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CITY CELLAR: Semillon, the underrated grape

Being in the wine industry, Im often asked to name my favourite kind of wine.

Being in the wine industry, Im often asked to name my favourite kind of wine. While this is like being asked to choose between ones children, if pressed there are certainly some examples Im more likely to offer up, though they do vary depending on time, place, mood and whim.

The noble, yet sometimes overlooked Semillon grape (SEM-ee-yon) is always near the top of my list. The golden-hued, thin-skinned variety is probably most renowned as Sauvignon Blancs partner in the white wines of Bordeaux, complimenting the citrusy, high acid grape with its stone fruit and honey-laden waxy richness.

But its the New World examples of Semillon that I really like. In Australia, where its pronounced SEM-eh-lon (I love the casual, Aussie-ness of that), it shines, from Margaret River on the west coast to the mighty Hunter Valley out east. Commonly aged for a couple years in the bottle, the grape can go from lively peaches and apricots when fresh, to fig-y and honeyed with just a bit of maturity.

In these parts, whether Washington State or the Okanagan, adding a lashing of oak swaddles the grape in butterscotch or toffee notes, stepping up complexity and character.

Harvesting the grape late in the season only adds to its richness, condensing those sugars and intensifying the fruit.

While Semillon is easily drinkable on its own, it pairs well with foods that are rich, salty or have a touch of spice, from creamy pastas to Indian take-out. Dressed up or dressed down, youthful or mature, Semillon can be both flirty and confident plus incredibly delicious, so grab yourself a bottle of the stuff. In fact, grab two and lay one of them down for a year. Its pretty cool to see where it can go. Two suggestions:

La Frenz 2010 Semillon | Naramata, BC| $20 |Winery Direct/Private Wine Stores

Australian winemaker Jeff Martin has lots of experience with the grape in his homeland and consequently leads the pack with it in the Okanagan. Bright and lemony with white peach, nutmeg and a touch of nougat its subtle elegance intensifies with age.

LEcole No.41 2009 Semillon| Columbia Valley, Washington | $35 | Private Wine Stores

Fermenting in French oak turns the lemons into a lemon meringue pie flavour, which can never be a bad thing. Apricots and caramel are buoyed by a lively acidity, keeping things from getting too rich and cloying. A well-crafted cult favourite.

TASTING NOTES: This Wednesday, July 13, is the final edition of my East Van Wine Academy at the Waldorf Hotel before courses resume in the fall. Ill be covering the history, wine styles and hidden gems from both Australia and New Zealand with tasting, canapés, and DJs spinning rare vinyl. Info at

Kurtis Kolt does many wine-related things in Vancouver. Catch him at

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