Semillon is a golden skinned white grape that was once, around the 1950s, the most planted grape in the world . Since then this grape has declined in share and volume, and it remains one of the worlds most underrated grapes, very much playing second tier to other well known whites.
It’s origins are unknown, and it probably grew from plantations in South West France where it was used as a blending grapes to add character and width to the local wines. It eventually became one of the three accepted varietals of white Bordeaux alongside Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. It plays varing percentage parts in the white wines of the Graves, Entre deux Mers and Pessac-Leognan, but it really comes into it’s own when you look at the rich sweet styles of Barsac and Sauternes. Semillon is a relatively easy grape to grow, and ripens early. It is noted for a heavier style and oily texture alongwith a citrus, lemony, herbal taste that becomes honeyed and toasty with age. In Sauternes, if conditions are right, the grape is prone to an attack of noble rot, which sucks out some of the water content enriching the sugar. Carefully hand picked and vinified this produces an intensely rich, golden honeyed wine that is capable of lasting for years, and is accepted world wide as one of the greatest sweet white wines. Probably the most famous of these, Chateau d’Yquem, is often called “the best wine in the world”
In the early 19th century Semillon reached Australia and here it produces another superb combination of wines. In the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, several styles began: first the commercial drier wine blended with Chardonnay and Sauvigion Blanc that makes easy and enjoyable drinking. Then there is the sweeter style along the lines of a Sauternes. Finally there is the aged high quality dry Semillon style produced by such producers as Peter Lehmann and d’Arenberg. These wines age in bottle and are made in a young refreshing style although the acidity is soft. They have a honeyed, toasted, lemon and citrus flavour with a long dry finish. In the glass they may well look buttercup yellow. The younger Semillons give a lighter style of dry citrus, lemon and lime flavours with tinges of green apples.
The success of the Hunter Valley wines has led to the expansion of Semillon into the Barossa and Margaret River areas of Australia. It has also seen something of a revival in Chile, South Africa and now New Zealand .
One of it’s biggest returns to fame was the success of the Semillon –Sauvignon blend that did so much for Australia’s export and home markets- a light clean wine full of fruit and tropical flavours that made such easy drinking. Semillon as a dry wine has the ability to go with savoury dishes , blue cheeses, foie gras and shellfish. As a sweet wine, there is little to beat it, as a dessert wine and, again with cheese. Serve just chilled and enjoy the flavours.