One thing I found surprising in the 2006 vintage report was that the Semillon grape had produced a surprising 2,664 tonnes. Surprising because we hardly see any Semillon varietal wines from New Zealand, not to the extent that we see other varietal wines from grape varieties that crop much less, such as Pinot Gris, Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
The problem with Semillon as a table wine is that it isnít trendy (and probably never will be), therefore not gets made as such. So where do all the Semillon grapes go? I suspect much of it gets ferreted away into cardboard box wines to become part of some innocuous blend that goes under a brand name that buyers of cardboard box wines would know.
But there is one style of wine where Semillon excels, and that is when the grapes are left on the vine to shrivel into raisins, grapes that will eventually be made into sweet wine. When conditions are right, the grapes will become infected with Botrytis cinerea, a mould that concentrates the sugars of the raisined grapes even more and turns the already thick juices into an even thicker, honeyed nectar.
Botrytised Semillon is most famous in the Sauternes region of Bordeaux in France where the most famous sweet wine in the world, Chateau d'Yquem, is made. However Sauternes, including Chateau d'Yquem, have about 20% Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. Australia's most famous sweet wine, de Bortoli Noble One, is also made from botrytised Semillon grapes. And it is catching on here in New Zealand too.
One of my favourite Semillon sweeties, Alpha Domus Noble Selection 2005, a luscious honey sweet but ever so delicate dessert wine, was auctioned at the Midlands Hawkes Bay Charity Wine Auction held in Hawkes Bay this Queens Birthday Weekend. However I didnít bid at the auction so some one else will have the pleasure of consuming 12 bottles of this delicious wine.
However I did find an affordable back-up option that is also widely available. It is the Alpha Domus Leonarda Late Harvest Semillon 2005 in 'The Pilot' range. This is a clear, light golden coloured wine with aromas that are clean and sweet, like the aromas of trumpet-like flowers blossoms that are steeped with sugar-sweet nectar. There is a hint of citrus too on the nose but the citrus comes to the fore in the palate where the flavours are reminiscent of mandarins and other less tart citrus fruit, like the flavours of Cointreau (without the alcohol). Add to that plumped up dried apricots that have been reconstituted in a citrus sugar syrup and a hint of citrus zest and a touch of smoke on the rounded finish that is intensely clean and long. An incredibly long finish, in fact.
The Leonarda was made from grapes that were partially and fully botrytised, and that's one of the differences between this and the ethereal Alpha Domus Noble Semillon 2005 which was made only from fully botrytised grapes. With the Leonarda, the partially botrytised grapes were fermented in stainless steel while the fully botrytised grapes were fermented in French oak. The two components were combined when winemaker Kate Galloway had achieved what she thought was the perfect balance of alcohol, acidity and sweetness. With 115 grams per litre of sugar, acidity that clocks in 8.25 grams per litre and alcohol of 12% by volume, she has done it well. The clear bottle, that shows off the light golden coloured liquid, looks good too.
Expect to pay between about $15.95 and $17.95, depending where you buy or order directly from Alpha Domus at www.alphadomus.co.nz.
Sweet wines are often though of as pudding wines, so I though Iíd whip up a dessert that I had experimented with the week before to see how it would go with this and the other sweet wines I had opened*. With a focus on mandarins, which are in their prime at the moment, and dried apricots which are available all year round, it was not surprising that it was a perfect match with the Leonarda. Here's my recipe.
Apricot and Mandarin Temptation4 mandarins
For two people you will need
8 dried apricots (the plump, fleshy ones)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup water
Sweet French Toast
Place the apricots in a small saucepan.
Peel two mandarins, pull the pith off the segments, separate the segments and place segments into the saucepan.
Zest the skin of one of the other mandarins and place the zest in the saucepan.
Cut this and the remaining mandarin in half and squeeze the juices into the saucepan.
Add the water and sugar.
Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.
Take off heat and set aside for a few hours.
Before serving, remove apricots and mandarins into a cup, bring the syrup to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Add the fruit back to the syrup. Serve over crepes or French Toast and top with whipped cream and a flower - preferably a nectar flower - for garnish.
I was originally going to serve these over crepes, but I thought that a sweet French Toast might be easier, so that is what I did. You will need
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 cup of milk
two slices of medium-sliced white bread, crusts removed
butter for cooking
Beat the egg with a whisk and add the sugar, trying to combine as much as possible.
Add the milk and whisk gently to combine.
Place the bread into the liquid to soak up the egg mixture, turning them over so that both sides get plenty of egg mixture over them. Let the slices of bread soak up all the liquid.
Heat the butter in a frying pan and carefully transfer the bread into the pan, as the bread will now be quite floppy.
Cook over a gentle heat until the bread becomes a yellow gold, then carefully flip and cook the other side.
Turn onto plate, top with the apricot and mandarin temptation and garnish.
Enjoy with the Leonarda Late Harvest or a similarly styled wine.
* * * * * * * * * * *
* I also tasted three wines made from Marlborough grapes. They were Hunters 'Hukapapa' Riesling Desert Wine 2004 ($24.95), Clayridge Excalibur Noble Sauvignon 2005 ($21) and Ascension 'The Lost Vines' Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2005 ($19.95).
Hunters 'Hukapapa' Riesling Desert Wine 2004 seemed a little light and had a touch of bitterness on the finish which led to a debate whether this had a mild dose of cork taint. I think it did. 'Hukapapa' in Maori means frost or ice and the name is used to indicate the wine was made from freeze concentrated grapes.
Clayridge Excalibur Noble Sauvignon 2005 was an interesting wine and once you knew it was made from Sauvignon Blanc you understood the kind of peasy flavours that were such a contrast to the honeyed nuances. It definitely did not go with my desert. It would be much better with Fromage de ChŤvre au Miel, soft goats cheese with warm runny honey and orange zest.
Ascension 'The Lost Vines' Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2005 was just beautiful with its concentrated nectar like flavours and spice, it was in perfect balance and the flavours were totally rich and seductive, but when it came to matching with my Apricot and Mandarin Temptation, the wine was overpowering. Ascension says to match to Lime Tart, but I think it would also go well with a cinnamon-infused cream brulee with lots of toffee on the top.
© Sue Courtney
4 June 2006