Viognier Showdown

October 27, 2006

One of my favourite grapes is Viognier, the banner white grape of the Northern Rhone Valley. It is blessed with the richness of Chardonnay (minus all of the butterscotch and caramel that comes with oak-ageing), but it has a unique set of flavours all to itself.  It is apparently a difficult grape to grow (although being an urban-dwelling Canadian, I really wouldn’t know).

For years, it was only found in the tiny region of Condrieu in the northern Rhone Valley. Now, you can find Viognier all over the world. Even Canada has gotten into the game, with fine examples from both B.C and Ontario (the linked list doesn’t include the Kettle Valley Viognier from Naramata).

 In the Winnipeg market, there are two good examples gracing local shelves these days. Both are from Chile. Both are under $15, and both are very good.  Read on for the winner in today’s showdown… 

Cono Sur Viognier ($12.89 @ the MLCC) 

This was my introduction to Viognier. A number of years ago, I was given a glass of this at the end of a long holiday season shift in the wine store. I didn’t know what it was, and after the day I had – I didn’t really care. And I was blown away. 

The Cono Sur Viognier serves up a rich, delicious glass of wine, sourced from two vineyards in Chile’s Rapael Valley. Apricots and honey are the predominant flavours, both on the nose and in the mouth. It’s a little thinner than other Viogniers I’ve had, but still has enough richness and ripe flavours to make it stand out. Very tasty and a steal at the price.  

Casillero del Diablo Viognier ($12.99 @ the Kenaston Wine Market)

I’ve long been a fan of the Casillero del Diablo (literally “cave of the Devil”) line. The wines are true to their varietal characteristics and are always very tasty (if sometimes a little over-ripe). So when the Kenaston Wine Market brought this one in, I was very curious.

This is a rich, delicious example of how just how good Viognier can be. From the first sniff to the last drop, it is a great wine. It’s richer than the Cono Sur, but holds the same beautiful fresh apricot and floral nose. In the glass, you’ve got tree-ripened peaches balanced out by an almost oily richness and a touch of vanilla. It’s dry, but not overwhelmingly so. Over half of the wine is oak-aged, lending it that extra touch of class. And it goes oh so well with just about everything. 

The verdict? Both are owned by Chilean wine goliath Concha Y Toro. Both are extremely well-made and attractively-priced. Both are true to their varietal origins. One has a plastic cork and one uses a screw cap. Both have really annoying websites designed by someone who loves Flash more than they love functionality. How do you decide? 

In the end, while the Cono Sur beats out the Diablo by a whopping ten cents, the Diablo has a lush ripe flavour that the Cono Sur simply can’t match. So do yourself a favour and trek down to the Diablo’s lair. Bring the extra dime and you won’t be disappointed.


  1. I have always loved the Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier, but I have not yet compared it to those above. If you ever compare head to head, I’d love to know (i.e. the Yalumba is a bit pricier, so I’d like to know if it is worth it).

  2. Last time I was in Wpg (end of November) I found a couple of D’Arenberg Hermit Crabs for about 20 bucks at the Henderson/Leighton area LC. An Aussie Viognier-Marsanne blend that I first tried in Brisbane 3 years ago. Always buy out whatever is on the shelf when I manage to spot it. Very pretty, a bit floral. In my top 5 fave whites of all time.

  3. I had a viognier from uruguay of all places last night. Pleasant enough, but wouldn’t go out of my way to find it again.

  4. I’ll pass on Uruguay, although there is a decent Viognier from Argentina at the MLCC for under $9.

    And thanks for the tip on the Hermit Crab. I love D’Arenberg wines. I did find some at the Madison Square MLCC, but they also had the See Ya Later VQA Brut. It was a tough choice, but the bubbly won.

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