Import Selection: Semillon/Chardonnay, 1990. Penfolds

Penfolds was established in South Australia by Dr. Christopher Penfold in 1844. He had emigrat­ed from England bringing with him his wife Mary and some wax-sealed vine cuttings. Four miles from Adelaide in Magill they built a white-washed stone cottage, naming it The Grange after Mary’s home in England. The doctor used his wines, grown over iron and limestone substrata, as a cure for anemia, thus gaining notoriety as both medical man and vintner. The winery flourished. A couple of generations later found the opera­tion a thriving success, vastly ex­panded. In 1931, Max Schubert, a native Australian, joined the firm. When World War II ended he be­came Penfolds’ Chief Winemaker. Showing unprecedented initiative Schubert in 1951 went on to devel­op what was to become Australia’s most famous wine, the rare Grange Hermitage. Its tremendous success fostered even further ex­pansion. Today the conglomera­tion of wineries known as Penfolds is Australia’s largest wine producer crushing nearly 25% of the country’s wine grape production. Yet quality has been scrupu­lously maintained. In fact 1989 saw their current Chief Winemak­er, John R. Duval, awarded The Robert Mondavi International Winemaker of the Year Trophy.

By European standards this wine is a rather unorthodox blend of two fine French varieties: Sem­illon from Bordeaux and Chardon-nay from Bourgogne. While each is quite capable of yielding excel­lent, elegant dry white wines, the former will sometimes offer an ap­petizing herbaceousness wholly absent in the latter. Semillon is never offered as a solo grape in its native France. Instead, it’s usually paired with Sauvignon Blanc, the other main Bordeaux white. Char­donnay on the other hand is almost always shipped unblended. Unen­cumbered by such conventions, the free-wheeling Aussies do their own thing: they simply blend to­gether whatever they feel tastes best.

Our selection has a very pale clear yellow/green appearance. A fresh lemony fig and herb aroma precedes tart apple and slightly spi­cy flavors. The wine is quite dry with a firm, appealing structure: Smooth, medium-bodied with very good acidity. Fig and spice linger in the finish.

Serve chilled with rosemary chicken, orange roughey or a savory veal roast.

Cellaring Notes: Drinking nice­ly now, will mellow and complex two more years.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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