Semillon (sem-ee-yon) is a chameleon-like wine. It can be bone-dry, rich with ripeness or lusciously sweet. When mass-produced, it can be simple or decadently sweet.
Its unusual name raises the question: Is it a grape or a French wine region? It is, indeed a grape. And you may find it hidden behind a French Bordeaux label or lost within a blended wine.
But a few producers let it shine on its own. Growers in Australia’s Hunter Valley region in New South Wales have created an exceptional following by those seeking this grape solo. The wine is dry when young, but after about 10 years it begins tasting like rich, buttery marmalade. Wineries in neighboring Barossa Valley, in south Australia, offer a different style made from this grape, with a more steely lime character.
Semillon can be a great wine, but it is in France’s Sauternes and Barsac regions that it really shines. The grape in France has a very thin skin, making it perfectly susceptible to noble rot or botrytis, which growers welcome. Once it has survived in the vineyard for a long growing period, it is blended with sauvignon blanc. Semillon contributes weight and the ability to age in oak, while the sauvignon blanc adds acidity and flavor.
- 2011 Peter Lehmann Semillon, Australia (about $12 retail)
- 2011 Penfold’s Rawson Semillon–Chardonnay, Australia (about $9 retail)
- 2011 Rosemount Estate Semillon–Chardonnay, Australia (about $9 retail)
- 2010 Loan Barossa Semillon, Australia (about $24 retail)
- 2010 Leeuwin’s Sibling Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, Australia (about $26 retail)
- 2010 Chateau d’Armajan Sauternes, France (about $46 retail)
France’s Cote Rotie is home to some of the world’s most splendid Syrah wines. Other names for this region include “Roasted Slope” and “Burnt Hillside” — drawing imagery of the dark intense wines this region produces. Syrah is believed to have originated in the Middle East and has been grown in France since Roman times, with records of connoisseurs boasting of the wines as early as A.D. 40.
The hillside vineyards are some of the steepest in France. In some places the incline is as much as 55 degrees, making them difficult and expensive to keep up and harvest.
The hillsides also angle toward the southeast, offering the vineyards the ideal amount of sunshine from sunrise to sunset, letting the grapes ripen to perfection.
Two slopes, the Cotes Brune and Blonde, are adjacent hillsides and the most famous of the Cote Rotie’s vineyards. The Brune and the Blonde are the subjects of the most repeated legend in this region. A powerful aristocrat named Maugiron is said to have withdrawn to a chateau and bequeathed his vineyards to his two beautiful daughters. The northern slope went to one and the southern slope to the other. The slopes were christened according to the color of the girls’ hair “the blond being bright and lively when young, but fading quickly, the brune starting off quiet and reserved, but growing into a splendid eminence,” playing on the distinct differences in the styles of the two wines.
The legend does not tell why he bequeathed the two slopes to his daughters; some historians say kindness while others say it was to evade his tax commitments. No matter the reason, these wines are a treat for those looking to explore the amazing wines of this region.
- 2004 Domaine La Montagnette Cotes du Rhone, France (about $14 retail)
- 2006 Paul Jaboulet Aine Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone, France (about $14 retail)
- 2007 Les Garrigues Cotes du Rhone, France (about $15 retail)
- 2006 Layer Cake Cotes du Rhone, France (about $19 retail)
- 2005 E. Guigal Cotes Du Rhone, France (about $19 retail)
- 2003 Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie, France (about $69 retail)
- 2001 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone, France (about $40 retail)
- 2001 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine Raymond Roure Crozes Hermitage, France (about $42 retail)
- 2003 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage, France (about $36 retail)