One of the first bottles of wine I ever bought (some 35 years ago) was a Wente Dry Semillon. The price was less than two bucks, and I remember it fondly to this day. Semillon is one of the noble white wine varieties. In its sweet incarnation it's responsible for Sauternes, one of the world's greatest and longest-lived wines. Vinted dry, the Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer has called Semillon from the Hunter Valley "Australia's greatest white." Here in the Northwest, any number of Washington wineries are producing excellent Semillon. At one time, it was the world's most widely planted white-wine grape. More recently, it has fallen out of favor. You'd be hard pressed to find a dozen examples in Boise. That's a shame because it is an exceptional wine that ages beautifully. After a decade or so, it trades in youthful fruit and austerity for complexity and opulence. Here are the panel's top picks in a too-often-overlooked category:
2005 Buty, Columbia Valley, $21
The criterion was at least 70 percent Semillon, and the Buty blended with 27 percent Sauvignon Blanc just slipped in. This Washington charmer offers nicely floral aromas of clover blossom, grapefruit and lime blended with a spicy touch of cinnamon. Rich and silky in the mouth with unctuous flavors of ripe peach balanced by creamy lemon and orange zest, it's the perfect summer sipper.
2005 Desert Wind Semillon, Wahluke Slope, Desert Wine Vineyard, $11.99
This wine is richly aromatic, offering white peach and lemongrass with an intriguing touch of bacon, all backed by lightly toasted oak. That very soft oak carries through on the palate, laced with honeyed melon and peach with smooth citrus and green apple coming through especially on the finish. I recently had a 2002 vintage of this wine and it was drinking beautifully.
2004 L'Ecole No. 41 Semillon, Wahluke Slope, Fries Vineyard, $16.99
This selection completes the hat trick for Washington. L'Ecole has been making Semillon for almost 25 years, offering three dry versions and one sweet (a must if you love dessert wines). The Fries is a bit austere on the nose, coming across a bit acidic with lightly sour melon and lemon backed by fragrant honeysuckle. It's much more open in the mouth with enticing flavors of ripe apricot and spicy fig, finishing with a cleansing hit of citrus. It's lovely now, but I'd like to try it again in five or more years.
This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Michael Molinengo, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Spirit Distributing