At one time the Semillon grape was very widely planted in the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia, Chile, and South Africa. Today, it is still grown in these countries but in small quantities. And a surprising fourth country can be added to the Southern Hemisphere list—Argentina. Semillon is often used as a blending grape, but a few producers make single varietal bottlings, including Mendel and Ricardo Santos in Argentina.
Earlier this year we tasted the Mendel 2010 Semillon with winemaker Roberto de la Mota, widely considered to be one of Argentina’s best enologists. We found his wine to be superb, as shown in our tasting note below. Recently, we also tasted the Ricardo Santos 2010 Semillon, which is considerably less pricey than the Mendel Semillon, but also of excellent quality.
Semillon is perhaps best known today as the grape often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to produce the delicious sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. It makes up 80 percent of the world’s most famous dessert wine, Château d’Yquem. [See our reviews of Château d’Yquem and other sweet wines made from botrytised Semillon in Report # 27: Sweet Wines of the World.
The dry wines made from Semillon are often described as being oily or waxy in texture and with more herbal than fresh fruit aromas and flavors. Semillon takes well to a small amount of oaking. It also blends nicely with Sauvignon Blanc, which contributes the acidity and fresh fruit that Semillon often lacks.
Ricardo Santos 2010 Semillon Mendoza ($15) 89
This is a serious white wine made from 70 year old Semillon vines. It’s lightly fragrant of minerals and white flowers and round and soft in the mouth with a waxy, unctuous texture and light herbal, almond, and melon flavors. A very nicely balanced wine of considerable charm. Especially recommended for those looking for something different and special in a white wine at a very accessible price. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers of Berkeley, CA.
Mendel 2010 Semillon Valle de Uco Mendoza ($29) 90+
Mendel’s Semillon is a substantial and very expressive wine showing complexity and fullness on a superbly balanced palate. It reveals dried herbs, tarragon, pear, and almond on the nose and palate with brisk acidity and mineral notes. Finishes long with lingering herbal tea notes. Made from 60 year old vines in the Altamira-La Consulta part of the Uco Valley at about 1,100 meters altitude. About 15 percent of the wine is fermented in oak. Imported by Vine Connections of Sausalito, CA. Reviews of other Mendel wines can be found in our Report # 26: The Diverse Wines of Argentina.