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Columbia Crest Semillon 1999
A large and geographically diverse AVA capable of producing a wide variety of wine styles, the Columbia Valley AVA is home to 99% of Washington state’s total vineyard area. A small section of the AVA even extends into northern Oregon!
Because of its size, it is necessarily divided into several distinctive sub-AVAs, including Walla Walla Valley and Yakima Valley—which are both further split into smaller, noteworthy appellations. A region this size will of course have varied microclimates, but on the whole it experiences extreme winters and long, hot, dry summers. Frost is a common risk during winter and spring. The towering Cascade mountain range creates a rain shadow, keeping the valley relatively rain-free throughout the entire year, necessitating irrigation from the Columbia River. The lack of humidity combined with sandy soils allows for vines to be grown on their own rootstock, as phylloxera is not a serious concern.
Red wines make up the majority of production in the Columbia Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant variety here, where it produces wines with a pleasant balance of dark fruit and herbs. Wines made from Merlot are typically supple, with sweet red fruit and sometimes a hint of chocolate or mint. Syrah tends to be savory and Old-World-leaning, with a wide range of possible fruit flavors and plenty of spice. The most planted white varieties are Chardonnay and Riesling. These range in style from citrus and green apple dominant in cooler sites, to riper, fleshier wines with stone fruit flavors coming from the warmer vineyards.
An unassuming but noble variety capable of wines with considerable structure, depth and length, Sémillon is an uncompromising white variety with the power to create wines that improve for several decades. It is the perfect partner to the aromatic and vivid Sauvignon Blanc; the two are most commonly found blended in their home region of Bordeaux. Sémillon especially shines in Sauternes, one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, with highly concentrated flavors of honey and dried apricots. While Sémillon is not the most fashionable grape in the rest of the wine world, it enjoys great success in Australia's Hunter Valley, where it can produce elegant, complex dry wines with aging potential.
In the Glass
Sémillon is most notable for its smooth texture and significant palate weight. In youthful dry wines, it expresses subtle aromas of lemon, green apple, pear and stone fruit. Aged or sweet Sémillon wines show more complex characters of lanolin, beeswax, honeysuckle, ginger, saffron, vanilla or toast.
Thanks to its moderate acidity, this fairly full-bodied wine can stand up to pretty boldly flavored food. Think lightly spiced Asian or Indian white meat or fish dishes, or anything with cinnamon, clove, or star anise. It’s also great with autumnal vegetables like kabocha squash, yam or potato. Botrytised Sémillon, as in Sauternes, is a perfectly decadent pairing with foie gras.
Sémillon was once the most common variety in South Africa—so common, in fact, that in 1822, when 93% of the country’s vineyard area was planted with it, it was simply referred to as Wyndruif, or “wine grape.”