This week’s column is being filed from South Australia. I’ve been on the other side of the world for a few days now to taste through an array of Hunter Valley Sémillons and Canberra Rieslings.
The trip with Wine Australia began in sunny Sydney on the east coast. Hopping on a plane the next morning, our small crew arrived in Adelaide, zipping off to spend a couple of days in the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, and, today, McLaren Vale.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover many aspects of the Australian wine industry, but for now let’s start with something refreshing and bright.
Although it’s not the most popular grape variety out there, do make it a point to splash into some Sémillon, particularly from the Hunter Valley. Acclaimed U.K. wine writer Jancis Robinson is on record as saying: “Hunter Valley Sémillon is one of Australia’s great gifts to the world of wine.” Those in the know would likely agree.
The style of the Bordeaux variety (in France, it’s commonly blended with Sauvignon Blanc) is generally high in acid, quite dry, and chock-full of minerals. Hunter Sémillons will, generally, be crisp and clean like this for a few years, and very citrusy, but they really come into their own when they start to get a bit of age on them.
After a few years of age in bottle, they’ll start developing more of a nutty character and display richer notes of nougat, marzipan, or brioche. Usually, those nuttier notes are so dominant that many tasting them for the first time assume there’s an oak component to the wine, but that’s rarely the case.
The wines, whether young or with some age on them, can work well for the way we eat here in Vancouver, with our Asian influences and seafood-forward cuisine. The best thing, though, is that these wines will get better and better with time in the cellar (or a closet in your apartment) yet aren’t going to set you back an arm and a leg.
Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Sémillon 2007 (Hunter Valley, Australia; $20.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) has decent availability around town and is an outright bargain, coming in at just a pinch over 20 bucks. It’s just hitting its stride right now, with its pink grapefruit and mandarin orange notes becoming rich with more of a marmalade character, and then with roasted almond and hazelnut beginning to rise to the surface.
Of course, the Aussies don’t have a complete lock on the variety. In fact, one of my favourite British Columbian wines during the past few years has been Bartier Bros. Sémillon 2014 out of Oliver ($19.90, B.C. Liquor Stores). The region’s limestone-rich soil lends itself well to the grape, giving all of that citrus fruit a really solid backbone.
A good opportunity to try the wine will be at the Vancouver International Wine Festival’s grand International Festival Tasting, running from February 16 to 18 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. That’s when winemaker Michael Bartier will be pouring the stuff as he joins 179 other global wineries at the biggest wine event of the year.
If you’ve been procrastinating on getting your tickets, you should probably consider this last call, as the Saturday-evening edition has already sold out. Head on over to VanWineFest.ca for more details.
For those of you who are heading to the wine fest, don’t forget all the basics to guarantee a good time. Don’t wear any strong colognes or perfumes. Do have a big meal beforehand, as food options in the room are few and far between. Ensure that you’re spitting on a fairly regular basis, as that’s a sure way you can responsibly try a good selection of wines without fear of things going sideways. Nervous about your technique? Do a couple practice runs with water over the sink in your washroom.
With this rare opportunity to try so many wines in one spot, I recommend not sticking to the same ol’ favourites, as this is the place where there are so many new faves to be found. Seriously, there’s going to be some awesome wine from Croatia, Turkey, and Uruguay in the room—they’ve all come a long way to see us.
And, of course, don’t leave transportation to the very end to figure out. Transit is handy (look for the B.C. Liquor Stores Get Home Safe booth for a free ticket when you leave), and there are always plenty of taxis in the area.
In next week’s Straight, we’ll tackle a few more Australian wine regions, and within a few days after that, I’ll be running around the floor at the wine fest. Hoping to see many readers there.