All too often we find ourselves drinking the same “trusted” wines over and over again. After all, the majority of wines we drink are made from well-known grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
There are, however, over 5,000 different varieties of wine grapes and over 24,000 different names for these varieties. Of these 5,000 varieties, only 150 are planted in commercially significant amounts. Strive to try some great wines that are produced from “lesser-known” grapes, most of which are grown in California.
One example of a lesser-known grape in California is Semillon. While it is considered a “classic” grape, it is often used in blends in North America (often with Sauvignon Blanc), but not as popular as a stand-alone varietal. It is the major white grape grown in Bordeaux and is most famous as the varietal used in Sauternes. Acreage in California for Semillon has dropped from 2,800 acres in 1981 to approximately 1,500 today.
I recently tasted Saxon Brown 2007 Cricket Creek Semillon from Alexander Valley. This Semillon is bursting with white peach, citrus blossom and fig flavors, delivering a rich, slightly yeasty mouth feel and lingering creamy finish. It has seen no oak and thus retains its great acidity and fruity flavors. To retain the flavors of the grape, winemaker Jeff Gaffner cold tank fermented this wine for over 90 days at 52oF-55oF. After fermentation, rather than aging in oak, he kept the wine on yeasts for five months to provide the soft richness. Saxon Brown made 324 cases of this wine. The price is $22.
It is ready to drink now or over the next 2-3 years and will pair well with antipasto, New England clam chowder, halibut and sea bass.