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Wine of the Week for week ending 5 December 2004
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Odyssey Reserve Iliad Viognier 2004
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

There's been quite a bit of good publicity about the wine grape Viognier and the wines it makes, lately, especially since the gorgeous Trinity Hill Viognier 2004 won the trophy for 'Champion Other White Varieties' at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in early November.

I first tasted this wine at the Wine New Zealand fair in August. That was before the wine was labelled. The guys were calling it Trinity Hill 'First Edition' Viognier 2004 then. It re-emerged as the Trinity Hill 'New Wave' Viognier 2004, which is how it was entered in the Air New Zealand competition. It is also identified as such by the Sydney International Top 100 Wine Competition where it has been awarded a blue-gold medal, which means it gained a gold medal in the initial judging then another gold medal when judged alongside food. However the wine that you will see on the shelf - if you can find it, because it appears that it is already almost sold out - is labelled as Trinity Hill 'Gimblett Gravels' Viognier 2004 and that is how it is also referred to on the Trinity Hill website where it is currently listed as available. But the fact here is that these three differently named wines are one and the same.

So after that introduction youd probably think Id be lauding the Trinity Hill V as my Wine of the Week. Well normally I would but I tasted this with alongside another Hawkes Bay V which also took my fancy, the Odyssey Reserve Iliad Viognier 2004 made by Rebecca Salmond.

Both are very classy wines but what tipped the scales in Odyssey's favour was not that it was made by a woman, but by its dreamy match to my food selection. Add the fact it has everything in it that I've learnt to appreciate as the character of the variety by those who have done well with it here, in the past. It has wonderfully fragrant aromatics leading into a full creamy Chardonnay-like body and a long drawn-out finish characterised by an almost salty, savoury character, and a lingering musk-like grapeyness to the aftertaste.

What to match to Viognier? Trinity Hill recommends that their Viognier accompany Asian food and if this had been my food of choice, then the result might have been different. But before I had read any of the individual wine's food recommendations I remembered what Louisa Rose, Australia's Viognier Queen, had said on a visit here one day last year. She recommended that Viognier accompany fish served with rich sauces and whetted my appetite when she talked about a sand whiting fillet wrapped around scallop mousse with a butter and cream-based sauce.

So I decided the wines would be matched to seafood and with scallops and whitebait in season (whitebait finishes 30th November), you have to make the most of these delicacies while they are available. Thanks must go to my sister-in-law Maxine for supplying the fresh bag of whitebait part of her catch from the Waikato River mouth a few hours earlier.

Whitebait fritters is a classic kiwi dish, so classic that a recipe is even listed in the Edmond's Cookbook which is now heralded as part of New Zealand's kiwiana. You simply make a batter with 125g flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, one beaten egg, salt and pepper to taste and about 1/2 cup of milk. Then you add a big dollop of whitebait at least 125gms. I added a little parsley and chives too. Then pan fry in spoonful lots, in butter. It's as easy as making pikelets.

Pan fry big, fat juicy scallops - with the gritty bit removed but the roe compulsorily still intact in sizzling butter for no more than a minute each side (30 seconds is good). Then make a quick butter/wine/cream sauce by adding a splash of the Viognier to sizzle with the juices in the hot pan, then a dash of cream (no more than a tablespoon) and again some fresh herbs like chives, from the garden. For a dozen scallops (six each) you dont need much sauce at all and it takes less than a minute to make if the pan is sizzling hot. These scallops were simply divine with the Odyssey's Viognier.

So to the long drawn out description ..

Odyssey Reserve Iliad Viognier 2004 is aromatically and spicy scented with lime blossom, lemon blossom and other white spring flowers like white wisteria (abundant in my garden right now) and a hint of vanilla cedar. Floral, spicy and lifted in palate with unobtrusive vanillin oak making it lusciously rich and creamy in its flow and a long full finish with just a hint of caramel/honeyed oak. Sweet stonefruit, apricot and musky flavours emerge on the finish together with a slightly spritzy salty/savoury character that I think is one of the intrinsic qualities of Viognier. Lovely on its own, it is also a glorious food wine. Carrying 13.5% alcohol by volume, 2 grams of residual sugar , total acidity of 6 grams per litre and a pH of 3.5, it is sealed with a cork and has a recommended retail price of $26.95 and should be available. Find out more from the Odyssey Wines website.

In comparison the Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Viognier 2004 is one of the wines that you can thoroughly enjoy without food. It took a while to hit its straps, being enclosed by oak and an upfront yeastiness when the wine was first poured. But it evolved so incredibly in the glass to reveal its beautiful perfume, the same time building and building on the palate into a bright fruity wine with lots of delicious stonefruit, apricot and tangelo flavours and a rich full-bodied finish. It carries 14.7% alcohol by volume, 4 grams of residual sugar , total acidity of 7.8 grams per litre and a pH of 3.7. It is sealed with a screwcap and price varies from $26.95 on the Trinity Hill website up to $35 in retail.

Whatever, they are both gorgeous V's, each in their own way.

© Sue Courtney
28 November 2004

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