Friday, September 2, 2011

L'Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Sémillon (2009)

If wine grapes were Hollywood actor, Sémillon would probably be an extra.  The grape is fairly easy to cultivate, fairly resistant to diseases that plague other grapes, and is fairly available, as it is found around the world, including countries such as France and Australia.  Thus, the grape is always available. 

However, the grape is hardly ever featured on its own in a wine.  Instead, winemakers usually blend Sémillon with other grapes.  For example, French winemakers blend Sémillon with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.  Australian winemakers blend Sémillon with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. In the end, it is almost always the other grape that gets the top billing, with the Sémillon grape getting attention in the fine print of the credits.

In the United States, one winemaker is giving Sémillon a starring role in a wine.  L'Ecole No. 41 is a winery in the Walla Walla region of Washington State where, from a historic Frenchtown School, the Clubb family has been producing wines like the Sémillon since 1983.  To produce this wine, L'Ecole No. 41 uses grapes that are grown at vineyards in the Columbia Valley.  The wine is then made with 87% Sémillon and 13% Sauvignon Blanc.  This turns the tables, making Sémillon the lead actor in this wine while relegating the Sauvignon Blanc to what could be best described as a supporting role.

The Sémillon pours bright and lustrous, almost like a shiny, clear apple or pear juice.  The aroma of the wine, like most wines, speak of fruit.  Melon, pear and apple seem to be the principal aromatic elements of the wine.  The taste of the wine is light, but a little tart, speaking more of pear and apple than melon.  The tartness is not bad; instead, it is a tartness one expects from citrus, like lemons.  The winemaker says that the wine has honeysuckle, with lemon bar, lychee nut and key lime showing through the finish.  I'm not sure about the honeysuckle (which is a good thing because I am not a big fan of honeysuckle), but the lemon and the lime do show through as part of that slightly tart citrus flavor in the wine.  The body of the wine is quite light, and, lends itself to the wines that one would like to drink on or after a very hot, summer day.

When it comes to pairing this wine with food, I paired the L'Ecole No. 41 Columbia Valley Sémillon with the Panni Ularthiyathu, a dry curry from the Indian State of Kerala. I chose this pairing not simply because it was a white wine and the dish had white meat (pork is, after all the "other" white meat).  Rather, I knew the dish would be spicy and I wanted a lighter wine with some citrus and a little sweetness to round out the heat of the peppers.  I am a little proud of myself with respect to the pairing, because, although perhaps a sommelier may take issue with it, the wine worked very well with the flavors of the dish. 

For a starring role, the Sémillon could definitely win some awards.  It has won some rave reviews in the past., from other bloggers, like Cuvée Corner Wine Blog.  I found this wine at a local Whole Foods Market for about $16.99 a bottle.   You should be able to find it at other wine retailers. 


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