Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! With spring finally arriving in Prince Albert (ignore the recent white stuff), many people are already taking to their decks and balconies, ready to absorb a bit of sun and heat after making it through the winter months. With outside visiting comes firepits, barbeques, good food and of course, wine! I tasted two excellent wines this week and both are highly suited for visiting and food pairing but we’re going to focus on a less-common white grape: Semillon!

The birthplace of Semillon is considered to be Bordeaux, France, where it was originally documented around 1736, specifically in Saint-Emilion and Sauternes. This white grape has traditionally been used for high-quality blends using Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscadelle but single-varietal options have become a trend as well and many wine producers are making exciting versions of this wine in a variety of countries. The key or primary locations for Semillon around the world are France, with over 11,000 hectares, Australia, with over 6,500 hectares and South Africa with over 1,000 hectares which also produces red-Semillon (a genetic mutation).

Speaking of Sauvignon Blanc, these two grapes share a genetic link and Semillon can taste quite similar to Sauv Blanc when picked young. When picked at a riper stage and given some age, Semillon really transforms and the flavors become honeyed and nutty. You can find Semillon in all sweetness levels, from bone-dry to lusciously sweet, it all depends on the growing conditions and the work done in the winery.

The story of Semillon cannot be told without mentioning Botrytis, a fungus/mold which rots the fruit of the grape. Usually, Botrytis is kept out of the vineyard due to its damaging effects on the grapes but in certain circumstances it can develop into Botrytis Cinerea aka “noble rot”. In order for noble to rot to develop, the vineyard must have a fairly consistent temperature of at least 20-25 degrees Celsius and a humidity level of 80-95%. Once infection of the grape occurs through the skin, tiny tendrils reach into the grape and remove the water which concentrates the sugars and acids in the grape. An incredibly intense and flavorful juice is extracted and turned into wine once the grapes are carefully pressed.

As stated earlier, Semillon can be tart and intense when picked young but many styles of the wine exist from dry to sweet. Flavors included in this range are lemon/citrus, cashews/almonds, lanolin/wool, honey, caramel, toffee, petrol, apricots and pineapples among others. The wine can develop tertiary notes from bottle aging like mushroom, toffee and honey which is why aged bottles of Sauternes (a Botrytis-affected wine from Bordeaux) are so sought after and unfortunately, expensive.

You will find that most of the inexpensive, entry-level Semillon is unoaked and contains pyrazines which are flavor compounds containing notes like metal, green pepper or grass. These notes are also likely to show up in Sauv Blanc as well. Oaked versions are often more expensive but deliver extra weight/body and an oily texture with oxidative flavors (caramel, toffee) and spice. In Europe, the oaked versions are more common than unoaked while in new-world countries like Australia and Canada, unoaked seems to dominate the shelves.

While the Semillon varietal is difficult to find right now in Prince Albert, the easiest way to taste this fantastic grape is by purchasing a bottle of white Bordeaux (France) which usually blends Semillon with Sauv Blanc. 

Even though I could go on and on about the Semillon grape and the Black Market Semillon I had this week, I also wanted to briefly mention the quality level of the Italian wine I tasted, Nipozzano. I hadn’t tasted this Italian red in many years and I was blown away by the quality of the wine. Rich, intense and full of concentrated fruit with a whisp of smoke, all I could think of while sipping it was how good it would be with a grilled steak topped with butter and garlic-cooked mushrooms. If you love the taste of blackberry, leather and a bit of smoke then you should definitely give it a try! For around $25, it’s a fantastic value! Here are my wine picks of the week!      

Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2018: (DOCG Chianti Rufina, Italy). Dry red, deep, silky ruby color with violet tones. Given a few minutes to breathe, the wine displays an intense bouquet of forest fruits, blackberries, red/dark cherries, pomegranate, vanilla, dark berry compote, hard raspberry candies and a background of mossy earth or forest floor. The first sip delivers vibrant cooked fruit notes (red cherry, raspberry drops, dark berries) followed by smooth flavors of earth, cedar/oak and more dark berries. A long finish transitions beautifully from the mid-palate, creating the subtle tingle of spice heat (cloves/pepper) as well as tight, chewy tannins which stick to the teeth and mouth. Notes of leather and smoke also linger. Medium-plus body, medium-plus acidity. This excellent Italian is beautifully balanced and bold enough to pair with a grilled steak and sauteed mushrooms, cured meats, or a quick snack of roasted/salted almonds. Very good! $25, 13.5% ABV

Black Market Semillon 2017: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry white, medium-lemon color. The nose opens with intense citrus fruit/zest (Meyer lemon), wet rocks, sea-side minerals, hints of petrol, almonds, some slightly vegetal notes and a biscuity, toasty scent. This BC white has great medium-plus intensity with plenty of citrus and lemon notes upfront. The mid-palate has good concentration with lemon peel, a touch of petrol, light honey, saline mineral/wet rocks and a subtle hint of floral character hiding in the background. Light body, medium-plus acidity with gentle, warming spice and bright notes of tennis ball/rubber ball coming in on the medium-length finish. This wine is on the simple side but it is packed with intense flavor and would be an ideal wine option to pair with fresh halibut, pan-fried shrimp (garlic, butter, lemon), pork souvlaki or herbed roast chicken. Very good! $25, 11.6% ABV    Cheers and thanks for reading!