A grape that’s one in a Semillion? Tasting of Semillion wines at the Jeroboam Club, Bristol.

Been a while since I have done a blog post on a wine tasting, with the last one being way back in March on the seriously good wines of the Sierra de Gredos. I should do more, as I tend to attend at least one tasting a month (be it the Cardiff based Mystere Wine Club or the Bristol based Jeroboam Club) and the blog is rather a good way of documenting (for future reference) my views on the wines I taste at such events.

This bring to a tasting at the Jeroboam Club of Semillion wines.

Semillion is a grape which garners much attention from wine experts, but seems to fly under the radar of a lot of (wine) drinkers. It is one of those versatile grapes that operates across the full spectrum of wine styles from bone dry to super sweetie. For many its versatility is its beauty, but for others this just adds to the confusion as to what you can expect to get.

With the younguns seemingly shying away from the heavy hitter ABV wines (actually most wines sadly – don’t know what you are missing) these wines (many relatively low alcohol wise, with some down at the 10° level) could be just the ticket. Arguably easy drinking in there youth, they are built to age beautifully so appeal to all classes of wine drinker.

It is a grape that should be all things to all people, but few people seem to feel the love for it. It is certainly a grape (in its dry rather than sweet form) that very rarely features on wines list in the UK in my experience.

I am partial to a bottle or two of McWilliams Mount Pleasant, Lovedale, a long living wine (from the Hunter Valley in Australia) which transforms (over time) from an initial citrus blast of lime and lemongrass to complex honey and toasty notes, with a hint of lanolin in the mix.

If truth be told I am probably part of the semillion problem as I don’t drink half as much dry semillion as I should (I do drink plenty of the sweet stuff, I mean who doesn’t like sauternes and monbazillac wines).

My lack of experiance as to dry semillion wines meant a tasting of these wines (100% semillions rather than blends, bar from one wine) piqued my interest.

I am always keen to expand my wine horizons and that is the beauty of a wine tasting club. You get to taste stuff you would perhaps not if left to your own devices and without having to shell out the full cost (a try before you buy if you would).

The Wine

As ever with the Jeroboam Club, the wines were top notch sporting an exclusively new world line up

The tasting was in the rather nice private dining room at the Glass Boat on the Welshback in Bristol.

with a fine looking show of the bottles we were tasting (all 15!) as I walked in.

So to the wines.

Mendel 2017 (Argentina)

The first Argentinian semillion I have ever tasted and very pleasant it was too.

Very light colour to this wine,

with a pleasing citrus on the nose (touch of waxy lemon in there).

On the palate, there was a hint of oak, slight toastiness and a nice hit of lime and lemongrass. Very easy drinking stuff and very good value for money

Price : £12.95 from the Wine Society.

J Bouchon, Granita 2017 (Chile)

Another first for me, with a Chilean semillion.

This had a slightly richer, darker, colour to it than the Mendel

and this followed through in the aroma and on the palate.

There was orchard fruit (pear), with the citrus (lemon rather than lime) more in the background. A pleasingly delicate touch of oak was in the mix too.

More complexity to this than the Mendel, but enough to justify the price hike? Not sure about that personally.

Price: £36.99 at House of Townsend

Thorne and Daughters, Paper Kite 2016 (South Africa)

A new producer for me (it was a night of new things for me) and what a producer, with two stunning wine.

The colour on this first one was copper and in stark contrast to the light hue of the two wines that proceeded it (with this and the other Thorne and Daughters wine being skin fermented).

On the nose there was a distinct brininess, with citrus – akin to preserved lemon. On top of that were notes of marzipan, with a touch (in a good way) of oxidisation

On the palate there was a pleasing peachiness, with quince and spice.

Really impressed by this wine, which was in my top three wines of the night.

Price: £22 in bond (£29 duty etc. paid) from Lay and Wheeler.

Thorne and Daughters, Tin Soldier 2016 (South Africa)

Another Thorne and Daughers wine and this was even better than the first one.

Again a glorious copper hue in colour,

it had a rather beguiling nose of toffee apple and butterscotch. It was a wine I continually went back to during the evening to see how the nose evolved (butterscotch really coming though by the end of the night).

On the palate, there was waxy lemon rinds, butteriness, macadamia nuts and a real freshness. Just delightful and my wine of the night. A corker of a wine for the price.

Price: £26.66 from Lay & Wheeler.

Alheit, La Colline 2016 (South Africa)

The final Saffer wine of the night and another great wine.

The colour was back to the lighter tones (presume due to the lack of skin contact here) of the first two wines.

On the nose it was quite delicate (particularly when compared to the two previous wines), with notes of orange blossom, lemon peel and herbs. There was even a hint of leafiness (think green tea) in the background when I went back to it.

On the palate, I got melon, stone fruit, a touch of spice and a rather pleasing salinity.

Lovely wine, but it comes at a price!

This came joint top overall for all members, but just missed out on my top three (even before I knew the price).

Price : £64.80 from Hedonist

Henschke, Louis, Eden Valley, 2015 ( Australia)

A big name in the Barossa, but more so for their reds.

This was extremely light in colour, with just a hint of green.

On the nose it was quite grassy, with a touch of lemon zest.

On the palate, there was green apple, lime and at the end a touch of stone fruit.

Whilst this was quite refreshing with nice acidity, I personally thought this was a drop in class from the three Saffer wines that proceeded it.

Price: £23.50 from Great Western Wines

Peter Lehman, Margaret, Barossa Valley, 2010 (Australia)

Bit more colour to this than the Henscke, but still light hued stuff.

On the nose there was honeysuckle blossom and citrus and on the palate a touch of citrus and toast. No wow factor though and this was my lowest scoring wine of the night. My scrawled notes on this ended with a “bit one dimensional”. I think it suffered in comparison to the rather fine company it was in at the tasting, as opposed to it being a poor wine.

Price : £17.50 from Vin Neuf

Mount Horrocks, Clare Valley, 2014 (Australia)

This was my favourite Aussie wine of the might (as ever I was in the minority).

Standard light hue,

but (to me) it really packed a punch on the nose and the palate.

Aromas of tinned fruit (mandarin) and Rose’s lime marmalade (of which I am a fan) wafted up from the glass, together with a touch of fumé (just struck match).

On the palate there was spicy lemongrass and kaffir lime,as well as a pleasant touch of creamy vanilla. Very nice wine this, slotting in as the third place wine (for me) on the night.

Price: £21.15 from Vinvm.

Moss Wood, Margaret River, 2016 (Australia).

Another light coloured number,

this had bruised apple and waxy lemon on the nose (with just a touch of lanolin). On the palate it was spicy lemon and lime and a hit of sherbot as it lingered. Nice wine this, at a very nice price. Scored fourth for me on the night.

Price: £16.95 from Waitrose.

Cullen, Mangan, Margaret River, 2014 (Australia).

Pale golden colour, this was the only blend of the night (with 86% semillion and 14% sauvignon blanc),

with tropical fruit (mango) and citrus on the nose. On the palate there were notes of stone fruit and a touch of pineapple. Oak was also in the mix.

This is a big hitter alcohol wise at a whooping 14.5° (in stark contrast to some of the other wines which had ABVs as low as 10°). Nice wine, but I was more enamoured with the previous two wines.

Price: £21.15 from Excel Wines

McWilliams, Mount Pleasant, Elizabeth, Hunter Valley, 2009 (Australia).

First wine of the night that I had any semblance of familiarity with (have a couple of McWilliams wines in the wine room).

More body to the colour here, this had the aroma of cut grass, citrus (more grapfruit than lime).

On the palate, it had a quite zippy zestiness to it and a distinct nuttiness. I did get a touch of soapiness as it lingered, which resulted in me marking this wine down a touch.

Price: £16.95 from Quality Wines.

McWilliams, Mount Pleasant, Elizabeth, Hunter Valley, 2007 (Australia).

Very similar in colour to the 2009,

this had lime, herbs, a cut grass on the nose and a touch of just struck match.

On the palate it was similar to the 2009, but less limey and without the soapy after taste. Probably worth the extra cash over the 2007.

Price: £23.99 from The Wine Centre, Colchester

McWilliams, Mount Pleasant, Lovedale, Hunter Valley, 2011 (Australia).

Another McWilliams, but this time the more famous (and pricier) Lovedale.

Colour wise it looked a touch lighter than the younger Elizabeths.

On the nose, I got the expected citrus (more grapefruit than lime). On the palate I got lemon and a touch of salinty, as well as a refreshing acidity.

Not sure this is worth the extra money over and above the 2007 Elizabeth. This wine in known to age well (with honey, toast and lanolin coming with age), so maybe it is one to keep.

Price : £39.50 from Great Western Wine

Brokenwood, ILR Reserve, Hunter Valley, 2011

One of Australia most renowned winery, their unoaked semillion (they discontinues an oaked version in 1989) is one of the most highly rated expressions of this grape down under.

Golden in colour, it had initial floral notes on the nose followed by bees wax and a dictinct breadiness. In the mouth it was (at least to my palate) quite lean, with lime juice and zest and a touch of butteriness at the end.

I didn’t get any of the honeyed characteristic that others (looking at the internet) seem to find in it. Maybe it needs more time?

Nice, with it scoring 6th for me on the night – higher overall by members. Worth the money? Not sure I would spend the extra cash personally.

Price: £ 47.70 from Hedonism Wine.

Tyrrell’s, Vat 1, Hunter Valley, 2011

If someone asked me to name an Australian semillion I would probably say either McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale or Tyrrells VAT 1.

The Tyrrell VAT 1 is considered by many to be one of the finest expession of dry style semillion in the world.

Light hued it had a lovely refreshing acidity, with notes of lime, toast and a touch of struck match on the nose. On the palate it had starting to develop the classic honeyed features of aged semillion. Very nice wine, but not in my top 3 (palate may have been slighty jaded at this point).

Price : £32 25 from Fareham Wine Cellar.

Have to say, based on this tasting, dry semillion is fasinating stuff.

Following the wines, we had dinner in Glass Boat (choosing from a paired back, but rather nice sounding menu).

I started with the scallops (nice to see the roe intact – think it is the best bit personally)

and then had the hake (lovely bit of fish) with braised puy lentil.

Both very enjoyable on their own and paired with the left overs of the Thorne & Daughters’ Tin soldier and Paper Kite.

The verdict.

All in all a very informative and pleasurable tasting. My lack of experience in drinking dry semillions is (on the basis of these wines) something I need to rectify going forward. Definitely wines I shall be looking out for in the future.

My top three were as follows:

  1. Thorne and Daughters Tin Soldier 2016
  2. Thorne and Daughters Paper Kite 2016
  3. Mount Horrocks 2014

Best value (for me) wine on the night was the Moss Wood 2016

As ever I was out of kilter somewhat with the room, with the top three (based on a show of hands) of all members present beings as follows:

Joint 1st : Tyrrell Vat 1 2011 and the Alheit 2016 (when taking into account of price the Tyrrell wins it)

3rd: Brokenwood IRL Reserve 2011

My take away from this tasting was I shall be looking out for dry semillion wines both in wine shops and on wine lists in restaurants.

For a easily accessible quality semillion my advice is get yourself down to Waitrose and pick up the Moss Wood. Cracking stuff at a very pleasing price.



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