Semillon, as I’ve often stated, is one of my favourite wines. But only, and it’s a significant but, if it’s upward of seven years old. When young, it’s dominated by pronounced acidity, rather short and uninteresting. Ageing brings wonderful musky notes and a very subtle richness whilst still maintaining the lime acidity which becomes more balanced with age. Semillon’s ability to mature has me searching good wine merchants’ shelves for older vintages – and there usually are some as it is not a popular grape variety.
Mitchell’s 2007 Watervale Clare Valley Semillon was purchased from Weavers in Nottingham who are now selling the 2009 vintage for £12. According to Mitchell’s web-site, the wines are barrel fermented (the label says from wild yeasts – but not exclusively?) and then left on their lees for 12 months to add creaminess and complexity to the wine.
This wine was a shade shy of gold with still a hint of green (denoting acidity) with the expected medium/low viscosity (13.5%). The nose was aromatic, with key-lime and pie crust – the typical muskiness – smells. The medium-length palate was dry with the lime flavours still present in the balanced acidity. The second day saw a developing richness but, to be critical, I found it a little shorter and not as complex as expected. Still pretty young but I don’t think it’s going to change much more. It was a lovely glass, nevertheless.
(The other half of this tasting duo is on holiday in Crete; Richard will have lots of interesting grapes to write about on his return)
Cote de Bourg, situated on the Gironde’s right bank, is well known for its red wines which dominate the AC’s production. There are, however, 25 hectares (out of 4000 +) devoted to white wine production and this wine is one of the results. It is a blend of Semillon (70%) and Colombard and has an ABV of 13.5%. It’s available from the Wine Society at a bargain £9.75.
The Semillon grape, widely grown all over the world, then just as widely uprooted, earned a reputation for basic, characterless white wines of high acidity and minimal flavour. It is notable in two areas – Bordeaux (particularly for sweet whites) and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Colombard is a grape favoured by brandy producers but now finding devotee growers and makers of still wines where it raises acidity levels and adds peach flavours.
The colours were a medium intense lemon yellow with a very slight green tint. It was particularly clear and bright. The nose was a blend of citrus and yellow peach but with a fascinating, and unusual, smell of ginger spices.
This was not a wine shy of flavour. Peach dominated, broad, dry and long, it is a wine with bags of character. To be critical, it could be said to be lacking in refinement but – and this is only a theory (don’t groan, Richard) – I think it needs to be given time. The Semillon famously develops after 8 -10 years therefore the dominant flavour at present is from the Colombard. It’s good now but it’s also one to put down, I think.
I’ve never liked pinotage and it’s rare I find a bottle of gewurtztraminer enjoyable – some tasted in Alsace were exceptions. But there is another – a grape I actually like but rarely think of when blind tasting. That is semillon, a grape often used in blends, less often seen on its own. I can only think of one bottle I’ve ever bought.
Thus I had a job identifying last night’s wine, even though Geoff spoke highly of it and I know he likes the style. A bright Rose’s lime cordial colour with lime on the nose, viscous/oily in the glass, high acidity, rich but rather short – although it had been open 24 hours. I got as far as New World but no further.
In fact we’ve tasted this wine before when we weren’t greatly impressed. I had no idea then, either. This was better no doubt due to the extra 2.5 years in bottle.
[Geoff: This was unrecognisable from the previous tasting, the downsides of drinking too early. I’m really impressed with this grape’s style but it does need bottle age to develop. Have ordered a few recently, so will no doubt blog more. Rather pleased that R. enjoyed its full but not quite bone-dry style. Flavours I picked up were ginger, lime, peach and beeswax. Tesco’s supply but no more around, alas, but WS have just advertised the 09 vintage.]
The McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth 2005 Semillon from the Lower Hunter Valley in New South Wales is a noted wine; mentioned in many books as being a fine example of a Semillon. At only 12% ABV it is not a wine of great power but we were both surprised by how little it had. The colour was a fluorescent green and it appeared to have little weight. Its nose was strongly lime with a touch of smokiness and white stone fruits in the background. This suggested a big, flavourful wine and we looked forward to the taste. And yet … it seemed lacking. There was minerality and quite a pronounced acidity, almost mouth-puckering but the mid-palate was short on flavour. Wanting to understand this wine, I then started researching the vintage – 05, excellent to superb – and its drinking windows. It appears that it needs 10 – 20 years before the ‘battery acid’ flavours (Michael Hill Smith) develop a toastiness and depth, rather like a Riesling’s drinking cycle. We seem to have taken this too early but, fortunately, I still have two more which will now be consigned to some corner for another five years. Watch this space!
[Richard: I tasted this blind and had no idea – my feeble excuse is that it is a grape I rarely taste on it’s own. Nice wine but, as Geoff says, lacking some power. but not expensive (£9 Tesco, more in MWW) so decent value for money.]