Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Semillon From Cave B, L'Ecole No. 41

This posting considers two Washington State wines made primarily from the semillon grape. They are a:

Cave B 2006 Semillon ($19) and a

L'Ecole No. 41 2007 Semillon ($15).

Here's the quick bottom line: the less expensive L'Ecole 41 is without question the better choice. It has a more interesting range of flavors, is better balanced and has a cleaner, crisper finish. This wine is Recommended.

Regular readers of this blog know that, from time to time, I try to encourage consumers of white wine to broaden their horizons from chardonnay. How do I know that most people don't? Just look at how much display space is allocated to chardonnay and how much to other white wines at just about any retailer.

Past postings have considered alternatives such as sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot blanc, roussanne, viognier and arneis -- and here we turn to semillon, a grape often associated with the great dessert wines of Bordeaux.

Dry as well as sweet wines can be made from semillon, however, and that is the case with the two offerings under consideration here. These are wines that can be served as an aperitif or to accompany a main-course meal.

Cave B, positioned as a "destination winery," is located high on a cliff above the Columbia River, close to where Interstate 90 crosses the Columbia Gorge. The associated resort, known as SageCliffe, boasts an up-scale restaurant (featuring Cave B wines, of course) plus modernistic cabins and other accommodations with great views. A golf course is under development and various other amenities are planned.

Cave B produces wines made from a wide range of grapes grown in the arid conditions associated with Eastern Washington. Irrigation is essential.

We tried several during a visit to SageCliffe earlier this year and the semillon struck us a one of the most interesting, so I purchased a couple of bottles.

The one under consideration here seemed to have aged a bit since we initially tried it. It had more of an orange cast in the glass and more of a caramel flavor on the palate than I had remembered. The finish was also a bit cloying. Compared with L"Ecole No. 41, it was Less Desireable, especially given its higher price.

Cave B is currently offering a 2007 semillon and it may well be that this is a wine that needs to be consumed young.

L'Ecole No. 41 is a popular Washington winery located near the town of Walla Walla, which is well south of Interstate 90 -- closer to Washington's border with Oregon.

The L'Ecole No. 41 semillon is a blend of grapes grown in a number of different vineyards and is 10% savignon blanc (the Cave B semillon also has sauvignon blanc added, but the winery doesn't say now much).

In contrast, to the somewhat orange tinge of Cave B offering, the L'Ecole 41 semillon is clear and just a touch silvery in the glass. On the palate, soft fruit flavors such as melon and pear are noticeable, underpinned by a somewhat unexpected and very welcome minerality. There is also a refreshing hint of citrus, which may well come from the sauvignon blanc.  All in all, this is a delicious and refreshing wine that can either be served on its own or with a wide range of lighter fare. At the price, it is a very good buy.

Both of these wines were noticeably better on the first day than when the partially consumed bottles had been reopened a day later and I would recommend consuming them at one sitting.

For the record, the Cave B semillon is quite high in alcohol at 15.1% while the L'Ecole 41 checks in at a somewhat more modest 14.3%

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