This golden-hued white wine variety is one of the more obscure of the noble grapes. In France, it is most often blended with the better known Sauvignon Blanc, producing the great white wines of Bordeaux. When infected with botrytis or the noble rot, that blend is responsible for one of the longest lived non-fortified wines: Sauternes. On its own, Semillon can be a bit reserved in its youth, but after a few years—unlike its flashier partner Sauvignon Blanc—it acquires a wonderful richness with layers of complexity. New World versions, especially from the Northwest and Australia, are starting to catch on, and they are a delicious alternative to Chardonnay. Here are the panel's top picks from the world of Semillon:
2006 Amavi Semillon, Columbia Valley, $18.50
Trapped CO2, which helps preserve freshness, muted both flavors and aromas at first, but a good shake helped blow off this odorless gas and the wine really opened up. A nice minerality marks the nose along with tart apricot, apple and lemon zest. Assertive apricot and honeyed melon dominate this fruit-forward wine. The creamy mid-palate is balanced by crisp citrus on the finish. It's a lovely example of a young Semillon.
2006 Fidelitas Semillon, Columbia Valley, $18.99
Spicy clover and arugula meld nicely with sweet apple, fig and melon in this second entry from Washington. It weighs in on the soft side of the Semillon spectrum, with creamy peach and mango fruit flavors that are colored by light oak and a nice touch of vanilla. Soft acidity comes through on the finish. Pair this one with delicate dishes like simply grilled chicken or fish.
2003 Margan Semillon, Hunter Valley, $14.50
Unctuous aromas of fig, honeycomb, lemon custard, apple, spring onion, mineral and a light, Riesling-like hint of petrol highlight this remarkable wine from Australia. Despite the lack of oak, a few years of bottle aging have brought out a distinctive richness. Citrus flavors dominate this beautifully complex wine—sweet lemon, lime and mandarin orange—along with papaya, mango and melon. It's absolutely delicious now but should age nicely for a number of years.
This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Wood McWilliams, Culinary Institute of America graduate; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.