Semillon hails from the French region of Bordeaux where it is used to make great dry whites and sublime dessert wines. In Bordeaux, Botrytis affected Semillon is blended with small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle to produce sweet white wine of Sauternes, the most famous, and expensive, being Château d’Yquem. In Australia there are reports of Semillon being vinified as early as 1840, making it one of the country’s most historic grape styles. The earliest plantings were in the Hunter Valley where for many years it was known as Hunter River Riesling. It thrived in the Hunter making delicate wines that have garnered the region a worldwide reputation. Barossa Semillon is also a time-honoured style, which is popular with wine lovers.
In Australia, Semillon is used to make both dry and sweet wines. The finest Australian Semillon is the dry style from the Hunter Valley, where the fruit is picked early, with low sugar levels and fermented dry without any use of oak, then quickly bottled. These wines are famous for their capacity to age, evolving through an array of lemon flavours, eventually becoming richer and developing complex toasty and honeyed characters. Producers like Tyrrell’s and McWilliam’s make subtly different house styles, distinguished by sub-regional differences and earlier or later picking times.
Australia’s other important Semillon region is the Barossa Valley, which produces a richer, riper style that typically shows cut straw and lemon characters. They also have the capacity to age in the bottle, like their Hunter Valley cousins.
The De Bortoli family pioneered Australian Botrytis-affected Semillon in the Riverina and created Noble One, which is modelled on Sauternes of Bordeaux. Semillon also makes a great blending partner, particularly with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay due to its structure.
The Hunter’s signature grape, the world famous, early-picked style is renowned for its capacity to age. Classic Hunter Semillon is subdued in its youth, with fine, piercing acidity and lemon flavour, evolving to become richer and fuller, developing complex toasty, nutty and honeyed characters that suggest the wine has been matured in oak.
Semillon is the Barossa Valley’s most important white grape. Barossa Semillon is typically richer, riper and fuller than Hunter examples, and typically shows cut straw and lemon characters. Sometimes they are matured in oak, although this practice is declining.
Early picked Semillon makes dry table wines that offer upfront citrus and tropical fruit flavours. The Riverina’s still, misty conditions favour noble rot, and botrytis influenced Semillon is picked in late autumn to produce dessert wines with complex honey and marmalade characters.
The cool nights and long warm days of this region create great ripening conditions for Semillon. These wines tend to be open, fleshy and laden with lemon citrus characters.
Western Australian Semillon is distinctly herbal, or grassy, which is a character that you either love or hate. Western Australian Semillon blended with Sauvignon Blanc makes some of Australia’s most popular dry white wines.
The Clare produces a mix of wooded and unwooded styles; both are typically crisp, lemony and zesty with spicy nuances.