Mendel Semillon 2017 Mendoza

Tim's infatuation with Sémillon continues ... to our benefit. 

From 570 pesos, £12.95, 149 Swedish kronor, $16.99, CA$36.99 

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I have already waxed lyrical about this variety in my Seminal Sémillon seminar article, so it is perhaps fitting that my first wine of the week suggestion is Mendel Semillon 2017 from the Paraje Altamira GI, in the Uco Valley in southern Mendoza. 

I first came across this wine when visiting Mendoza in 2014, tasting it at the small, homely Mendel bodega in the Mayor Drummond area of Luján de Cuyo. Having made the appointment with Malbec securely on my mind, I was surprised to discover any Semillón at all (the accent is different in Argentina), let alone find a pure and refined example.

Roll on five years and I was reordering some of Mendel’s equally pure and refined Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (available in the UK from The Wine Society), which itself could merit a recommendation as wine of the week (and see Julia’s tasting article about Mendel’s Unus blend). To my delight, they also list Semillon (spelt without the accent, at least on the UK labels, as the picture shows); I didn’t hesitate to get a bottle.

Having tasted the 2017 Semillon, I don’t hesitate to recommend it as a wine of the week. (The only hiccup was that the first bottle was corked – and replaced without the slightest quibble by The Wine Society.) At just £12.95 in the UK and $16.99 in the US and a score of 16.5, it represents great value as well as being a fine, clear example of the variety.

The 2017 blends subtle, nutty oak overtones from the 15% of fruit that spent six months in oak, with elegant lemon rind and lemongrass varietal character, some tropical fruit ripeness and a fine line of acidity. Moreover, I found a distinctly saline quality on the palate as well as rocky mineral aromatics. These triggered a memory that the Uco Valley vineyard where the wine originated comprised quite old vines.

Sure enough, planted on their own roots in 1947, the 2 ha (4.9 acres) of Semillón in Mendel’s Finca Remota (great name), at 1,100 m (3,280 ft) elevation, celebrated their 70th birthday in 2017. I think, in part, that these old vines give depth to the palate that points to decent longevity on this wine, which should drink well up to 2025 and perhaps as far as 2030, changing character along the way.

Existence of such old Semillón vineyards in Argentina should be less of a surprise than it was to me back in 2014. The variety was once widely planted, before falling out of favour, reduced to being blended into base wines for sparkling production. It is great to see business partners at Mendel, Roberto de la Mota and Anabelle Sielecki, alongside a handful of other wineries, recuperating the variety.

Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Hubert de Boüard of Ch Angélus fame, who was showing his new line of monovarietal wines from Bordeaux (which in 2018 won’t include Sémillon as the fruit wasn’t good enough). He said simply that he believes Sémillon is the best variety in Bordeaux. So, I am not alone in flying the flag for this great variety!

For those outside the UK wishing to seek out the Mendel 2017 wine, Wine-Searcher.com lists its availability as:

  • In its home country for 570 pesos at OzonoDrinks.com.ar.
  • Sweden’s Systembolaget monopoly has it for 149 Swedish kronor.
  • In California it is available for $16.99 (Vinous Reverie), in Washington DC at $21.99 (MacArthur Beverages) and $23 to $26 in the New Jersey and New York state areas.
  • Canadians in Alberta can get it for CA$36.99 (Kensington Wine Market) and more expensively in BC, with Marquis Wine Cellars listing it at CA$49.90.

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