Friday, July 16, 2010

Impressions of Washington: Semillon

Ah semillon, the white grape of Bordeaux and once a very prolific grape in South Africa and Australia. It is not a grape that many Americans drink, partly because it is not very widely grown domestically and also because it has never gained the widespread awareness of chardonnay or riesling. Many have criticized the grape for producing wines that are too simple, or lacking in acidity. For this reason semillon is often blended with sauvignon blanc allowing its unique profile and texture to be countered by the acid and offer the best of both worlds.

While tasting throughout Washington I encountered two semillon/sauvignon blanc blends that I thought were excellent. They both stood out in a crowded field of chardonnay, riesling, and viognier and made me wonder why more Washington producers are not featuring this interesting grape. The wines that intrigued and delighted were:

DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc 2008 - At 62% sauvignon blanc and 38% semillon this wine gives a big wollop of grapefruit. However, it is clearly not a simple straightforward sauvignon blanc as the semillon adds a bit of viscocity and almost creamy honey-like flavor. The entire wine is made slightly richer by its oak treatment with whisps of vanilla and toast, making it a complex and delicious wine. It is a bit expensive at $34 but will make guests and your wine enthusiast friends really take notice. This wine is truly unique.

L'Ecole No41 2008 Semillon Columbia Valley - This wine is 89% semillon and 11% sauvignon blanc, and offered a completely different profile of honeydew melon, pear, and an interesting minerality. All of this combined with a slightly oily viscocity and crisp acidity that made the wine stand out from many of the other whites being poured. This wine is an absolute outright bargain at $13, and was one of the wines that I have subsequently purchased for friends and family.

The quality of these two wines make me want to seek out semillon from other regions (France and Australia perhaps?) and also continue to perpetuate my strong appreciation for what Washington wineries are doing. The diversity of grapes that they can successfully grow and use to produce amazing wines is truly astounding. Still to come in this series - merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and other whites of note.


  1. What no love for South African Semillon (actually drank quite a lot of it while I was there and was not a huge fan)?

  2. I might would love on it if I ever had it. But Lesotho semillon, that's another story. Of course after publishing something like this I go out and see how many other producers are doing semillon in Washington. I got some recommendations for Buty, so check it out if you have a chance.

  3. Glad to hear you got to check out a couple Washington semillon during WBC. L'Ecole makes a few different bottling of Semillon/SB that are definitely worth checking out as well if you get a chance. Also, don't know if you had a chance to try the Buty Semillon/SB/Muscadelle blend but it is terrific.

  4. Thanks Sean. I've gotten lots of feedback about checking out Buty. I'm gonna send them an e-mail right now to see if I can find some in L.A.