Australian Semillon proves it’s not just a blending grape and they’re not just the land down under.
Australia often times gets a bad rap. They like Paris Hilton a little too much, they honor the British monarchy, Fosters Beer isn’t really made there and Vegemite is upsetting. But don’t sell them short and do look behind the curtain, there is more wonder to Oz than one might imagine. The grape of Semillon is revitalizing the Australian white wine industry. It is one of the few French grape varieties that is almost as friendly to the southern hemisphere wine scene as it is to its motherland. With massive plantings in South Africa, Semillon is taking over even more so in the land down under, dominating Hunter Valley which sits just north of Sydney and has been since the first settlers nearly 160 years ago. Titled as the region’s own brand of Riesling, Semillon is sported in several different styles in Australia, ranging from sweet to mineral-driven and austere to commercially blended with Chardonnay.
Like the country she thrives in, Semillon is also subject to harsh criticism by the media, the misinformed and the unseasoned palate. Naysayers find it flabby, fatty and dull. Australian wines have been equally lambasted for being gooey, extracted and extremely high in alcohol (talking 16.5% on average here, in comparison to the rest of the world at around 13-14%).
But it’s not their fault. Australia nor Semillon — Australia has been feelin’ hot, hot, hot for more than a decade with ridiculously scorched and dry seasons, including a seven year drought that ran through recent years. Not necessarily the best grape growing climate per se, grapes need the sun to flourish and ripen but they also need cool evenings to enhance and brighten the acidity.
And Semillon has been underrated its whole existence. Although it is also knighted as one of the noble (white) grape varieties of Bordeaux, it is overshadowed and disparaged by Sauvignon Blanc and its vibrant acid and citrus flavors.
Well, not any more. Maya Angelou said “a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” If anyone had a song to sing, it is the dogmatic, bawdy and determined Australians defying the odds Mother Nature is hurling at them and the grape that gives it a tune which leads to the dish that feeds them the pitch.
The Restaurant: MistralKitchen — Said to be the eatery that is “the embodiment of every type of restaurant” chef/owner William Belickis enjoys on his own, MistralKitchen has become said joint. With regionally and internationally rotating theme menus and five different dining options in the 5,000 square foot space, patrons can pick their experience depending on their budget, mood or even dietary requests. Food is fresh and innovative, bread products are baked in house and the desserts are nonnegotiable. Cocktails are staggeringly delectable and the wine list makes you go weak in the knees.
The Dish: Hamachi Crudo ($14) — Plump and oleaginous in goodness, the yellowtail tuna is served cold and raw (as it should be). A scattering of pea vines and sliced radishes rain over the top of the fish with chunks of daikon, stone fruit or avocado below – all depending on what chef has in store that day.
Why It Works: Hamachi is sexy. Luxurious and opulent, the fish is rich in texture as much as it is in flavor. It often times calls for an equally fatty wine pairing partner and in most cases, Semillon might not fit the bill. But Australian Semillon, like Australian men, are as sultry as it can get. Offering a roundness in the wine and lush fruit with the equally fancy flavors of the fish keeps the pairing on the same terms.
The Recommended Match: Torbreck Winery 2011 Woodcutter’s Semillon ($18) — David Powell, Torbreck’s owner and winemaker, is the aforementioned tenacious former lumberjack who restored a dry, dead and ancient Shiraz vineyard in the Barossa Valley in 1994. He nurtured it into a solid and profitable property, securing small parcels of it along the wine to slowly produce his own wine.
Given the previously describe land and climate Australians have to work with, Powell established Torbreck Winery and based his endeavors around classic Rhone Valley varietals that boom in Barossa Valley, such as Shiraz (same as Syrah), Mataro (same as Mourvedre) and Grenache. Just eight years later, Torbreck was able to purchase the ancient property for his premium wine use.
Using archaic Semillon vineyards, this wine is fermented in both stainless steel and French barriques, giving it a character the grape is not used to and showcasing the ripe Barossa fruit. The wine briefly touches on citrus tones but focuses mostly on exotic fruit, yellow apples, D’Anjou pears, smokey nutty aromas and sweet honeysuckle. Finishing with the grace of butter and the natural crispness of the grape, the wine balances out pure and clean.
Kicker to this pairing is that Powell and Chef Belickis are real-life buddies and MistralKitchen hosts the most comprehensive Torbreck selection in the city. Worth testing out.
MistralKitchen | 2020 Westlake Avenue, Seattle | (206) 623-1922