I like to think that what I lack in voluminous wine knowledge, I make up for in straightforward honesty. For proof of the latter: I'm not sure I've paid my own money for a bottle of wine from Australia in probably 18 months (maybe 24). I don't have a particular animus to Aussie wines. A few weeks ago I opened a 2011 Chardonnay from Coldstream Hills that I had snuck in my cellar and forgotten about, and it was wonderful. And I've been sent a few samples of the legendary Penfold's that I was really impressed with. But when I hit the liquor store and make my own selections, I rarely pass the Oz section these days.
But then I watched an Instagram video from Rhys Pender. Rhys is a Master of Wine—so he's got the knowledge part down, but he also has the honesty part down, too. Throughout COVID he did a series of three-minute tastings of BC Wines that were awesome: equal parts frank and celebratory and offered real insight (and critique) into our wine industry. He's also an Aussie, so when he did this video a few weeks back on an Aussie wine my initial thought was ho-hum, supporting the home team, etc. But then I realized this wasn't a normal wine. For starters it was Hunter Valley Semillon, which is, in it's own way, a mini-icon of the wine-making world. The Hunter Valley is near Sydney—a long, long way from the famed vineyards of South (and Western) Australia, but it's known for one thing: Semillon. Semillon is a weird grape—it has high acid and a less fruit-forward profile than many of its contemporaries. It reaches its zenith in three places: One, in white Bordeaux as a secondary element to Sauvignon Blanc; two, in Sauternes and Barsac sweet wines from Bordeaux; and three, in the Hunter Valley.
And there's a major proviso with number three—it has to be aged, and it usually has to be picked really early in anticipation of this age. The net result is that in Canada (or almost anywhere outside of Australia) it's tricky to find aged Semillon. I've only ever had it three or four times. So when Rhys dropped this wine on us and noted it was widely available at the BCLDB—and that it was only $26—I was dumbstruck. You can listen to his tasting note above but I'll add a few thoughts: the colour is frankly a very off-putting yellow, and several non-wine folks I served it to were not a fan of the nose, finding it reductive and pungent. I didn't find that, but it is unique: not a lot of fruit, and waxiness that's super cool and crazy. It's very low in alcohol (11%) but it's got the swagger of a big fella. I served it to my friend Andy whose tastes skew towards very pricey White Burgundy, and he was instantly enchanted. It's one of the most insane wine deals out there right now.
So one final mea culpa. In Rhys' video, he made a plea not to buy up all the stock in the province—and he was sorta kidding, but sorta not. Once this wine is gone there's not a bottle that's even close to work as a replacement. So sorry on that count Rhys, but please know you'll rock plenty of worlds with this pick.