Clive Hartley

Traditionally the French white grape, viognier, is found in a tiny region of the Northern Rhône Valley, clinging to vertiginous slopes above the river. This is the area (appellation) called Condrieu. Viognier is also found dispersed amongst syrah vines in the Côte-Rôtie which is located next door to Condrieu. It is also found across Australia in places such as the Canberra District, Yarra Valley and Bendigo.

Viognier is a low-yielding variety, producing enchanting exotic aromas of peach, apricot, citrus blossom and musk. Once you are introduced to these aromas you won’t mistake them for any other grape variety.  On the palate, viognier is medium to full-bodied wine, fleshy, creamy and rich. Occasionally the palate can become overpowering and alcoholic.  The complexity and depth on the palate is achieved without the need of excessive oak. “The aroma of Marie Antionette’s boudoir and the texture of chicken soup… in a glass” is a description once quoted by viognier producer Baillieu Mayer of Elgee Park in the Mornington Peninsula.

Although viognier is a white wine, it can be found blended with red shiraz. This practice originated in the Côte Rôtie region because it was co-planted. Used sparingly, it can add a certain floral elegance to shiraz and freshens up the palate. Tim Kirk at Clonakilla in the Canberra District of New South Wales has been instrumental in establishing the style in Australia as well as Yalumba in the Eden Valley and a number of Yarra Valley producers.

Pockets of Bendigo seem suited to growing viognier and a number of good wines have been made in recent years. Passing Cloud’s Bendigo Viognier 2023 is one good example. The fruit is grown in the Serpentine vineyard which is the site that also makes Turners Crossing wines.  It is the limestone pebbles found in the vineyard that is friendly to viognier according to Passing Cloud’s winemaker, Cameron Leith. Passing Cloud’s Viognier has lovely aromatics displaying peach stone fruit supported by perfect floral hints. There are pot pourri  flavours on the palate with fleshy hints, but some well-balanced acidity keeps it clean and dry on the finish and avoids any oiliness. Turners Crossing is currently selling their 2019 Viognier for $25 and has similar peachy flavours. The 2021 Waterwheel Viognier ($21) was more textured, benefiting from a year in oak.

With the 2024 Strategem Bendigo Winemakers Festival coming up on Saturday 13 April it would be a perfect opportunity to grab a glass of Viognier.

Clive Hartley

Clive Hartley is an award-winning wine writer, educator and consultant. Check out his fortnightly radio show on Hepburn Community Radio called “put a cork in it”.  Want to learn more about wine? Try his book the Australian Wine Guide (7th ed) – available for purchase from Paradise Books in Daylesford or through his website –