Viognier was virtually extinct in the 1960s. Given how much trouble people have pronouncing this variety, that's not surprising. Texturally rich, powerfully scented and as buxom as a chardonnay, viognier is one of France's finest, but scarcest, white grapes. It may be tough to pronounce, but viognier is not tough to drink. Having doggedly clung to the steep hills of France's northern Rhone Valley through two millennia of barbarian invasions, debilitating wars and capricious wine trends, a mere 12 hectares remained in the 60s. No one knows for sure where this sultry, highly perfumed variety originated, though most experts attribute it to the Dalmatian Coast, in present-day Croatia. Roman emperor Probus purportedly packed his suitcase with viognier cuttings after a Dalmatian holiday and smuggled them into the Rhone Valley in AD281. Evidently he evaded border patrols - they probably didn't know how to pronounce viognier either. Probus was not the only man to bootleg viognier. Centuries later, Bonny Doon's colourful winemaker Randall Grahm was hauled into court for running the vines in his suitcase from the Rhone to his Californian vineyards. Two Rhone districts produce what is considered the world's finest expression of viognier: Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet. With Condrieu (produced by Guigal, available at Watson's Wine Cellars; HK$698), you can expect elegant white peach, pear and floral aromatics, like an amplified riesling. Wine from Chateau-Grillet is rare because only that winery can put this district name on its label. Due to its scarcity and exclusive naming rights, Chateau-Grillet has been mistakenly regarded as the finest of all viogniers. It is a quality wine, but has not been living up to its reputation - or prices. Viognier vines are also grown in the neighbouring Cote Rotie appellation, which is famed for its syrah-based wines. Handfuls of viognier are chucked into the fermentation tanks with the inky, dark-purple syrah, because Cote Rotie winemakers are convinced viognier softens their syrah-based wines and increases their complexity. Top Australian producers of syrah - also known as shiraz - agree, and wines such as D'Arenberg's Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier (Watson's; HK$528) consistently earn the highest scores from reviewers. Viognier burst onto the international scene in the 90s. Weary of the endless river of chardonnay, connoisseurs greeted it with enthusiasm, especially in California, where viognier plantings have increased from 20 hectares in 1990 to more than 800 hectares today. Californians were not alone; viognier is now grown in 15 other states, as well as in Australia, Italy, New Zealand (Te Mata Woodthorpe, Watson's; HK$249), South Africa (Fairview, Kedington Wines; HK$180), France (Domaine du Chateau d'Eau, Kedington; HK$99) and South America. New world producers, such as California's Eberle Winery (Golden Gate Wine; HK$293), and Cline Cellars (Golden Gate; HK$154) and Australia's Yalumba Y Series (Watson's; HK$148) loosened the corset on this voluptuous grape, so expect musky fruit, jasmine blossoms and fat, ripe summer peach flavours. Like most of us, viognier loses its good looks with time, so it is best to drink while youthful and fresh. Oh, and how to pronounce it? Try 'vee-ohn-yay' or 'vee-oh-nyay.' No one has quite worked it out.