Hunter Semillon: An Intimate Understanding
Refreshing and zesty, crisp and light in youth, brimming with bright acids and sweet citrus fruits. Sometimes chalky, sometimes waxy. Toast and honey emerge over time, sometimes nougat and nuts, too. Intriguing and inspiring in equal measure. These green and gold grapes are the stars of Hunter Valley Wine Country, home of one of the longest living white wines on earth. Hunter Semillon is the ultimate reward for those patient enough to wait.
“Semillon is the finest white grape variety grown in the Hunter Valley. It produces a style of wine that is not grown anywhere else on the planet. Incredibly long lived, which is extremely rare in white wines, Semillon is one of Australia’s truly unique wine styles,” says Brokenwood senior winemaker, Stuart Horden.
Brokenwood has a long and illustrious history with Semillon. Chief winemaker Iain Riggs is credited with inventing the modern style of Hunter Valley Semillon that is so revered today; light and bright, refreshing and zesty, driven and bursting with fresh citrus fruits. It was during the hot and dry vintage of 1983 – Riggs’ first vintage at Brokenwood – when he made the decision to chill the fruit first to capture the grape’s intrinsically fresh citrus characteristics. Next came the crucial decision not to put any of the juice into oak, which was how many Hunter Semillons were once made. Riggs’ final wine was vivid, punchy and vibrant. It took everyone by surprise. The combination of chilling the fruit for freshness, and no oak whatsoever – stainless steel tanks only – meant that it was the first time a fragrant, grassy Semillon had ever been seen out of the Hunter Valley.
“Our Semillon style hasn’t changed too much since Iain came to Brokenwood in the early 80s. The fruit is chilled immediately after it enters the winery, and then it’s straight to the press,” Stuart explains. “This helps us capture the true essence of Semillon. I think the real trick is picking the fruit at optimal ripeness, which is when we feel that ‘Semillon’ has all those classic flavours, with sufficient texture and mouthfeel.”
a representative range
Brokenwood craft between four and six different styles of Semillon, depending on vintage conditions. From the entry level to the icon, each example is just as delicious as the last. There aren’t too many Hunter Valley producers who can lay claim to having as intimate an understanding of what a classic white wine from the Hunter is made of… Semillon, obviously.
“We have our successful Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon, which is released the year of the vintage. It’s a consistently beautiful Semillon, with lovely florals and lemon grass aromas, mouth-filling flavours of pear and lemon pith balanced by a zesty acid backbone,” Stuart says.
Quality vineyard site selection is vital for producing outstanding examples of this unique gift. While Brokenwood doesn’t own a Semillon vineyard, they have long standing relationships with local growers dating back nearly 40 years; Oakey Creek, Trevena and Latara, to name just a few.
“Great wines come from great vineyards. The best Hunter Valley Semillon vines are planted on sandy, alluvial, free-draining soils, generally on flats next to or near old creek beds,” Stuart says. “This means we get a more consistent crop level, which is great for getting those juicy natural acids.”
The special single vineyard wines are those that speak clearly of their site. They are typically released by Brokenwood with some bottle age, often between three and five years. The crown jewel in Brokenwood’s stable of spectacular Semillon is the ILR, named after Chief Winemaker, Iain Leslie Riggs.
“The ILR is a very special wine for us. It’s simply the finest Semillon we make. We don’t make it every year; we only make it in the right ones, the special ones,” Stuart explains.
“ILR gets released with six years’ bottle age. We regard it as a true, classic example of the uniqueness of Hunter Valley Semillon.”
Perhaps Semillon’s greatest trait is that it goes so well with seafood.
“Hunter Semillons have naturally lower alcohols, which makes them brilliant as an aperitif. They pair brilliantly with fresh seafood; a dozen Port Stephen oysters, or a bowl of Hunter River school prawns would be perfect,” Stuart suggests.
Hunter Valley Semillon; a gift for summer wine lovers; a gift to the world of fine wine.