One of the lines in my “You know you’re a wine nut if …” is “You are endlessly amused by the fact that people confuse Semillon and St.Emilion.” When I wrote that (a year or two before I was actually certifiably a wine nut) I thought that it would have to be a common mistake. After all, the names look a little similar. Since I wrote that, I’ve made a few further discoveries.
Nobody who knew even a little bit about Semillon and St.Emilion could confuse them.
Semillon is a white grape grown pretty much every where, but most notably in Bordeaux, where it is the primary ingredient in sweet, long-lived white wines called Sauternes. It is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make the great dry whites from Bordeaux. In Australia and California, it is often blended with Chardonnay. Talus has a very nice Semillon-Chardonnay.
St.Emilion means one of two things, depending on the context.
St.Emilion is another name for Ugni Blanc, which is the most planted white variety in France. But, chances are that you will never see a white wine that is labelled “St.Emilion.” In South America, it is bottled as “Ugni Blanc”, and in Italy, it is bottled as “Trebbiano.” As “St.Emilion” (in France), it is usually put in Cognac and Armagnac.
But, also, St.Emilion is a region in Bordeaux, and this is what it will probably mean if you see it on a wine bottle. It will be a red wine, composed mostly of Mer lot. St.Emilion is a medieval town, north-east of the actual town of Bordeaux, on the north bank of the Dordogne river.
Of course, the other thing that I have learned is that this is almost a moot point, because the average wine-drinker (in the USA, anyways) has never even heard of either Semillon or St.Emilion. Again, perhaps I live in the wrong part of the country, but it seems that even where I travel, the wine lists are predictably Cab, Chard, and White Zin. Nobody’s got much time for these strange-sounding French wines.