This week I had the role of setting up eight wines for a group training to be Masters of Wine.

They were gathered in Brisbane, Queensland, a long way, thank goodness, on the same evening from where cyclone Yasi hit our northern neighbours.

The wines in question four sauvignon blancs, two semillons and two blends of the respective varieties.

This might sound a simple exercise, to sort out the sauvignons from the semillons and on the way through detect the two wines blended from the two varieties, and not necessarily in what proportion, more semillon or more sauvignon in the blend.

And remember the wines are served up with label: just eight unlabelled, similar bottles (of course we didn’t wish to give any hints as a couple of wines had corks, the rest the preferred screw caps, and students can easily be biased by seeing the bottle shape).

This becomes an exercise in sorting out the wines by their varietal character, and that can be a confusing task.

I watched same story play out on twitter between two bloggers lamenting the way that Margaret River semillon often smells more obvious in the cut grass and paspalum, herbal characters which we attribute to sauvignon, also grown in the same region, but now often concealing its overt vegetative character.

The same bloggers also debated how one Margaret River semillon, that of Moss Wood, did not have either characters, due mainly to its later harvest date and greater sun exposure in the same region, leading to bees wax and lanolin character.

Climate dictates semillon and sauvignon characters

The semillons in the MW test came from two regions: Hunter Valley and Margaret River, therefore one hot region (former) and one cool region (latter).

Their expression of semillon should be poles apart: Scarborough White Label Semillon 2009 (90); AUD 25, 10.5% was very pale green, dead neutral nose (typical), some lanolin, lean, dry, high acid, bland, austere, a razor sharp palate destined for 20 years in bottle.

Frank Tate’s Miles from Nowhere Semillon 2010 (89); AUD 22, 11.7% was absolutely screaming out its cooler region characters-pale, intense fluorescein-green, fruity, waxy, honied from oak in ferment, riper, dry palate, modest but good richness, drink now or 2-4 years.

The four sauvignons were from the Casablanca Valley Chile; Pouilly-Fume, Loire, France; Marlborough, NZ; and Derwent, Tasmania.

Reported in the same order: the Chilean Castillo Molina 2008, stupidly under natural cork, (88); AUD 20, 13.5%, quite pale but smelt the ripest of them all, alcoholic, peachy from over-ripeness where the vegetal aromas fall off, honied, fat, yet intense vegetal sauvignon on the palate to redeem it, lots of acid, contemplative wine. Owned by Vina San Pedro.

Next was Pierre Brevin “Le Marquisay” Pouilly-Fume 2008, under synthetic cork, (90); AUD 30, 12.5%, intense straw colour, glowing, heavenly ripe, a mix of expressive peachiness and nettles, clearly a vegetal sauvignon, ripe in the mouth, very round, long flinty acidity which holds up the fruit flavour.

Next came Cloudy Bay 2010 (89), AUD 33, 13.5%, very, very pale, lots of green, smells of cut grass, cat’s urine, nettles and herbs, minimal intensity and searingly-high acid. Have to be a Kiwi at this acid level.

Last was Stefano Lubiana 2009 (88); AUD 28, 12.5%, very pale, lean nose, herbal but also reduced, smelly from solids fermentation, also some shaded bunches effect which leads to tomato bush aromas, fruity but herbal palate, very chewy, probably finished in some old oak to de-emphasise the catty character that this variety can offer. A challenging wine to identify blind.

One of the most distinctive wines of the line-up due to sloppy, old-fashioned winemaking was the Bordeaux white wine.

Pierre Lurton’s Chateau Marjosse Entre-Deux-Mers 2005 (semillon-sauvignon blanc), smartly-corked with an aggregate (88), AUD 30, 12.5%, was straw, slight gold from accelerated aging, waxy, oily nose, little freshness, palate oily and bitter, wood dry, ruined by skin phenolics and little exercising of only free run juice, so basically already dried out, not for any more aging either.

A better wine, Fraser Gallop Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (66/34) 2010 (90); AUD 20, 13%, has lots of pale greens, sweet, tropical, herbal nose, fresh, some paspalum aroma to underline the semillon component, austere but drying (a little oak used) and lots of flavour.

The latter wine could easily confuse blind tasters; the semillon is so grassy that it could easily be nominated to be 100% semillon, unless you are an experienced tasters.

It is tasting experience of course that underlines the skill of passing the Master of Wine tasting exam. And being crafty about the different expressions of semillon and sauvignon blanc.


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