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TUESDAY TRIBUTES
02/03/2015
Where Are The Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blends?

By Charles Olken

A few years ago, Mrs. Olken and I took a busman’s holiday during which we leisurely worked our ways around the Australian wine country. We had been to Australia on organized wine visits and decided to go back to travel around, enjoying both city and bush country at our own pace. I can highly recommend such a visit. Everything about Australia is different, and yet is the same in the sense that its wines, its cities, its people are reminiscent of the United States. We loved it and are already planning a return visit.

But, this is not a travelogue. It is a commentary on wine there and wine here. And more particularly, on the way in which Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are treated there—and ought to be treated here, at least in part. Like all wine regions, there are strengths and weakness when it comes to grandeur. The Aussie reputation for large-scale, highly ripened wines is not undeserved, especially for reds. The whites, however, are a different breed of cat in so many instances that we came away expecting the lighter Aussie trends to find a foothold here.

The most obvious of the many ways in which the whites can differ was seen in the number of unoaked Chardonnays being made in Australia. That trend did make its way here, but it never really took hold, and we discovered more than a few producers down under who were moving away from that product.

And, it was what was taking its place that really grabbed our interest. The Aussies were increasingly finding freshness and energy in youthful blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The combination is not unheard of in this world, and certainly the Aussies did not invent it. But, what they have done, and what I wish would happen here are the lively blends in which Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc tend to tame each other and find a kind of symbiotic synergy in wines of wonderful vitality whose fragrant aromas and bright palates make them absolutely more enjoyable, to my taste, than the more sterile unoaked Chardonnays.

It has been a few years now since that venture and I am wondering: where are the SSBs (Semillon Sauvignon Blancs) and the SBSs (Sauvignon Blanc Semillons). Truth be told, Australia does have a lot more Semillon relative to its Sauvignon Blanc acreage than we do, but we are not absent our own bit of Semillon. And yet, there are few wines being made that intentionally feature both in blends that are intended to have their own personalities rather than to be one or the other with a bit of filler.

Where are the SSBs/SBSs? I know there must be some out there and we are going to go look for them. And, maybe, just maybe, these words will awaken an interest in a category that, to my taste, puts two worlds together and makes the right stuff.


 

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Comments

Gotta Agree
by TomHill
Posted on:2/3/2015 9:35:45 AM

Gotta agree on your take on Oz Whites, Charlie.

1. The Oz (non-Chard) whites are much lighter in style than their reds (big generalization here). When you can buy a HunterVlly Semillon or a McLarenVale or MargaretRiver Riesling for $20 and often less, wines w/ a brisk acidity, and the wines can often go out 20 yrs and longer; it's a no-brainer for a bottom-feeder like myself to be shopping those wines.

2. In Calif, I think there's a real lack of plantings of Semillon. There's a some old-vine Semillon (like MonteRosso) around that can make some very compelling wines, but I think the folks making those wines are reluctant to lose that by dumping in SauvBlanc. And I don't think there much in the way of new plantings of Semillon. It's a crying shame, I think.

Tom

 

SBS
by Rusty Eddy
Posted on:2/3/2015 2:55:34 PM

Charlie:

I'll get you a bottle of Cadaretta's SBS (Walla Walla) in the next week or so.

Rusty

Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
by Marty Clubb
Posted on:2/3/2015 8:36:23 PM

Now another from Walla Walla.  While we have championed Semillon at L'Ecole No 41 for over 30 years we started producing an Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from Seven Hills Vineyard in 2007, called Luminesce.  Now gaining popularity!  Both varietals have nice fresh acidity with our cool night ripening conditions.

Marty Clubb, Managing Winemaker

Looking Forward To It
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/3/2015 10:15:13 PM

Very happy at this good beginning. Hope to be surprised with much more. 

Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blends
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/4/2015 1:28:49 AM

Sir Charles:

Whenever I attend a wine industry trade tasting, I ask the producers of appealing Sauvignon Blancs if they add any Semillion to their blend.

The almost universal answer is "no."

Not for lack of interest.

Few wineries had the foresight to plant the Semillon grape variety when they replanted their vineyards in response to phylloxera.

And few vineyards sell Semillon on the "open market" as a cash crop.

Consequently, they have no supply.

Brander makes a lovely SB-Semillon blend.

Buttonwood makes a lovely SB-Semillion blend.

Kalin makes both SB and Semillon, but I don't recall of Terry Leighton makes a blend of the two.

Signorello makes a SB-Semillon blend named "Seta."

Do the Wentes of Livermore with their famous Yquem property clippings make a Semillon?  Or bottle a SB-Semillon blend?  If so, they have fallen off my radar screen for lack of publicity/promotion.

Amador Foothill Winery makes a Semillon.

Brander makes a Semillon.

Chatom of Calaveras County makes a Semillon.

L'Ecole in Washington makes a Semillon.

Luminesce (sourced from Buttonwood) makes a Semillon.

Saxon Brown makes a Semillon.

Lindeman's of Australia makes a Sem-Chard blend.

Rosemount of Australia makes a Sem-Chard blend.

And I've run out of names off the top of my head . . .

~~ Bob
Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blends
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/4/2015 12:05:27 PM

Geez -- these late night blog comments are killing me.

For the record: yes, it is spelled Semillon -- not Semillion.

(Vanna, I can sell back a vowel?)

As newspaper reporters used to say in the old black and white movies:

“Hello, sweetheart? Get me rewrite!”

No Subject
by Scott Mc Intyre
Posted on:2/4/2015 2:49:54 PM

Check out Carlisle and Bedrock as well.  Carlisle's is called The Derivative, I believe, and Bedrock's Cuvee Caritas.  Both are lovely.

SB/S Blends
by David Page
Posted on:2/4/2015 2:54:01 PM

We produce  two  SB/S blends on North Fork.

David Page, Shinn Estate Vineyards

Volker Eisele Family Estate Gemini
by johng
Posted on:2/4/2015 4:55:40 PM

80% Semillion, 20% SB.  100% Organic, 100% Napa, and really good.

Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blends
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/4/2015 9:30:30 PM

Charlie,

Know of anyone who makes a Semillon-Viognier blend?

I'd like to try that side-by-side a Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend.

[Link: http://www.pineridgevineyards.com/wine/2013-chenin-blanc-viognier]

~~ Bob

 

 

White Blends
by gabe
Posted on:2/5/2015 12:01:28 PM

Charlie,

      In my days selling wines, I found "white blends" to be a much tougher sell than "red blends" to the average consumer (the average consumer being someone who doesn't understand the difference between a Bordeaux blend and a Rhone blend).  For high-end wineries like L'Ecole and Volker Eisele, I am sure they can sell those wine to educated consumers, because those wines are awesome.  But I imagine the reason larger winreies don't bother with the blend is because it's easier to sell it if they just write "Sauv Blanc" on the label.

Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc Blends
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/6/2015 12:32:44 AM

BevMo stores have wine aisle columns and shelves dedicated to "Sauvignon Blanc."

But what if the wine is a white Meritage?  A Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend?

Those "outliers" appear to get consigned on the store's Plan-O-Gram to the "Other Whites" columns and shelves many aisles away.

In retailing, that is the equivalent of being banished to Siberia.

Positioned adjacent to wines that simply state "White Wine Blend" on them.

(Same thing happens with red Meritage wines.  They get banished aisles away from the Cabernet and Merlot aisle to "Other Reds.")

From my experience watching consumers in BevMo stores, they walk right past "Other Whites" and "Other Reds."

Make a bee line for a named grape variety they know and trust.

Total risk-aversion bottle selections.

Over on Steve Heimoff's wine blog, there is a running discussion about the saying: "Wine is sold,  Not bought."

(Think about the role of "opinion leaders" and "taste makers" and "hand sells.")

There are no salespersons in the wine aisles of leading grocery store chains.

A specific bottle "lives or dies" by its already known and adopted grape variety, shelf position, eye-catching label, and affordable price.

Here in Los Angeles, grocery store chains sell with this pitch:

"Buy 6 bottles and get a 30% discount."

From the perspective of the consumer, does that mean a single bottle is wildly overpriced?

Or that these grocery stores are barely breaking even on their half-case sales?

Thoughts, anyone?

Now...
by TomHill
Posted on:2/6/2015 9:17:05 AM

Now look what you started, Charlie:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-other-great-white-wine-1423144969

 

Tom

 

Spell The Name Right
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/6/2015 10:34:38 AM

I believe it was Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the House, who once remarked, "I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right".

WSJ guy did not even do that. Tom, what is this world coming to?

No Subject
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/10/2015 9:26:32 PM

. . . and now the "dialogue" comments go global, as Will Lyons is The Wall Street Journal's Europe-based wine columnist.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-other-great-white-wine-1423144969

 

"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do"
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/21/2015 2:33:40 AM

Family Winemakers of California just released a link to investigate who is pouring what grape variety wines at their tasting on Sunday, March 15th in Los Angeles.

http://www.familywinemakers.org/search-by-varietal

Who's pouring Semillon?

ONE FORLORN WINERY.

Really!

Link: http://www.familywinemakers.org/wineries-by-varietal?fw_varietalsID=51

Rock Wall Wine Company

Phone: 510-522-5700

Fax: 510-522-5701

2301 Monarch Street, Suite 300

Alameda, CA 94501

As for "white blends"?

Nine exhibitors -- many of which are white Rhone blends, not Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends.

http://www.familywinemakers.org/wineries-by-varietal?fw_varietalsID=160

Sangiovese?

Seven exhibitors.

http://www.familywinemakers.org/wineries-by-varietal?fw_varietalsID=48

Tempranillo?

Four exhibitors.

http://www.familywinemakers.org/wineries-by-varietal?fw_varietalsID=54

As I wrote above, the "next new thing" grape varieties have not been embraced by the buying public.

 

 

Semillon
by Bob Henry
Posted on:3/10/2015 3:20:58 PM

Excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle "Food & Wine" Section

(May 31, 2009, Page E5):

"A Second Chance for Semillon"

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Time-to-pay-more-attention-to-Semillon-3297190.php

By Jon Bonné 

"Thirst" Column

It occurs to me that we have betrayed Semillon, allowing it to slip through the cracks of our collective wine thoughts. This is hardly some obscure thing hailing from Mr. Mxyzptlk's fifth dimension. This is half the equation of the glorious sweet wines of Sauternes, the texturally rich backbone of many Bordeaux whites, including ageless Graves like Haut-Brion Blanc.

But here it's met with a collective shrug. The amount of Semillon planted in California is actually shrinking, with just over 900 acres left. Perhaps that's because it defies the laws of scarcity; according to USDA data, it earned on average just $503 per ton of fruit last year, even less than workaday Pinot Gris. There's a bit up in Washington state, but just a bit - 200 acres last year. It's not like there were glory days for Semillon.

. . .

But there's no real reason for our Semillon betrayal aside from the whims of fashion. When grown carefully and picked with some green flavors amid the typical fig and honey, it shines. The gastronomic potential is profound. It's less obvious than Chardonnay, less strident than Sauvignon Blanc, able to lift the greenest of flavors (the O'Shea Scarborough was set to a nettle soup) while bolstering oysters' mineral tang.

. . .

 

 

 

Try Haven 2013
by Kris
Posted on:3/25/2016 12:17:36 PM

Shinn Estate Winery, Mattituck, NY (Long Island)

Haven 2013

barrel fermented

semillon and sauvignon blanc 

small production white wine 

 

 

 

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