Humbled once again. After tasting through five vintages of Rosewood Sémillon, there are two things I now know for certain. It’s impossible to guess the exact value of prizes in the showcase showdown and even harder to predict the tasting future of a Rosewood Sémillon. If only the Price is Right finale included these great prizes. Bright-eyed winemaker (Luke Orwinski) chomping at the bit to share his grape, game show host plans with the world. Queen social bee (Krystina Roman) directing the drones with striking and graceful precision. Lunch courses as dreamy art-rock chord progressions by chef Ren Mercer of Toronto’s Spoke Club.
The club’s private dining room offered an intimate and focused setting for a Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon five vintage retrospective spanning the vintages 2008-2012. Sémillon the amenable white variety is most often employed in combination with Sauvignon Blanc to forge the dry white wines of Bordeaux and more famously, the dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Winemakers on the west coast have used the grape for some grand Late Harvest Botrytis dessert wines. As a stand alone varietal, Mt. Boucherie out of B.C. makes terrific Sémillon and the grape has flourished in Australia’s Hunter Valley but as a dry white it has gained little attention virtually anywhere else. Mark Kent has made some stellar single bottlings at Boekenhoutskloof in South Africa but look elsewhere and its rare solo usage is both confounding and disturbing.
Enter Rosewood Estates. Their Sémillon is magical. Granted, in leaner years it strikes a more than spooky close resemblance to Bench Riesling but in glorious vintages it takes on a level of complexity no other Niagara white can match. I feel compelled to lead the charge. #StandSémillonStand.
Rosewood Estates is located on the Beamsville Bench astride the Niagara Escarpment. Family run, community-centric and driven by people, place and passion. Most of all there are the bees. The Roman family has been in the beekeeping business going back more than 50 years. “With over 40 acres under vine (across two vineyards) and over 350 hives as of 2012, the team is excited to be one of the premium mead producers in Canada.”
Rosewood Wines and Tasting Menu
Sémillon 2012 ($18, part of the Select Series, brand new label, to be released Fall 2013) is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value. 90
Tasting Plate #1 – Crab Salad + Braised Pork Belly with spring onion and sea buckthorn
Sémillon 2011 ($18, June 22nd VINTAGES Release, at the winery) is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling. Fascinating study. 91
Sémillon 2010 ($18, Rosewood Estates Library and @barquebbq) is stoic, the most delicate and understated at the tasting. If ever there was a dumb phase, this would be it. The sea-earthy buckthorn gelée adds prurient and prosaic matter to the clement, crisp and almandine tisane. Unique to ’10, a marigold floral note hovers. 90 Previous note, Oct. 2, 2012: “shows little procrastination with a superfluity of lemon, lime and paraffin but like all great Sémillon, the wine needs time. A block of wax keeps the honey down but look for a mellifluous ooze three years on. Glittering sheen, diamond-like focus and crusted by an accent of lemon zest. Krystina Roman will lead this grape to stardom. “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” Top white. Shine on you crazy Sémillon.” 90
Tasting Plate #2 – Raw Ahi Tuna and asparagus with Thai basil + Caramelized Sweetbreads with chamomile
Sémillon 2009 ($18, Rosewood Estates Library) has changed course since last October by way of a portal-scooching entry into secondary life. Digs deep in the vineyard’s dirt, stretches, grasps and reaches limestone. A product of the most natural vintage, picked late (October 16th), bleating and stonking high in spontaneous, innate acidity. Highlight of the tasting, full of the Clint (citrus and flint). 92 Previous note, Oct. 24, 2012: “may understate its pineapple, Bosc pear and white pepper bequeathal due to the rains of the vintage yet still retains its Viognier like viscosity and floral tide. All quality Semillon needs three to five years to gain weight and Rosewood’s track record tows that line. A mysterious herbal note lies beneath the tropical nuances and Spytkowsky can’t place her nose on it. It’s Rhône-esque garrigue in bloom, not unlike thyme, rosemary or oregano.” 90
Sémillon 2008 ($18, Rosewood Estates Library) is well into collateral, ancillary development. Retains a verve in acidity and twang, similar in style to ’09 and ’11 but the petrol has begun. Another sticky Rosewood, a Pooh-magnet, but also with tropical flavours. Unchained Renaceau rocker, with a funky high leg kick, a wild cat’s wail and if you wait for it, lemon citrus blossom comes out in the last refrain. The gift that keeps on giving. ”Yeah ya hit the ground running.” 92
Tasting Plate #3 – Braised oxtail ravioli with brown butter
Lock, Stock & Barrel 2011 ($34, at the winery) offers distinct vocal performances from Cabernet Sauvignon (44 per cent), Merlot (37) and Cabernet Franc (16) while Petit Verdot gives buoyant girth. Clean, juicy fruit, timed to be picked just ahead of the rains. Repeated battonage and cold soaking make for a remarkably velvety and stylish Meritage. Savoury and piquant, seamless and integrated, the tannins are created by the fruit itself. “In 2011 we got brown stems,” notes Orwinski. Translation? Ripe grapes. 91
Tasting Plate #4 – Poached rhubarb
Harvest Gold Mead 2011 ($15, 500 mL, VINTAGES July 20) is dated by the honey’s bi-annual harvest. Tends dry, gingery, dusty and with a candlenut sweetness, like Gewurz. William Roman Senior dreamt to make mead but was denied the license. Well Krystina, you’ve brought home the cup. ”His dream is my life.” Previous note: is so simple it’s the zen koan of the wine world. Hue as if Riesling or Semillon. Perfume is significant and verdant. Made from a lighter honey as per the vintage, this is “an ode to traditional mead, with a savoury component and cool balance,” notes winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky. Fermented and aged in 100 per cent stainless steel it buzzes out with a tang like late harvest Riesling but finishes remarkably dry. Honey, water, yeast. The whole aviary. Nothing petty about it. “Peace in the valley with my honey bee.” 88
Mead Noir 2012 ($25, VINTAGES June 15th Online Release, 350835) is oh so Rosé. Made in every other vintage, the Noir interchanges with the Blanc (Gewurz). A shout out to Malivoire fro the clear, Burgundy bottle under screwcap to house this singular Beamsville sweety. This is Pyment Mead, from Pinot Noir, 20 per cent Merlot and a touch of Sussreserve Riesling to bring sweet and tang into equilibrium. Aperitif, tonic, refresher, drink to chill. Works in so many ways. 90
Good to go!