Having been e-mailed by some of you regarding my views on the fate of Chardonnay, I was prompted to look again at grape varieties that I have come to like, in tandem with their general availability. Although some occasionally slip under the supermarket radar, many figure prominently in the high street multiples, even more appear within the increasing online wine facilities. The concept of variety could be seen as the right of a customer, yet in the eyes of the multiple retailers, it is often a costly inconvenience. Many wine producers tend to follow suit as a result.

Grape varieties are myriad – between the thirtieth and fiftieth parallels, both above and below the equator – many thousands of them are still cultivated. Above the fiftieth it gets too chilly, below the thirtieth you are heading for scorched, arid conditions where precious little flourishes. White grapes tend to drift towards the cooler limits above and below the equator, whereas reds tend to favour the warmer micro-climates closer to the centre. Traditionally, world markets have chosen to limit much of their focus to three whites and four reds. There are historically many reasons for this concentration: availability, yields, disease resistance, the cost of suitable arable land, accessible labour markets and the fickle run of fashion. Many of these issues remain common to agricultural survival and recognisable by most farmers the world over.

Nothing at all wrong with the seven ‘noble’ grapes; Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir in the red corner and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling in the white. They provide a more than adequate flavour spectrum for almost all needs; add the great Nebbiolo from Italy and Tempranillo from Spain and it would take a while to work through a moderately well stocked cellar.

But the British customer is notoriously good at going off message. None of the traditional grape varieties or their resultant wine styles figure at the top of any growth patterns available for the last three years. Here, the resounding winners are Pinot Grigio coupled with the Rosé phenomenon. True, many rosés will be made from one of the red varieties above but the choice of imported rosé as opposed to pure reds continues to surprise suppliers.

So we can and do step beyond the retaining walls when we are so minded and correspondence suggests that your wine horizons are willing and poised to expand: but where to exactly, and for what reason? The ‘salad’ community remain happy with Pinot Grigio, although it is difficult to vouch for the grape’s authenticity in the wake of demand evidently exceeding present supply. Why some of the most vapid and characterless Pinots stole a lead on some of the best French Muscadets remains a mystery, as does our reluctance to sample another of the Loire valley’s treasures; the vivacious Chenin grape. Both deserve greater popularity and when a light lunch is on the horizon, give me a Muscadet, Sevre et Maine or a Savennieres Chenin as a preference any day. Alternatively, some of you were clearly looking for a similarly weightier style to that of Chardonnay whilst at the same time avoiding the racier greener style of whites such as Sauvignon Blanc. Here, another of France’s lengthy river valleys may well assist. Running from Lake Geneva down to the port of Marseilles, is the mighty Rhône. Famed for its reds with a stable of world beating wines from Hermitage in the north to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south, the Rhône forms the heartland of the Syrah grape along with the increasingly respected Grenache Rouge. These wonderful, turbo-charged reds have been the darlings of the British pallet for some time and are usually recognised alongside the generic tide of Côtes du Rhône, which increasingly offer better crafted and good valued surprises. But when it comes to whites, a second mortgage has traditionally been the order of the day. In the north of the Rhône’s wine producing regions, nestle two white wines generally worthy of pilgrimage. The first being the exclusive Château Grillet, and the other, and probably better known; is the elusive Condrieu. Both are normally beyond sensible budgets over here, but should you happen to find yourself in the vicinity of St Etienne, then a bottle accompanying a supper of local guinea fowl is obligatory.

What both these wines have in common is Viognier, (pronounced Vee on yay) their sole grape variety.

Recently, I was fortunate to taste a flight of Viogniers in London. Although the expensively delicious Condrieu and Grillet were on show with an accompanying queue of wine merchants alongside, there were many other examples of this increasingly fashionable grape variety that are being made outside the Rhône valley. Areas of Southern France, especially the Languedoc, were clearly demonstrating increased passion and commitment to its planting and cultivation, alongside Australia and California. Almost all the wines shared a telltale yet attractive muskiness, overlaid with a heady bouquet of dried apricots. All were opulent in their youth – the grape rarely ages well – and the finish was universally robust with hints of honeyed flavours on many of the wines on display. A distinct contender when salad leaves are replaced by pan-fried chicken or roast shellfish and well worth a try for those whose desire for richer whites occasionally need an exciting alternative.