Peter Lehmann’s Sémillon has a curious and beautiful flavor profile: dry and pretty and grassy, but a little more fruity than the French versions.
“It’s all about the fruit, that wine,” he tells me. We are sitting at dinner together, at an Australian-inspired San Francisco restaurant called South, and we’re having a few laughs despite being there in our professional capacities. “It doesn’t see any oak at all, and you see that green cast? That’s a sign it’s been well handled. It’s not oxidized at all. It’s absolutely fresh, and it’s three years old! That’s the screw cap, too. Keeps the wine alive. It’s like biting into a fresh, green apple.”
The wine isn’t expensive—about 11 bucks—and Lehmann says it’s the biggest-selling Sémillon in Australia. “Although we’re getting killed by Sauvignon Blanc.” He says he can’t grow Sauvignon Blanc in the Barossa; it just has no character there.
Picking up the bottle, I read idly on the back label that I should expect aromas of lemon flower, honey, and lanolin. “What does lanolin smell like, anyway?” I ask. “Isn’t that something you find in hand lotions?”
“Ah, you know the smell,” he says, as if it were obvious. “It’s from sheep’s wool.”
I laugh out loud, loving the cultural gulf we’ve just revealed. I haven’t the vaguest idea what sheep’s wool smells like. “That’s really very funny,” I say. “There are very few Americans who have the slightest clue what lanolin smells like, and yet sheep are common enough in Australia that you can put it on a wine label and people will know what you’re talking about.”
“Ah yeah,” Lehmann says. “Aussies definitely know. And you tell a Kiwi it smells like lanolin and he’ll butter up. It’s an aphrodisiac over there.”
To be fair, my own sense of humor is every bit as coarse, and we have gotten to this pass in the conversation by covering quite a lot of wine, equal volumes of food, and a growing sense that we understand one another. So if you’re offended, blame me: I got us here.
But I do love when these staid winemaker meals go off the rails a little, venturing into vaguely offensive territory. It’s a sign that two actual human beings are meeting one another. Lehmann is an immensely appealing guy because he’s a hard-driving winemaking businessman from way back. His wines are a great value too—and not just this Sémillon, but also the big Barossa Shiraz bottlings for which he’s so well known.
2005 Peter Lehmann Barossa Sémillon
Grapes: 100 percent Sémillon
Alcohol: 11.5 percent (nice and light, huh?)
Price: $10 from the Hess Collection, which imports the wine
My Tasting Notes: Good value for a large-production wine, it’s balanced and crisp and refreshing. Good as a cocktail or with a light meal.