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V is for Vexing
It seems obvious now that rare, elegant viognier would never be the next chardonnay. But at its best, it can be a breathtaking, deeply intellectual experience.

By Jason Wilson

Whatever happened to viognier becoming “the next chardonnay”?

That’s what they told us back in the 1990s, when I was a young man first stumbling into wine. I drank a lot of viognier back then. You couldn’t avoid it. Viognier was found on nearly every wine list you’d encounter. Now? I almost never see it, and I don’t know a single person that says, “Boy, I’d really love me some viognier tonight.” Viognier feels like a vestige of an era when Microsoft might hire Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston to show people how to use Windows 95.

Sometimes, no matter how hard the marketing people and the sommeliers and the wine writers push, a grape just never catches fire. Remember in the not-so-distant past, when torrontés was going to be “the next pinot grigio”? Last year, I heard a lot of chatter about chenin blanc being “the next riesling.” I guess we’ll see about that one.

By the way, how’s that whole sherry renaissance thing working out?

In the late 1980s, only about 80 acres of viognier were grown in the entire world. By 2005, this had exploded to 14,000 acres, grown in places as far-flung as Australia, California, and even Virginia. “Viognier truly is the flavor, and I use the word advisedly, of the year,” said Jancis Robinson in 2005. A decade later, it seems preposterous that anyone believed viognier would become so popular. “Did we really believe it would be the next chardonnay?” asked Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor, in 2010. “Of all the white Rhône-native grapes, it has the greatest tendency to go off the rails.”



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