In Côte Rôtie, AOC regulations allow a little Viognier to be included in the Syrah based red wine, but everywhere else the variety is usually unblended. It is a lush, full-bodied, perfumed wine with an intense bouquet. A light hand with oak can enhance structure.
Viognier tolerates climates from warm to cool, though the fruit develops the most character with wide seasonal variations in temperature. It is best suited to light, infertile soils, such as those of the northern Rhône, which are composed of limestone and granite covered by sand and a decomposed mica topsoil called arzelle. Viognier is a difficult and extremely low-yielding vine that is prone to uneven ripening and coulure (the failure of the flowers to develop into berries). It ripens very late, with flavor developing only at the peak of maturity. The fragile, thin skinned fruit is high in extract, sugar and potential alcohol, highly aromatic and low in acidity.
It is believed that Viognier is native to the Balkans because of a very similar vine called the Vugava, which is grown on the island of Vis off the Adriatic coast. The vine is thought to have been brought from Croatia to the Rhône Valley in A.D. 281.
Until the 1990s, Viognier was found only in the northern Rhône at Condrieu, where it was made famous by Château Grillet. By the middle of that decade, new interest in the variety expanded plantings to Languedoc-Roussillon as well as several New World viticultural areas. Most of the vine’s acreage is in southern France, followed by California and Virginia. It is also grown in Australia, Italy, Chile and South Africa.