For every fan of perfumed, heady, full-bodied white, wines made from the Viognier wine grape are a must.

And for every fashion-conscious wine-lover, Viognier wine is currently top of the list.

FRANCE All grapes from France's Rhone Valley seem to be enjoying a vogue, and that's where this exotic white vine comes from. Viognier (it's pronounced Vee- on-yeh) is seriously cool in wine-drinking circles right now. Which is a good thing when you get your hands on an impressive bottle of the stuff, and a big disappointment when you come across a dud.

The problem with Viognier, you see, is that if it's made properly, with low-yielding vines, and thus concentrated grapes, and careful work in the winery, it is sublime: a lingering mouthful of squashy ripe peaches, dried apricots, with a gorgeous fragrance of honeysuckle and white blossom.

Nothing else quite conjures up heady late summer so well.
But, sadly, there are lots of dilute versions around which don't have much perfume, and which are insipid or taste of artificial pear-drops. These have simply been made from vines with high yields of grapes, which may be fine for the grower who wants to sell a lot of fruit, but means that the resulting wine lacks that all-important perfumed peachiness. Sometimes a flabby and disappointing Viognier means it has become too ripe, losing its crispness and concentration. You get the picture - Viognier needs attention in the vineyard and it is not always great, although when you catch the scent of a good one, you'll see what all the fuss is about.

To make sure you get all that natural peachy fruit and lovely aroma, pick one from the Condrieu area of the Rhone. These wines are opulent, intense and heady... and extremely expensive. The south of France, especially the Languedoc, makes cheaper, less concentrated versions.

These offer a reasonable introduction to Viognier, but do avoid the bargain- basement ones which can be flabby (lacking acidity) and disappointingly dull.

REST OF THE WORLD Since Viognier wine became so sought-after, it hasn't been a surprise to see the newer wine-producing countries start to have a go at it.

Most successful is the US, where decent rich wines with firm, crisp acidity are being produced in California. You might come across one or two fairly well-made Viogniers from Argentina, Australia and South Africa, too.

Seek them out. They will be fruit- driven, packed with peaches and held together with a creamy seam of oak. Expect more Viogniers to appear on the scene since this grape is so much in vogue. And of course, because winemakers love a challenge!

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