Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Semillon seems to have originated in the Bordeaux region of South West France, where it was well recognized in the eighteenth century. In Australia the variety was probably brought out in the Busby collection of 1832 (as Groendruif). It is known that wine was being made from Semillon grapes in the Hunter Valley area of New South Wales in the early 1840s.

Semillon is planted in much of South West France, most notably in Monbazillac, and in Bordeaux. When overripe and allowed to become affected by botrytis cinerea (noble rot) the variety is the major component of the unique wines of Sauternes, where it produces undeniably the world’s most famous wine, Chateau d'Yquem. Its other important stake is in Australia, especially the Hunter Valley where it is known as Hunter Valley Riesling. These long-lived Semillons are a far cry from the bulk of what is produced to fatten up commercial Chardonnay in the popular “Sem/Chard blends. Semillon is also widely grown in Chile, California, and Washington State, with minor plantings in South Africa and New Zealand.

Semillon is easy to cultivate, and flowers later, reducing its susceptibility to coulure. Thin skin and tendency to rot give Semillon grown in the cool, misty climate of Sauternes the ability to easily host botrytis cinerea, concentrating and shriveling the grapes so that the wine they produce is exquisitely honeyed and complex. Dry white Bordeaux at the lower end has more Sauvignon Blanc and little or no oak. At the higher end, the wines are Semillon-dominated, more concentrated, more complex, and more lavishly oaked. In Washington State, as in Bordeaux, many round, dry, slightly nutty and tangy versions of Semillon are found. It is also a popular varietal in Australia, where its high acid provides for a life span of up to 30 years! Here its contrasting oily, fat, viscous center and waxy or nutty character make this a very unusual wine. It is not for everyone.

Few Semillons show their richness and complexitiy as those produced in Washington State. Picked late in the season when this varietal's unique character is fully developed, the wines are typically barrel fermented to dryness and aged on the lees (yeast sediments) up to six months. Barrel fermentation with a limited amount of new tight-grained French oak, results in a full-bodied rich texture with rich honey fruit, citrus and fresh fig flavors.

Semillon: lemon, fig, honey, nutty, creamy, oaky, tangy, broad, waxy, high acid. Dry to sweet.

Semillon: Southwest France, Bordeaux, Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Hawkes Bay, Franschhoek, Columbia Valley.

Château d’Yquem, Sauternes, Bordeaux (France)
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux (France)
Chateau Haut Brion Blanc, Bordeaux (France)
Chateau La Mission Haut Brion Blanc, Bordeaux (France)
Tyrrells Hunter Valley Semillon Vat 31, Hunter Valley (Australia)

Best Value
Château Climens, Barsac, Bordeaux (France)
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux (France)
Château Tirecul la Gravière Cuvée Madame Monbazillac (France)
L'Ecole No 41 Seven Hills Estate Semillon, Washington State (USA)
Lengs & Cooter Semillon, Clare Valley (Australia)
Boekenhoutskloof Estate Semillon, Franschhoek (South Africa)
Sileni Estates Semillon, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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