04/30/08 – Celebrating Sémillon

By Jesse on April 28, 2008


In our ongoing quest for deliciousness, it’s important to not lose sight of issues of social importance. Are we fairly representing all of the world’s important grape varieties in the course of our tastings, for example? Glancing back at old topics, there’s one glaring omission that clearly needs to be dealt with posthaste. Not only has this varietal been largely neglected by the Young Winos, but it apparently has the dubious distinction of being one of the more overlooked and misunderstood grapes in the wine world today.

I speak, of course, of Sémillon (allegedly also known as Wyndruif, which is awesome, and which will definitely be what I call it from now on). In the grand scale of wine, Wyndruif is crucially important, but often ignored, especially by young drinkers who might not be familiar with it. Wyndruif — ok ok, Sémillon — forms the base of the legendary dessert wines from Bordeaux, Sauternes and Barsac. These wines, produced from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that have undergone noble rot, feature classic honey, peach and apricot notes, full-bodied sweetness, and light acidity. They can be expensive, but we’ll endeavor to find a good bottle for the tasting.

Sémillon makes excellent single-varietal still wines as well, especially in Australia. In the June 2007 issue of Wine Spectator, critic Matt Kramer calls Hunter Valley Sémillon “Australia’s dry greatest white wine,” but claims that it has been neglected and overlooked for years — especially by young drinkers, “for whom Hunter Valey Sémillon is the equivalent of ‘your father’s Oldsmobile.'” Lets begin reversing that trend with this meeting. On her “Good Wines Under $20” blog, Dr. Debs recently enjoyed a Sémillon from Washington State, and other examples hail from Oregon, California, and Australia — all of which places will likely feature both straight Sémillon and Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends. Feel free to bring either, so long as Semillon is the dominant grape.

One important issue to consider when seeking out your wine is the issue of aging. In this article and others, Sémillon is lamented as a wine that’s not spectacular when it’s young, but takes on all kinds of characteristics when it ages, which it does remarkably well. I’ve experienced this firsthand — while on vacation with my family a few years ago, I inquired of the sommelier at a seafood restaurant what might be a good pair with our orders. He directed me away from the wine list and towards his secret stash, from which he retrieved a 1995 Kalin Cellars Sémillon from Livermore Valley. I was skeptical, of course — an eleven-year-old California white that he was going to sell us for under $30? Was it ruined? It was not… it was delicious, and it was complex. Beau Jarvis at Basic Juice tasted the ’95 a couple of years ago and had a similar reaction.

The point here is that Sémillon has a reputation for being best when it’s got a few years on it. We’ll taste a few young ones, to be sure, but Jason and I are going to make an effort to also find a couple of bottles with some age on them to bring to the meeting. Therefore, do not feel like you absolutely have to bring a bottle this week, especially if you can’t find one that looks interesting. Since we’re buying the Sauternes and a couple of other bottles, $10 bills will be much appreciated. (Of course, if a Sémillon is highly recommended to you by your favorite wine merchant — or if you find a delicious-looking bottle with some age, say 2003 or older — by all means, bring it along.)

We’ll be meeting at Emily’s place in Hollywood, the first time we’ve been there since before we were famous. Yay! The RSVP situation has been slightly updated but remains largely the same: new members have eight spots reserved for them at each and every meeting, so if you RSVP promptly you’ll definitely be able to get in there… the first eight “newbies” to RSVP get the eight spots. Please do not RSVP in the positive if you’re not sure you can make it. This will deny someone else the opportunity of attending the meeting.

Once you’ve received your confirmation, make the crucial decision: are you sitting pretty with a $10 bill (which we love), or are you going on a legendary quest to seek out a crazy and dynamic bottle of Sémillon? Either way, godspeed — we’ll see you on Wednesday at 9pm.