Sweet find: Diehard chardonnay drinkers tend to have a hard time giving up their preferred nectar. But as spring surrounds us and our palates start to crave something a little lighter and more crisp, viognier is a wonderful substitute. First grown in Condrieu in France’s northern Rhône region, viognier has a 2,000-year history as a low-yielding grape that packs a luscious punch with its honeyed, floral, peachy flavors, plus jasmine and orange-blossom nose. It typically produces medium-bodied wines with relatively high acids and fruit.
Its temperamental nature, however, has made it a challenge for American vintners to grow and produce, even as there’s been a noticeable decline in the quality of French viogniers in recent years. But those domestics venturing into this elite white are beginning to reap the fruits of their labor, with labels like Clendenen, Cline, Renwood and Toasted Head gaining converts for their complex taste and manageable price tags.
Viogniers pair wonderfully with the lighter foods of spring, such as grilled fish and salads embellished with cheese and nuts. Newbies should sample this refreshing wine at around 52 degrees—and the younger the better. You can buy the Renwood and Toasted Head locally for under $15, or step it up a little with a bottle of Kunde or Fess Parker (still under $25).