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edited by Sue Courtney
e-mail address: winetaster@clear.net.nz

Wine of the Week for week ending 22 February 2004
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Alpha Domus AD Semillon 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Here in New Zealand Semillon flies under almost completely under the radar. There is so little Semillon grown, it just a faint blip. So when a bottle of Semillon does come along, it's hard to know what to expect.

In my experience, New Zealand Semillon can be a little Sauvignon Blanc-like, a bit green and grassy, especially in Marlborough where it is mostly grown. That is probably why Marlborough Semillon is mostly added to Sauvignon Blanc as part of the undisclosed allowance. It adds complexity, especially when there the Semillon has been oak fermented and aged then added to blend in portions no more than about 5 per cent.

Further south in Canterbury it is grown by Pegasus Bay, who make one of the country's best Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blends. They use a generous portion of Semillon, from 20 to 50% percent and proudly state it on the label. I have often said it reminds me a little of a similar wine from Cape Mentelle in the Margaret River.

Apart from the Pegasus Bay, no New Zealand Semillon I've ever had has reminded me of any from Australia and that is probably there is quite a contrast in climate the areas where Semillon is grown.

We grow Semillon in Gisborne and though it is rarely made into a single variety dry white wine, Montana Wines made a good one about four years ago. It impressed the judges of the Sydney International Top 100, who gave it a blue gold medal when judged with food and Top100 status as well. Montana also make a terrific sweet renditions of Semiilon, that come in various brand labels such as Saints, Church Road and Virtu.

Down in Hawkes Bay Vidal Estate also make a classy sweet rendition but there are two companies at least who have been producing a dry Semillon as part of their mainstream portfolio for several years. They are Sileni and Alpha Domus, wineries comparatively close to each other too. Both make decent tank fermented early release Semillons but Alpha Domus makes a weightier, barrel fermented Semillon as well. They call it Alpha Domus AD Semillon and the 2002 vintage is this week's wine of the week. It's a reasonably new release, but has been already maturing in the bottle for a year.

When I first tasted the Alpha Domus AD Semillon 2002 I could only describe as something between an oak aged Sauvignon Blanc and a creamy Chardonnay, but not exactly either. There is some of the grassy brightness of sauvignon, but it's a dried grass rather than a freshly cut lawn, together with the stonefruit flavour and weight that we expect of Chardonnay. It's pale gold in colour, quite aromatic, perhaps even a little floral, with aromas of vanillin oak, summer hay and lemon bread, with a firm mealy backbone influenced by slightly spicy vanillin oak. It has good acidity that's well balanced to the other components and a bright lift to the finish from apricot-like fruit. Toasty, ever so slightly buttery characters linger with just a touch of citrus.

It's not really a beverage wine (that's now what I'm calling a wine to drink on its own), so if you open this to have as a quaffing wine you will probably be disappointed. But match it to the right food and you will be pleasantly surprised. In this respect the Alpha Domus AD Semillon 2002 was simply fantastic with my Potato and Pea creation (click here). The acidity in the wine cuts through the fattiness of the cream, the green characters in the wine are in harmony with the flavours of garlic, feta and peas while the wine's creaminess goes with the dish as a whole.

The notes for this wine say the grapes were handpicked, whole bunch pressed and transferred to 50% new and 50% 1-year old French barriques as juice for fermentation in barrel. About 30% took off on indigenous yeast. Some barrels went through a malolactic conversion and the total volume matured on yeast lees in barrel for 10 months. The resulting wine has 14% alcohol by volume.

The wine gained complexity in the glass over the course of the meal and was even better the next day. It's starting to drink well now but with its structure and acidity, it is going to be a good cellaring proposition too.

For more on Alpha Domus, visit their website at www.alphadomus.co.nz.

New Zealand Semillon statistics
In 2002, when the grapes for this wine were grown, Semillon comprised 233ha, or 0.02%, of New Zealand's grape producing total. Compare that to the Sauvignon Blanc total of 3685 hectares. It is mostly grown in Marlborough (about 93ha), Gisborne (about 90ha) and Hawkes Bay (50ha) while the rest of the regions have registered only a couple of hectares or so.

© Sue Courtney
15 February 2004


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