Semillon - An Adaptable Wine In Oz
Semillon – An Adaptable Wine in Oz
Semillon is an underrated wine that has hidden its light under a bushel for so long. The Semillon grape variety is grown mainly in France and Australia but can be found in numerous other wine growing countries all over the world, especially Chile. The beauty about Semillon is that it has a chameleon-like character and adapts to its surroundings like no other vine. This is what makes it so interesting.
Rather than producing similar style wines from country to country, Semillons from most of them are fairly ordinary most of the time, but very occasionally a stunning wine is produced. This is a breath of fresh air as we have been used to drinking say a Chardonnay from one part of the world tasting identical to one from another part. This is dull for the consumer but is regarded ‘safe’ by the producers, but what we need is to find totally individual wines in small volumes, and this is where Semillon comes in.
In France, particularly the Bordeaux region, the variety is primarily used for blending with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle to produce the Bordeaux white wines. Semillon is used to make the classic dessert wines of Sauternes where the grapes are left on the vine long after they have ripened and allowed to rot. With high autumnal temperatures this fungus induced ‘noble rot’ occurs as the grapes become infected with the Botrytis cinerea fungus. This fungus consumes the water content of the grape which in turn concentrates the sugar within the fruit. The rot is not always ‘noble’, in bad years of poor weather botrytis can actually destroy the fruit completely.
Semillon accounts for around 80% of the blend (the other 20% is Sauvignon Blanc) in the worlds most exclusive sweet wine from Château d’Yquem.
The reputation of the the château relies totally on the Semillon grape getting this noble rot, so here is an example of how a producer has worked with nature to achieve something very individual and special in their wines.
In Australia in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney the variety is also known as ‘Hunter River Riesling’. However, when the grapes are picked early with low natural sugars and therefore low potential alcohols, these Hunter Valley Semillons are fairly neutral, acidic wines. But with several years maturation in the bottle they undergo an amazing change by gaining character and body as well as developing an interesting honeyed toasty flavour. This maturation gives the wine the impression of ‘oak aged’, but Hunter Valley Semillon is never matured in oak.
A few facts about Semillon:
Sparsely cropped Semillon, when fully ripe and reared in not too hot a country, produces a wine that is high in extract and alcohol, but reasonably low in acidity and aroma.
Semillon in conjunction with Sauvignon Blanc displays its best as in the case with the top Sauternes properties.
Will it keep? Australia’s best Hunter Valley Semillons should last for 10 years or more easily.
When young it is often lemony and responds well to oak ageing attaining a rich slightly ‘waxy’ flavour, as well as a deep golden colour with hints of orange.
Over-production has been responsible for much of the thin, characterless, lower priced Semillons of the past.
What food accompanies Semillon best? A citrousy slightly acidic wine would complement a light chicken korma very well or fish cakes with tartare sauce and even a lovely rice pudding would go well with it.
So instead of sticking with the usual commercial wines try hunting down the more individual ones and you will be rewarded with a host of new flavours and characters.
Rob Hemphill has been a professional winemaker for over 20 years, and is now a freelance marketing writer based out of the UK. He specializes in wine consultancy and has a wide knowledge in vines, vineyards and wine growing techniques as well. His favourite varietals are Gewurztraminer and Shiraz.
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