Great Grape Day — “Semi-Yawn?”


When the message came across from Andrew, informing us that this month’s “Great Grape” was going to be Semillon, my first thought was “Wha’?” Semi-yawn? What? I asked someone at my wine store, and they said, “Yes, it’s the main grape in Sauternes“. Sow turns? I admit — I still have a lot to learn.

Honestly, I knew it was a blending grape, and I’ve seen it on the labels of some Australian Chardonnay blends, but I had, basically, no clue about it as a single varietal.

A little research followed: As mentioned, yes — this is the backbone of those incredibly expensive Sauternes — and, at one time, Semillon was the most cultivated grape in the world. It’s a very high-yielding grape that can be grown almost everywhere with sunny days and cool nights. In Australia and South Africa, the grape once took up as much as 90% of the vineyards (and was initially misidentified as Riesling).

That is obviously no longer the case, but it’s still a popular blending grape.

Most white Bordeaux and Graves, as well as those famous Sauternes, contain a fair amount of Semillon in the blend with the Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle. It’s harvested a fair amount as a blender with Sauvignon Blanc in California. Until recently, however, it wasn’t used a great deal as a lead varietal in “common” wines. Like Viognier, it’s finding a niche of fans that want something somewhat tart and crisp but want more body than a Sauvignon Blanc provides.

I was pleased to see that my local store had a couple of bottles in stock. Since I’ve been on a Pacific coast wine kick lately, I went Washington:

Chateau St. Michelle 2003 Semillon — A curious wine, this one. The nose is melons and something that the bottle calls “sweet red peppers,” but I would never have come up with that particular descriptor. It’s a little lemony, in my estimation — and the feel of it is quite thick. Almost like a tarter halbtrocken Riesling. The finish is lemony and pretty juicy. Chateau St. Michelle uses a fair amount of Semillon in their Sauvignon Blanc, and they return the favor — the blend is 3:1 Semillon/Sauvignon.

Honestly, I thought it was a decent wine, but it probably wouldn’t be my first choice at this price point — it’s around $8-9 most places, but I’ll probably keep a bottle on hand in case folks want to try something a little different.

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