Wine World: Something beginning with “V”

Chapoutier winery in Tain l’Hermitage.

Have you ever wondered how many grape varieties there are in the world? Strangely enough, this is a more difficult question than it sounds, even if we limited ourselves to grapes used for wine production. You see, it depends how we count them. Some varieties have many different names depending on which country they are grown in and older varieties tend to have the largest number of names. There are for example, three hundred synonyms for Pinot Noir. In contrast, some varieties are rarely seen outside their country of origin and remain virtually unknown. For example, Ruzica Crvena, Crljenak Kastelanski and Svrdlovina Crna have remained firmly in Croatia, probably because nobody else can pronounce the names.

Most wine books state that there are between 5,000 and 15,000 varieties, which is pretty vague to say the least. Some authorities have suggested that the number is around 10,000 but no one really knows for sure. Only about 150 different grape varieties are produced in commercial quantities and we can boil this number down even further to the dozen so-called “classic” grapes, also known as “international grapes”. When I was writing this article, I began to wonder (for reasons which will become obvious) how many grape varieties begin with the letter “V”.

Surprisingly, few grape names begin with a “V” and those that do are mostly Italian. I could only come up with Verdicchio and Vermentino and the lesser-known Valentino. Only one “V” grape has received international recognition but at the moment, it’s familiar only to wine enthusiasts. Although Viognier (vee-ohn-yay) is associated with France, it’s thought to have originated in Dalmatia and brought to France by the Romans sometime during the second or third century. Its traditional home is the Rhône Valley in Southern France, one of the oldest wine growing regions of the world.

It’s the only grape allowed for the Rhône wine Condrieu but it’s also cultivated in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Viognier makes an aromatic full-bodied white wine, often carrying a characteristic perfume of jasmine, tangerine and honey. It’s nearly always dry, though the wine has a touch of natural sweetness. The texture is often slightly oily or creamy, especially when aged in oak though the Viognier from the Rhône tends to be lighter in style than that from warmer regions.

Chapoutier Viognier 2019, Pays d’Oc (white) Bt 689 (+ tax) @ Vines to Vino, Pattaya

Chapoutier (Sha-poo-tee-ay) is an old-established, award-winning winery in the Northern Rhône Valley. The dominant name on the label is “Marius” the great-grandfather of the company’s president, Michel Chapoutier. The back label quotes the illustrious Marius as stating “A good wine is a wine you want to taste again.” I would have thought that ever so slightly obvious but perhaps something is lost in translation. The history of the family goes back to the early nineteenth century when Marius bought an estate and some vineyards in Tain l’Hermitage, a small village on the left bank of the Rhône. The village has since become closely associated with wine and remained the home of the Chapoutier company – and several others – ever since. In 2009 Chapoutier opened its own École des Vins (wine school) which runs wine courses and tasting workshops for the general public.

This wine has an attractive slightly oily appearance, light gold with hints of green. As expected, there’s a lovely floral aroma of honeyed pineapple and peach. It might remind you of Chardonnay. In fact, the two are often confused because the aroma profile is so similar. But Viognier goes a bit further: it’s richer and more unctuous. If you enjoy the smell of flowers, you’ll probably enjoy this.

The wine has a rich taste with generous fruit on the palate. Pineapple, lychee and pear spring to mind and there’s a satisfying silky-smooth mouth-feel. The fruit brings the tiniest hint of sweetness but there’s also a pleasing dash of herby acidity to give it a lift. The wine has a bright and persistent finish too and although at this price it has to be considered an entry-level example, the wine makers clearly know what they are doing and have even managed to imbue it with a bit of class. To my mind this is a jolly good example of a basic Viognier and at 14% ABV it’s pretty well at the top of the tree in the alcohol department. It would be an attractive and interesting aperitif but I think I’d prefer this with food. Viognier is surprisingly versatile and will go with a wide variety of foods. The classic combination is Viognier with prawn dishes but it works well with scampi as well as chicken and turkey dishes. Because of its aromatic quality and slight hint of sweetness, it’s one of the few wines that work well with mild creamy curries and Thai food. I tried it with a baked chicken dish and the combination worked splendidly. It goes a treat with fresh Camembert and Brie cheeses and at this price the Chapoutier Viognier is excellent value.