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Wine

Whites of delight

Ahhh summer. There aren’t many things better than kicking back on a warm sunny afternoon and enjoying a chilled glass of white wine. More often than not that wine will be a Classic Dry White. For those of you who don’t know, this is actually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (SBS or more commonly, SSB).

Did that surprise you? After all, it is the most popular white blend in the country and it has been for ages. Yep. Years, and I am talking decades, before Sauv Blanc cast its spell on us, we were downing this crisp, refreshing white by the bucket load. We still do and probably will long into the future.

What really got me thinking is the reason why it is so popular. I mean, we produce world class Semillon in Australia, but (shamefully) we hardly drink it. We also deliver pretty good Sauv Blanc, but for some reason most of us prefer to buy it from across the ditch. Blend these two varieties together, however, and its like Harry Potter has grown up to become a winemaker and put a spell on all the bottles of SSB to make them insanely appealing to the drinking public.

Bubble bubble, little toil, no trouble

Technically speaking, I can understand why you would blend these two varieties. You take the lazy grassy aromas and tropical flavour of Sauvignon Blanc and smarten it up with the structure and mouthfeel of Semillon. It’s like an overweight teenager with nice skin making use of a season pass to the gym. Conversely, and this is perhaps a reason given by those who can’t take to the super zingy freshness of young Semillon, it softens the acidic nature of Sem and endows it with a subtle fruit-punch appeal.

Value-wise, it is also very appealing. Most SSBs on the market are somewhere between $15 and $25. And while it is not the first choice match for most dishes, it goes pretty well with a range foods, especially summery fare such as seafood, salads and mezze plates. Add all that up, and SSBs seem like a pretty handsome proposition. Must be those hours in the gym!

A bit of history

While Australia has taken SSBs to its vinous heart since the 1980s, this classic white blend has actually been produced for donkeys in the south-west of France, namely Bordeaux and Bergerac. More often than not it is as the crisp, dry white that we are familiar with, but the French also blend Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc to make the sweet dessert wine, Sauternes.

Western Australia’s Margaret River virtually owns the Classic Dry White category in this country, which again, is a bit strange seeing the region isn’t really noted for producing either Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc in their own right. But, as you probably know by now, when talking about wine in this country, two plus two doesn’t always equal four.

So what gives here? Well, two things (or more if you adhere to my mathematics from above). The Margaret River region was the first to really latch onto the SSB blend. It became popular at cellar door and other producers in the region saw it as their ‘bread and butter’ wine, and jumped on board. When the region started selling their wine to the rest of the country, Margs had already established a reputation for producing refreshing and attractively priced Classic Dry White. They have been running with it ever since. But as we found out in this tasting, there are other regions starting to cotton on.

The magic of Margaret

The second reason is best answered by Kim Horton, senior winemaker at Willow Bridge Estate in Margaret River.

“You would think that by looking at the Semillons from the eastern seaboard, that as a variety it would be the least likely to sit with Sauvignon Blanc in a blend,” levels Kim.

“However the weather conditions in Western Australia’s south allow clean and longer ripening of Semillon. The Semillon aromatics are very herbaceous and grassy, but also, depending on the climate, quite lemon dominant or veering towards watermelon and guava. In short, what one variety lacks, the other can assist.”

The Tasting and the results

For this State of Play tasting we looked at SSBs from across the country. Naturally, the majority of the wines entered were from the Margaret River region, and they dominated the Top 30, with 19 wines. Five of the other top scorers were from other Western Australian regions, namely Great Southern and Frankland River. Of these WA wines, most have Sauvignon Blanc as the dominant partner in the blend.

An interesting observation from this tasting was the subtle use of oak which brings a bit of structure to the mid-palate, particularly of the Sauv Blanc dominant wines. This added complexity broadens SSB’s food matching abilities and shows the blend has an exciting future away from its ‘simplistic’ label.

The most surprising result was that two of the three top scoring wines were not from WA! The Drayton’s 2013 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc was top of the pops, wowing the judges with its savoury nose and fantastic mouthfeel. While the Grosset 2015 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc earned its spot on the podium with its thrillingly elegant purity and ripe fruit characters.

The most notable feature of these wines, as with most of the other standouts from the eastern seaboard, was the fact that the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc were sourced from different regions. For instance, for the Grosset, the Sem was Clare Valley, the Sauv Blanc from the Adelaide Hills.

“For me, the perfect SSB blend must be from two regions,” says Clare Valley winemaker Jeffrey Grosset. “Semillon from a mild climate with plenty of sunshine to achieve a generous citrus and structured palate, and Sauvignon Blanc from a cooler climate, such as the Adelaide Hills, where it can achieve tropical gooseberry-like flavours. To produce a blend from one region alone is unlikely to achieve the depth of flavour and balance.”

The sentiment is shared by Edgar Vales, winemaker at Drayton’s, who sees a real future for SSB in the Hunter.

“There is a synergy that exists between the two varieties,” says Edgar. “Particularly with Hunter Sem blended with Sauv Blanc from cooler regions such as Orange, Adelaide Hills or Tasmania.”

While you can expect to see the emergence of new names in the SSB category, the Margaret River region will continue to shine. And that’s music, a classic (dry white) hit, to the ears of winemakers like Kim, and the drinking public.

“The fact most parts of Australia enjoy six months of sunshine, a high percentage live near the coast and with our general love of fresh seafood, the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend is a perfect accompaniment to our everyday life.”

 The Top 30 Classic Dry Whites (November 2015)

Drayton’s Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20)

Howard Park ‘Miamup’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013  (Margaret River, $28)

Grosset Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills, $35) 

Happs Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $24)

Redgate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $22.50)

Vasse Felix Classic Dry White Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River,  $19)

Willow Bridge Estate Dragonfly Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Geographe, $20)

Rob Dolan Trye Colours Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013 (Yarra Valley, $24)

Fermoy Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River, $22)

Miles From Nowhere Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 (Margaret River $15)

Millbrook Winery Barking Owl Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River,  $17.95)

Moss Brothers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River $25)

Forester Estate Block Splitter Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $20).

Trevelen Farm Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Great Southern, $20)

Serafino Goose Island Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (McLaren Vale, $18)

Deep Woods Estate Ivory Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 (Margaret River, $14.95)

The Lane Vineyard Gathering Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35)

Alkoomi Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Frankland River, $15)

Juniper Estate Crossing Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $20)

Rockcliffe Quarram Rocks Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Great Southern, $21)

Killerby Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $26)

Driftwood Estate Artifacts Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $25)

Churchview Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $20)

Glandore Estate Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley/Orange, $23)

Hay Shed Hill Block 1 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $30)

Evans & Tate Classic Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Margaret River, $14)

Pepper Tree Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley/Tasmania, $19)

Forest Hill Vineyard The Broker Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Western Australia, $22)

Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 (Margaret River, $25)

McWilliam’s Wines Catching Thieves Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Margaret River, $18)

See Wine Selectors complete range of Classic Dry Whites

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Australian Sauvignon Blanc in the spotlight
It originated in France, and was made popular by New Zealand wine marketers, but Sauvignon Blanc Australian style is making it’s own mark on the wine world. Depending on where in Australia your Sauvignon Blanc originates, it runs the gamut of flavour from herbal, grassy, sour citrus and gooseberry, to passionfruit and tropical fruit characters. Structurally these wines can be light in body and crisp or medium-bodied and rich. Some also have a small portion of oaked material to add a further dimension of complexity creating the Fumé Blanc style. We take a look at Australia’s best Sauvignon Blanc regions and their styles. South Australia The cool Adelaide Hills is perfectly suited to producing crisp, fresh, grassy Sauvignon Blanc. Good examples are also produced in Coonawarra, with richer, riper examples coming from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek. Western Australia Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc has ripe, zippy and grassy flavours that have attractive, tropical musky-asparagus aromas. Pemberton is a small Western Australian region that produces distinct and appealing Sauvignon Blanc styles. You can expect tropical fruit aromas and flavours with soft glossy palates. Victoria Victoria’s cool regions produce some fresh and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, with those from the Yarra being typically elegant and restrained. King Valley and Goulburn Valley Sauvignon Blanc is often grassy and also shows classic cool-climate freshness and vibrancy. Tasmania The cool Tasmanian climate is ideal for Sauvignon Blanc that typically has high levels of crisp acidity, which gives the wine great freshness. Often, a small proportion may be matured in oak to add complexity, richness and texture. Orange A rising star, Orange’s cool climate and high altitude have proved to be ideal conditions for creating Sauvignon Blanc with fresh, herbaceous characters.
Wine
Who gets the gong for Semillon?
Words by Ralph Kyte-Powell on 12 Aug 2015
Let me take you back in time. Way back. Pre- Sauvignon Blanc . Back in the years B.C. (before Chardonnay ), when only two white wine types vied for the crown of Australia’s best. For a large part of the twentieth century, Australia’s two greatest white table wines were Semillon and Riesling . Riesling thrived in Australian wine’s heartland of South Australia, and the old wine country of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales was the source of the nation’s best Semillon. Confusingly, Hunter Semillon was known for many years as ‘Hunter River Riesling’, and the true Riesling grown in South Oz was called ‘Rhine Riesling,’ but those who knew them would never mix them up, and now, thankfully, they enjoy their real names. Both wine types bore distinctly Australian signatures, but Hunter Semillon went further – it was unique in the world. Nowhere else was Semillon made unblended into a high-quality, light, low-alcohol, dry white wine like this. The style was determined by the capricious climate of the Hunter Valley , where grapes had to be picked early to avoid the summer rains, resulting in only moderate levels of ripeness and high levels of acidity. Over the years, such circumstances meant Hunter Semillon evolved a unique personality, partly due to its improbable ability to build character and impact with long bottle age. Australian wines sometimes attract criticism, often ill-informed, for their lack of regional identity, the sense of place or terroir that marks great European wine, but this wine has it in spades. Hunter Semillon starts life pale and crisp, dry and lemon-fresh, appetising drinking when a delicate, savoury drop is needed. Then, in a most unlikely and miraculous transformation, that shy, zesty young wine is transformed by bottle age. Richness and interest build in the bottle, and after five, ten, or even more years, the zesty young thing grows into a multi-dimensional white wine of fascinating complexity, smoothness and depth. Generations of wine buffs have loved Hunter Semillon in either incarnation, young or old it was always a favourite among the cognoscenti, but the world of Australian wine has changed. The whims of fad and fashion increasingly determine what people drink and poor old Semillon, despite being better than ever, is looking like yesterday’s hero. Now a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is Australia’s best-selling white wine, obscure Italian white varietals obsess a new chattering class, and even big-selling Chardonnay is considered a bit passé by the fashionistas. Semillon languishes as an also-ran. What a pity. The story in the south The story of Semillon in South Australia is different. While the Hunter Valley version was a thoroughbred, South Australian Semillon was a workhorse used for bottled table wines, bulk wines, fortifieds, sweet styles, distillation, and anything else a winemaker could think of. In the Barossa , where for obscure reasons it was sometimes known as Madeira, straight Semillon enjoyed some popularity, but the style made for many years was more about strength and big, broad flavours than finesse, and in recent decades oak barrels have crept into the equation, making it into a sort of big, fat Chardonnay substitute, and often wiping out any fruit character that existed in the wine. For many in the Hunter, and for most of that region’s fans in the Hunter’s traditional markets, South Australian Semillon only existed as an everyday drop, a component to cut back Sauvignon Blanc’s exuberance in a blend, or a curio not to be taken seriously, never a throughbred like the Hunter version. But things were changing in the rolling country around Nuriootpa, Angaston and Lyndoch. A new type of Barossa Semillon was gradually emerging that started attracting the attention of wine drinkers across the nation. The Barossa boys and girls started easing off on the oak or ditching it altogether, they started harvesting their Semillon earlier, they selected fruit with more care, cropping levels were more tightly controlled, technique improved, special plots of vines identified. The Barossa’s aim of improving the region’s Semillon started to bear fruit. It hasn’t exactly shaken sales of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but many consumers have been won over by these new wines, commentators have received them very positively, and they are winning more plaudits on the wine show circuit. At the Sydney International Wine Show in 2010 the Trophy for best White Table Wine of Competition was won by Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2004. Hunter winemakers sat up and took notice. The Barossa was indeed becoming competitive with the Hunter as a source of great Semillon. This is the background to Selector’s latest State of Play tasting. How good is modern Barossa Semillon? And how does it compare to the classics from the Hunter? Is the Barossa wine better in its youth than the Hunter? Hunter Semillon ages superbly; what about Barossa Sem? To get a perspective on the two regional styles, Selector invited submissions of current release wines from all Semillon producers in both the Hunter and Barossa. Additionally, wineries with a good track record for ageworthy wines were invited to submit older Semillons. The taste-off The results confirmed just how good both Hunter and Barossa Semillon can be. Out of 49 wines entered, no less than 39 achieved scores that would get medals in a wine show. This is an amazingly high figure and had panellists scratching their heads to think of another wine type that would do so well. The tasting also showed that Semillon from both regions has two distinct incarnations – young and bottle aged. This highlights Semillon’s ability to offer the best of both worlds, a trait that isn’t shared by many other white wines. Young, zesty Semillons are probably better wines than Sauvignon Blancs to accompany the sort of cuisine we enjoy in modern Australia, especially in the warmer months. Semillons take Thai influences, Mediterranean flavours, briny seafoods and sushi in their stride, yet their delicacy is perfect with simply prepared fish. Bottle-aged examples compete with Chardonnays as companions to more elaborate dishes like baked fish, smoked foods, more substantial seafood dishes, poultry or cheesy preparations. A clear winner? Young or old, both Hunter and Barossa Semillons proved their credentials in this tasting, but which region’s wines were better overall? If it were a competition it would be slightly in favour of the Hunter. But both regions make fantastic Semillon and it was very difficult to separate the top wines on quality. In fact the two top-scoring current releases comprised a wine from each area, as did the top two aged release wines. At the moment there are many more producers of ‘great’ Semillon in the Hunter and the best of them are better than ever; there are only a handful of such producers in the Barossa. Ideas of competition between these two great Australian wine regions can be overplayed. There’s a great deal of affection and mutual respect between them, and each side is very impressed with the other’s best Semillon. The real issue is how to rekindle interest in great Semillon, wherever it comes from, in a population besotted with other white wines. It will be a hard task, but the first step is having the product right, and there’s no doubting that both Hunter and Barossa Semillon’s quality credentials are up to the task. Check out Wine Selectors great range of Semillon today.
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The Gee in Pinot G
Words by Peter Forrestal on 12 Aug 2015
The rise Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio in the Australian marketplace has been nothing short of remarkable, especially as it has occurred at the same time as the country has been drenched by a tsunami of increasingly cheap Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. While there has been a knock-on effect with increased interest in local Sauvignon Blanc , and substantial growth in plantings of Muscat à Petit grains (from a small base) for Moscato, there has been huge consumer interest in Pinot Gris/Grigio. So, what better time for the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel to line up 60 of the country’s finest and put them to the test? The Panel was joined by two learned Pinot Gris/Grigio producers: Mornington Peninsula vigneron Garry Crittenden and King Valley winemaker Sam Miranda, as well as yours truly. A quick history lesson Pinot Gris was planted in Australia much earlier than most would have imagined. Chris Bourke of Sons & Brothers in Orange mentions on his website that when James Busby imported his collection of grape varieties from France and Spain in the 1830s, what he had thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, Pinot Gris. As with much of Busby’s collection, it didn’t survive. Today’s Pinot Gris/Grigio was pioneered on the Mornington Peninsula in the 1980s by Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy at T’Gallant and, although slowly at first, in the past decade it has taken hold of the public consciousness with increasing speed. Kathleen sees three factors coming together to enable Pinot Gris to succeed on Mornington. It was the right region for the right variety. The clone that was available was ideal as it produced small berries, small bunches and only moderate vigour. There were adequate good sites (north facing slopes), which were as vital to ripening Pinot Gris as they were to ripening Pinot Noir. Consumers were the other key in this equation and she saw them as being interested in new varieties: looking for unwooded whites and wanting premium varieties as expressive as Pinot Noir . In Australia no variety, except Sauvignon Blanc , has grown more impressively than Pinot Gris/Grigio in the last five years when the industry trend has been to stabilise or decrease the supply of grapes. In that time, it has moved ahead of Viognier , Verdelho , Muscat, Colombard and Riesling : more of it is produced than any of the major white varieties except for Chardonnay , Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. There are in excess of a hundred different labels of Pinot Gris/Grigio on the market in Australia at present. What’s in a name? A major marketing and consumer issue in Australia is that the same grape variety is produced and sold as both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and, for many, this can seem pretty confusing. This difference has its roots in the vineyards of Europe. Pinot Grigio is most successfully grown in the regions of Fruili, the Veneto and Alto Adige in North-Eastern Italy where it is picked early and produces a fresh, zesty, racy style with clean savoury characters. In France, it is known as Pinot Gris and is popular in Alsace where it is picked riper and therefore has a richer, fuller, plumper profile and is higher in alcohol. The variety produces bluey grey grapes (deep purple with green flesh when fully ripe) that make white or lightly pink wines and are thought to be related to (or a mutant of) Pinot Noir. Throughout this tasting the issue of colour was rigorously discussed. Garry Crittenden said he liked his wine to be clear, while others on the Panel thought the wine should have a pinkish tinge to it. Whatever the preference, it is important that the consumer knows most Gris/Grigio will have a ‘pink-grey’ tinge to it, and that is completely normal. Another key issue for Gris/Grigio has been the importance of identifying the places where it can be grown most successfully. Kathleen believes that far too much Gris/Grigio has been planted in warm Australian regions for which it is patently unsuitable. For Garry Crittenden, Pinot Gris/Grigio, like Pinot Noir, has become genetically adapted over the centuries to showing its full phenolic character in cool climates where the grapes ripen slowly over a long period of time. Low vigour is also vital to producing Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes that show concentration and character. The results reveal Firstly, the results supported Kathleen Quealy’s theory that Pinot Gris/Grigio does best in cool climate regions. The majority of wines in the tasting were cool climate and all of the top 20 wines were sourced from cool climate areas. More than half of those wines were sourced from Victorian vineyards, with the King Valley accounting for six of the top 20, while the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula claimed three each and Geelong , one. The Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Tasmania also registered as strong regions for Gris/Grigio, while Orange and Tumbarumba were the only regions of note north of the border. Seven of the top 10 scoring wines were Pinot Gris. This result was explained by the fact that this varietal style is generally more malleable to winemaker manipulation. The Grigio style should be lighter, drier and more minerally, so will generally be picked quite early, cool-fermented in tank, then bottled, whereas the Gris style would be picked later and therefore riper, which means it can handle some winemaking artefact, such as lees stirring and barrel fermentation or maturation. Pinot G? The results also showed the Gris tasted were significantly removed from the wines of Alsace, while the Grigios were substantially different from their Mediterranean counterparts, and there were some wines that sat in between. Panellist Trent Mannell posed this revolutionary hypothesis: had Australia developed its own style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, a style that is neither Gris nor Grigio but sits somewhere in between, a style we could simply label as Pinot G? For instance, the Thorn Clarke Sandpiper Pinot Gris showed floral aromas but had some minerality on the nose with zippy acidity, while the The Pawn ‘Caissa’ Pinot Grigio was described as having a delicate acid balance and vibrance while at the same time was lauded for its muscaty aromatics and thick viscous texture. So you can see in these two examples there is some overlap in styles. If the results of the tasting were seriously scrutinised, then the outcome would suggest that we do indeed have three styles of this versatile varietal in Australia: Gris, Grigio and G. The element of food One of the other main issues that the Panel discussed during the tasting was the importance of drinking Pinot G in the company of food. These are textural wines, much more savoury and less fruity than most Aussie whites. They are transformed by being paired with appropriate foods. One of the magic moments during the tasting came when Chairman Karl Stockhausen condemned a Pinot Gris as being lean, tight and watery. “I want some flavour,” he growled. Sam came to the Eden Valley wine’s defence, agreeing that it was neutral but insisting that placing it alongside food would bring the wine alive. Then he asserted, “I could drink it all day!” With Pinot Grigio, you could try oysters, clams, prawns, grilled whiting, lightly battered barramundi fillets, mildly spiced stir fries, and with Pinot Gris, go for onion tart, lobster, barbecued or roast pork, or roast chicken. It’s a question of finding dishes that you think will work with the crisp zestiness of Pinot Grigio or the richer, fuller, weightier, more viscous character of Pinot Gris. Overall, Sam believed that the tasting showed how far Pinot Gris/Grigio has come in Australia in the past decade. He said that if we’d held a similar tasting in the 1990s, far too many of the wines would have been bland or faulty. Most importantly, he was impressed at how well producers achieved the style that the label told us they were aiming for. For you, though, the message is both clear and welcoming. Pinot Gris/Grigio, or for that matter, Pinot G, is doing very well in Australia. So when you are sitting down al fresco-style to a shared mezze plate or some antipasti this summer, crack open a bottle of Australian Pinot G and discover what all the fuss is about.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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