Wine / Feeling the love, but it takes 10 years

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“I think that even though semillon is unloved by the market I am going to keep looking for bargains where there is the potential to have a truly excellent wine,” says wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

ON the front balcony both kumquat trees are strangely fruiting despite the winter cold.

Richard Calver.

There is quite a lot of fruit and I decide to make a casserole that features about 10 kumquats, just cut in half, fennel, the bulb and some dried seeds, chicken and chorizo.

The wine to add to the casserole mix and to drink: an unfashionable semillon. I am a member of the Cofield Wine Club – I resigned from or suspended membership of the other three that I belonged to, but I have hung on to this one.

Cofield is a winery in Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, in Victoria and has well-made, value-for-money wines. In the most recent wine-club mix was a bottle of the 2018 Cofield Semillon. In my opinion, this is the white wine to drink in winter.

The casserole turned out to be delicious, slow-cooked with the tang of the fruit and the cut-through of the anise-like fennel working well.

The balance of the wine was fresh and clean, with a citrus finish that complemented rather than detracted from the tart kumquat flavour.

The freshness of the wine was not expected given the lower acidity of the semillon grape compared with other varieties. Indeed, semillon is world famous as the main grape in sweet sauternes from Bordeaux or is oaked and often blended with sauvignon.

The “Wine Australia National Vintage Report 2018” shows the surprising statistic that the tonnage of semillon in the 2018 crush was almost double that of riesling. But that came with a 17 per cent fall in the quantity of semillon produced over the prior year. I decided to get a reality check about what was going on from the winemaker Damien Cofield and telephoned him.

I started by asking about the clean finish on the 2018 I had tasted and how semillon is not generally a grape that is associated with Rutherglen.

“Well,” he said, “we get the grapes from a plot at the base of Mount Buffalo at Porepunkah.” (I had to ask him to spell the name)

“With the alpine climate, the terroir has influenced the characteristics of the style, it’s really fresh.”

I asked if he agreed that semillon seems to be unloved by consumers?

“It is definitely unloved in the marketplace. But look at the classics that are grown – it’s a beautiful, complex fruit. These wines start out fresh and light and yet they go through to a deep, toasty complexity. At around three to four years they are a bit nothing but after that they change and are great.

So what up to 10 years to cellar a good semillon?

“Definitely, but I wouldn’t keep it after that time, that’s what we are recommending, up to 10 years.”

And all that talk about being unloved reminded me of a conversation between a couple who were on the brink of a split up (warning not PC!):

Girlfriend: “Am I pretty or ugly?” 
Boyfriend: “You’re both.” 
Girlfriend: “What do you mean?” 
Boyfriend: “You’re pretty ugly.”

The 2018 semillon at $22 a bottle seems good value, especially to trace the way that a semillon from a cool-climate area progresses compared with the traditional aged semillons from the Hunter Valley which is hot and humid.

I think that even though semillon is unloved by the market I am going to keep looking for bargains where there is the potential to have a truly excellent wine after putting it aside for up to 10 years. Who knows, it might be back in fashion?

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past itSøren Kierkegaard

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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