Why is Viognier added to some Syrah?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why is Viognier added to some Syrah?

—Jon

Dear Jon,

This practice has its roots in the Côte-Rôtie, a wine-growing region in France's Northern Rhône Valley. Here Viognier grows alongside Syrah, and red wines are made with mostly Syrah grapes and up to 20 percent Viognier—most vintners just use what's been planted in their vineyards, which is usually from 1 percent to 5 percent. According to Côte-Rôtie law, the Syrah and Viognier grapes must be fermented at the same time, a process called co-fermentation.

Viognier, when bottled alone, is an aromatic white wine with intoxicating (heh) floral, spice and peach notes. When Viognier mingles with Syrah, it adds these same elements, including a rounder mouthfeel. These Viognier influences can be a great contrast to some of the meaty and minerally notes of Syrahs, making them intriguing wines that you can't stop sniffing. Bacon and peaches? In the same wine? Don't knock it until you smell it.

Adding a dab of Viognier to Syrah is also practiced in other parts of the world, and is increasingly popular in Australia (where Syrah is called Shiraz). If a winemaker adds only a small amount of Viognier to a Shiraz, it can still legally be called just "Shiraz." But wine lovers are embracing the Viognier influence so much that there are more and more bottlings that say "Shiraz-Viognier."

—Dr. Vinny

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