musk and spice. So, despite relatively low natural acidity, Viognier actually makes a great food partner, particularly for mildly spiced dishes, and especially for creamy spiced dishes such as korma or tikka masala.
And to think 20 years ago that this fashion queen was no more famous than vitis vinidodo.
Today, Moillard wines of France are showing us what we could have been missing. Their Lunar Organic Viognier from their Chateau d’Eau range is, as we found out quite recently, fantastic with any fish dish. We currently have €4 off this range when you buy two or more. So is Lunar Organic the next craze? Find out here.