THE BEST SEMILLON WINE
Sémillon is one of the wine world’s somewhat famous grapes. This gold-skinned grape produces France’s most famous and revered sweet wines, such as Sauternes, and some greatest dry white wines of Australia and the best Semillon wine of either France for Sauternes or Australia for fine dry white wines
The Sémillon grape is native to the Bordeaux region. It was known as Sémillon de Saint-Émilion in 1736.It first arrived in Australia in the early 19th century and became extremely popular. The Semillon grape by the 1820s the grape covered over 90% of South Africa’s vineyards, where it was known as Wyndruif, meaning “wine grape”. It was once considered to be the most planted grape in the world, although this is no longer the case.
Sémillon, which is relatively easy to cultivate, consistently produces six to eight tons of grapes per acre from its vigorous vines. It is fairly resistant to disease and ripens early, when, in warmer climates, it acquires a pinkish hue. Since the grape has a thin skin, there is also a risk of sunburn in hotter climates; it is best suited to areas with sunny days and cool nights.
The Sémillon grape is rather heavy, with low acidity and an almost oily texture. It has a high yield and wines based on Semillon can undergo significant aging. Along with Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle, Sémillon is one of only three approved white wine varieties in the Bordeaux region.
The grape is also key to the production of sweet wines such as Sauternes. For the grapes to be used for sweet wine production, they need to have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, (also known as “noble rot“). This fungus dries out the grapes, thus concentrating the sugar and flavors in the grape berry.
Semillon showing signs of developing noble rot
The grape’s home is Bordeaux, and in the 1960s it was planted more than any other variety there. It is here on the Atlantic coast that Sémillon gives its most famous expression: the botrytis-affected wines of Sauternes. Foggy mornings followed by sunny afternoons encourage the development of Botrytis cinerea, leading to the luscious, long-lived wines that are some most collectible in the world.
When vinified, sweet wine made from Sémillon can take on a multitude of flavors, particularly peach, nectarine and mango, with notes of citrus, nuts and honey. Because of the concentrations of sugar and glycerol the wine demonstrates a very silken texture.
Often lacking the acid required to balance its weight, Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Muscadelle is also added to enhance the fruitiness of the white Bordeaux Blend. Intensely structured Sémillon wines may be barrel-aged, while fresher examples are typically fermented in stainless steel.
As a dry wine, Sémillon requires a unique set of conditions in which to make quality wine including a certain amount of rain to produce these top quality dry wines of the unoaked Sémillon. The best Hunter Valley wines are some longest-living dry white wines in the world.
Sémillon is an important cultivar in two significant wine producing countries. In France, Sémillon is the preeminent white grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. The grape has also found a home in Australia; whereas today the country’s major white varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc, early in the country’s viticultural development it was Sémillon that was the most significant white variety.
In France, the Sémillon grape is grown mostly in Bordeaux where it is blended with Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle. When dry, it is referred to as Bordeaux blanc and is permitted to be made in the appellations of Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Entre-Deux-Mers. However, when used to make the sweet white wines of Bordeaux (such as those from Sauternes, Barsac and Cérons) it is often the dominant variety. In such wines the vine is exposed to the “noble rot” of Botrytis cinerea. Which consumes the water content of the fruit, concentrating the sugar present in its pulp. When attacked by Botrytis cinerea, the grapes shrivel and the acid and sugar levels are intensified.
Sémillon vines growing in Gisborne, New Zealand
Sémillon is widely grown in Australia, particularly in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney. Four styles of Sémillon-based wines are made there:
- a commercial style, often blended with Chardonnay or Sauvignon blanc;
- a sweet style, after that of Sauternes;
- a complex, minerally, early picked style which has great longevity;
- and an equally high quality dry style, which can be released soon after vintage as a vats- or bottle-aged example.
The latter two styles were pioneered by Lindemans, Tulloch, McWilliam’s Elizabeth, Drayton and Tyrrell’s, and are considered unique to Australia.
Most examples of these bottle-aged Hunter Semillons exhibit a buttercup-yellow color, honey characteristics on the nose and excellent complex flavors on the palate, with a long finish and soft acid. Young Hunter Valley semillon is almost always a dry wine, usually exhibiting citrus flavors of lemon, lime or green apple. Cooler-year Hunter Semillons seem to be the most highly sought after.
Sémillon is also finding favor with Australian producers outside the Hunter Valley in the Barossa Valley and Margaret River regions. The Adelaide Hills is becoming a flourishing region for Semillon with the cooler climate producing some wines of great complexity.
Semillon is one of the Cape’s true heritage white varietals, with origins as early as the 17th century when it became known as Groendruif which translates as Green grapes. This grape variety accounted for more than 90% of plantings in the first half of the 19th century. While South African Semillon has not quite taken off as a serious commercial category in single varietal form in the modern era, there are stunning wines being made from especially older vineyards. The best South African Semillons have juicy fruit with often an ethereal-like citrus perfume, fine texture, herbal interest and manage to marry the intensity of flavors.
Outside of these regions, however, Sémillon is unpopular and often criticised for lack of complexity and intensity. As such, plantings have decreased over the last century. As referenced above, the grape can still be found in South Africa and Chile. The latter is reputed to have the largest plantings of this grape, although the number of acres planted with Sémillon fluctuates often. California growers plant Sémillon primarily to blend it with Sauvignon blanc. There are some wineries in Washington State that have produced Sémillon as a varietal wine since the early 1980s; others actively produce Sémillon for Ice Wine and Late Harvest wines. The grape is also planted in Argentina, Canada (Niagara and British Columbia) and recently in New Zealand.
Semillon and Great Food Pairing
The Hunter Valley in Australia is the place to go for the best Semillon wine the most distinctive style. Fresh and zippy when it’s young, more complex and oily as it ages this is the perfect wine for raw and lightly cooked shellfish especially with Asian flavors.
Spring vegetables such as asparagus and peas
Dishes with fennel
Dishes with a citrus influence
Lightly cooked fish dishes such as sea bass and razor clams
Soft shell crab
smoked fish such as salmon or trout
Barossa Valley Semillon and other rich selections
Fuller and riper, often with a lick of oak, Southern Australian Semillons can take richer fish and shellfish dishes and light meats like chicken and pork – again with an Asian accent. Try:
Scallops (probably my number one choice)
Grilled lobster, prawns or Moreton Bay bugs
Salmon and salmon trout
Fish or chicken in a creamy Asian sauce
Thickly sliced ham
Pork or chicken satay
Other spicy but not over-hot pork dishes
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Please review some fine selections of the Best Semillon Wine. Also, please go to our website for a complete selection of all our fine beverages
2011 Brokenwood ILR Semillon
2014 Carpenter Semillon
2015 De Romance
2017 Moss Wood Semillon
2015 Moss Wood Wilyabrup Margaret River Semillon
1995 Tirecul La Graviere Monbazillac Cuvee Madame Vendage Tardive
2004 Two Hands For Love or Money Cane Cut Semilion Late Harvest