Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris discovers the joys of viognier, and why we should drink more of this voluptuous white grape.
The virtues of viognier
A white wine that bridges the boundaries between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, viognier is a white grape variety from the northern Rhone Valley that's spread its vines to become a fashionable label in wine shops and restaurants.
With the body and richness of chardonnay (without the oak), and the zestiness of sauvignon blanc (without the high acidity), viognier with its creamy, aromatic dry style, and seductive apricot flavours, has inspired winemakers around the world to emulate this southern French gem.
The small appellation of Condrieu on the west bank of the river Rhone is viognier's spiritual home where demand outstrips supply; and consequently the Rhone's finest white wine commands top prices for its outstanding quality which is produced in tiny quantities.
However, head a little further south of the Rhone and you'll find some of the best imitations outside of Condrieu and these heady, scented styles (aka viognier's diffusion line) show admirable quality beneath a perfumed veil of succulent fruit.
For a good introductory style, try Asda Extra Special Viognier 2010, France (£5, Asda, www.asda.com), an aromatic, soft white from the Languedoc. An easy-drinker with a little apple crumble sweetness and spice, as with most viogniers, this delicate white suits all types of seafood, and even a mild mid-week curry.
Fresh and appealing, Domaine des Trinites Viognier 2010, France (£8.99, www.virginwines.co.uk) opens up with honeysuckle and apricot, guava and melon drop flavours with a streak of minerality on the peachy finish, and is good enough to enjoy lightly chilled on its own.
Crisp and delicate with bright acidity, Domaine Les Yeuses 2011, Pays d'OC IGP, France (£9.75, www.leaandsandeman.co.uk, 020 7244 0522) is minerally with delightful apricot and almond nuances, ripe stone fruits and a subtle, ginger sweetness on the palate which makes it a great match with shrimps and mildly spiced Asian dishes.
Viognier's unusual balance of delicate perfume and substantial body can rival some of the best white Burgundy's, and American wine critic Robert Parker awarded the following viognier 90 points (a scoring system out of 100), which is testament to the variety's attributes.
Try Domaine les Grands Bois Viognier, Cotes du Rhone 2011, France (£9.95, as part of a mixed case of six, www.fromvineyardsdirect.com), and you'll be hard-pushed to beat the value and consistency of this floral white. The lush texture, lime, apricot and peach flavours, are balanced by excellent minerality with even a tang of fennel on the finish.
Wine lovers who judge a bottle by the label will be delighted by talented winemaker Andre Brunel's well-priced viognier which shows excellent quality; and is nearly attaining as much fame as his prized Chateauneuf-du-Pape reds which have impressed Parker enough to achieve a perfect score of 100.
Rich and honeyed, try Domaine Andre Brunel Viognier 2011, France (£10.99, www.virginwines.co.uk) for a luscious glass of silky, pure ripe apricots with peaches in syrup, a hint of spice, perfumed nose and deliciously long, harmonious mouthfeel.
Beyond France, viognier has become the darling of vignerons in the New World where growers produce lookalike versions with varying results, at more affordable prices.
Chile, with its near perfect growing conditions and abundance of sunshine, produces good examples such as Emiliana Organic Vineyards Viognier Reserva 2011, DO Colchagua Valley, Chile (£7.99, Tesco). Fresh and fruity with orange blossom, peach and an underlying stoniness with honeysuckle on the finish, it's perfect with fish in a creamy white sauce.
Alternatively, Casa Silva Reserva Viognier 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile (£9.95, George Hill Ltd of Loughborough, 01509 212 717) is rich and generous with spiced apricot and pear fruit, good acidity with a slight mineral quality that finishes with an apple custard sweetness for a lush feel.
But for the real deal, a voluptuous viognier from Condrieu such as Domaine Pichon Condrieu, Rhone 2009, France (£29.15, as part of a mixed case of six, www.fromvineyardsdirect.com) is a wine to swoon and take your time over.
A rising star on the grapevine, Christophe Pichon's heady mix of concentrated apricots and tangerines tastes like pure nectar, and the orange blossom and spice coated with rich buttery notes tantalises the tastebuds, and just stops short from being the sweetest smidgen over the top.
:: Best buy
A winning style... The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (£9.99, Majestic, Co-op) won the Decanter Regional Trophy of 'Best Sauvignon Blanc under £10' (five stars) at this year's Decanter World Wine Awards 2012, and three cheers to gifted winemaker Brent Marris for his flavourful wines.
:: Liquid news
Cider with rosie... To celebrate the apple harvest at the end of the month, Waitrose Cider Showcase will be offering scrumpy lovers 25% off selected ciders from now until October 9. Prize picks include Duchy Originals from Waitrose Organic Vintage, Herefordshire, Waitrose Vintage English Cider, Herefordshire, along with a huge range of more than 100 regional ciders and well-known brands on special offer.