L'Ecole No 41 Fries Vineyard Wahluke Slope Columbia Valley Semillon 2004
Outside Australia's Hunter Valley, the Semillon grape generally does duty as a blend
ingredient, prominent in Sauternes for example, where it melds with Sauvigon Blanc to form
a harmonious whole. The venerable grape brings a lot of substance (and a likeable golden
hue) but it lacks the kind of front-end punch that tends to make a grape sexy in today's
market. Hence it was something of a risk for Washington state's L'Ecole No. 41 to take
the Semillon varietal route. They craft this wine and only produce about 500 cases (which
leaves 499 if you subtract the case I have laid down).
The wine is carefully barrel fermented and aged on the lees for seven months. The oak is present as you would expect but lets the fruit drive on through: peach, apricot, pineapple, banana. On the nose the deeply golden wine presents both floral and mineral elements, but as the wine and palate start to become friends the key complement to the fruit becomes buttered toast (a key Hunter Valley characteristic, by the way). The wine's considerable finish adds nice tart notes of kiwi and ripe lime to the rest of the fruit.
Semillon is easy to grow, and I think, like Chardonnay, fairly easy to pronounce, two traits
that might give it a future in the American wine spectrum. L'Ecole No 41's Semillon adds
a third and winning factor; it is convivial and the sassy fruit is downright fun.
Verdict: Serious Fun
I have a completely open mind when trying new wines. The only inflexible rule is that I do not like to be rushed. I've got to really snuggle with a wine, if it will have me.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman