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The 2012 Downes Family Vineyards Semillon is certainly no ordinary Semillon. In fact, it belongs in the company of exceptional white Bordeaux wines produced by Bordeaux’s Classified Growths. Just as many of Bordeaux’s renowned châteaux (Domaine de Chevalier, Fieuzal, Haut-Brion, etc.) fashion tiny quantities of superlative age worthy Semillon based white wines, so do the folks at Downes Family Vineyards. But what makes the 2012 Downes Family Semillon so memorable? For starters, it’s the wine’s rich golden color, but that’s just for an opening act. The beautiful aroma and flavor profile of the 2012 Downes Family Semillon is the main attraction, which makes this stunning Semillon well worth the price of admission. A complex cache of sappy flavors reminiscent of citrus, dried honey, herb, and melon greet the nose and greedy palate, and all are perfectly packed into a balanced harmonious structure. No wonder critics have bestowed 92+ ratings on this wine. In this Semillon, one finds elegance, flavor, and that indefinable quality the French are so fond of calling a certain “Je ne sais quoi.” Everything about this wine echoes breed and class. Nevertheless, the 2012 Downes Family Vineyards Semillon remains a babe, though a thoroughly enjoyable one. If you can let this wine age for a couple of years or more, it will likely make you cry tears of joy. Enjoy this superlative Semillon moderately chilled (40°-45° F) now and for years to come.
While it may be true that the success of food and wine pairings ultimately depends upon a number of factors, not the least of which is one’s palette of personal preferences, it shouldn’t be difficult to find more than a few good companions to accompany the 2012 Downes Family Vineyards Semillon. One good bet would be to pair this classic Semillon with shellfish or just about anything else that once swam, especially in the first few years of the wine’s life. A well prepared seviche will fill the bill. South African lobster tails, or, even better still, whole steamed lobsters served with drawn butter, merit our unabashed endorsement with this wine. Full and opulent, the 2012 Downes Family Semillon won’t wilt or fade in front of the rich meat of the lobster. Interestingly, foie gras provides a wonderful companion to Semillon as well. Foie gras brings out the fruit and accentuates the structure in Semillon, a phenomena that will become even more evident with additional bottle age on the wine. Therefore, another tasty complement that involves foie gras is the French classic Poularde, a roast chicken served with a sauce made with foie gras and plenty of butter and vegetables. Heart healthier and easier to prepare would be a Roasted Chicken or Quail stuffed with wild rice, pear, and herbs. Vegetarian dishes with a touch of curry provide fine complements to the 2012 Downes Family Semillon, too. Enjoy!
Finding exceptional wines that offer great flavor and incomparable value requires much more than just tasting more wines or even more of the same kind of wines. Actually, uncovering the oenological gems that lay hidden away in far flung places is akin to mining. Often, producers make small quantities of wines they don’t sell commercially, unless you ask, beg, and sometimes even cajole. Consequently, there is usually a whole lot of sweat and toil before anything that vaguely resembles a jewel can be extracted from the earth. Yet, every now and then a wine, like a rare diamond or emerald, happens mysteriously to find its way to the surface to cross our path at a most opportune moment. Eureka! The Downes Family Vineyards Semillon is just such a find. In fact, Downes Family Vineyards, formally known as Shannon Vineyards, and the lush Elgin Valley of South Africa constitute major discoveries.
Downes Family Vineyards is situated in the heart of the Elgin Valley, a verdant patch of South Africa’s Western Cape that has long been known for its cool climate, beautiful flowers, and splendid produce. Ringed by mountains, the Elgin Valley remains a tapestry of orchards, olive groves, and vineyards among green rolling hills. For nearly a century Elgin Valley has produced some of Africa’s most exceptional fruits, most notably apples and pears. These luxuriant green hills are also home to Downes Family Vineyards and a growing number of South Africa’s most talented winemakers. As a member of the Green Mountain Eco Route and a leader in the Biodiversity Wine Initiative, which maintains wide corridors of virgin soil and native Cape flora between the vineyards to allow indigenous animals territorial access, Downes Family Vineyards is fervently committed to conservation, sustainability, and social uplift.
Downes Family Vineyards is the domain of James and Stuart Downes. The family’s forbearers, the Shannon and Downes families, hailed from County Cork, Ireland. They married into the James family, renowned wine merchants and former owners of London’s famous White Horse Pub. As a tribute to their ancestors James and Stuart Downes now produce a number of South Africa’s most compelling wines, which are fashioned from 12 different vineyard blocks, 7 of which are devoted solely to Sauvignon Blanc. The balance is planted to Merlot, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and Viognier. The Downes Family Semillon (this month’s feature) is one of the estate’s smallest and most renowned offerings.
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