What is Semillon?
Semillon is a white variety from Bordeaux, which famously offers a unique flavour experience when produced in a handful of premium Australian regions; some Australian examples of Semillon are so good, their qualities are said to be unseen in the rest of the wine world! Yet when pitched against the likes of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon remarkably doesn’t enjoy the same market success in the country it excels in.
As a crisp, dry and young style, a deliciously aged gem, or a sublimely sticky dessert wine, Semillon is deeply imbedded in the history of Australian wine and deserves our unwavering adulation.
“Hunter Valley Semillon is one of Australia’s great gifts to the world of wine.”
– Jancis Robinson, Wine Writer
HOW IS SEMILLON PRONOUNCED?
The word Semillon is pronounced seh-mee-yon – you don’t actually pronounce the two letter ‘Ls’.
Semillon is renowned for its incredible ageing ability.
Similar in weight to Riesling and Marsanne, Semillon is known for its with lemongrass, lime leaf, lemon juice and beeswax flavours.
Pair your Semillon with rich seafood like fish pie or tuna carpaccio.
Semillon is perfect for ageing and can be cellared for up to 15 years.
Semillon has a light and dry flavour profile.
While known as a dry wine, Semillon makes some of the best sweet wines in the world.
Australians love the lemon-fresh characteristics of a Sauvignon Blanc and the honey aged flavours of a Chardonnay – and Semillon can do either depending on its age. When it comes to being food friendly we hear a lot about Verdelho and Pinot G, but Semillon has the potential to match with a host of different foods too. Semillon’s characteristics and food matching potential simply depend on the style and age of the Semillon in your glass.
Plus, while of course there are highly-prized and thus suitably priced Semillons, you can also pick up a quality Hunter or Barossa Valley example for as low as $15 that can age wonderfully if cellared well, making it a variety that can be accessible to most Australian’s wine budget – young or aged. With so many positives to its arsenal of classic varietal characteristics, Semillon is surely due for a return to favour – and we’re more than happy to champion its return to glory. Watch out Chardonnay and SB, Semillon is fighting back.
WHERE IS SEMILLON FROM?
Hailing from France, Semillon is most famous for being part of the highly-prized and lusciously sweet white wine blends of Sauternes. These famous Bordeaux blends, which also feature Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle fruit, have earned a reputation for featuring the likes of golden peach and apricot fruit, lashings of honey layers and decadent nutty finishes – with the most notable and costly being the wines of Chateau d’Yquem. While Semillon has such famous affiliations and great historical successes in France, as a single varietal wine it has never really achieved the quality in Europe that we have in Australia.
SEMILLON IN AUSTRALIA
It all started in 1832 when James Busby planted Semillon in the Hunter Valley, and a New World future for the variety was kick-started. First vinified in the Hunter as early as 1840, Semillon, while confusingly labelled ‘Hunter River Riesling’, soon became a favourite amongst Australians. In fact, in its earlier years, Semillon and Riesling were the white varieties of choice for Australian wine-lovers, dubbed by some as the B.C. years of wine – Before Chardonnay. Today, of course, Chardonnay is Australia’s No.1 choice when it comes to white wines with the more recent addition of Sauvignon Blanc rivalling Chardonnay’s success.
BEST AUSTRALIAN SEMILLON REGIONS
The best regions for Semillon in Australia are without a doubt the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and Margaret River where the vines thrive in the warm climates.
Once referred to as Hunter River Riesling, White Burgundy or Chablis, Hunter Valley Semillon today is the toast of wine lovers around the globe.
Traditionally, the Hunter style of Semillon is dry and tight when young; the region’s wineries are known to adopt early picking to ensure low sugar levels, use dry fermentation without any contact with oak, and follow-up with rapid bottling to achieve the region’s much-revered style. These techniques, along with the warm to moderate climate, aged vines and terroir of the region, has allowed the Semillons of the Hunter to achieve incredible ageing potential.
The Hunter Valley’s youthful, unoaked style is light-bodied, very dry, high in natural acidity with a low alcohol content. Almost water-white in appearance when first bottled, patience will reward you with developing honeyed, toasty, grilled nut characters. Some will age beautifully for 20 years or more.
Taking on more golden hues, bottle-aged Hunter Valley Semillon is renowned for its complexity, yet it retains a clear signature of primary fruit and lemony acidity even after years in the cellar. It is utterly unique in the world.
For a different take on the variety, the Barossa Valley earned its stellar reputation for producing generally richer, riper and fuller styles of Semillons, sometimes including oak contact. However, the current trend for lighter, cool climate styles has seen Barossa Valley winemakers shift towards the winemaking techniques of the Hunter Valley. The result is exquisite, fresh, dry and crisp styles emerging from the Barossa’s cellar doors with the ageing potential of Hunter greats.
Western Australia’s Margaret River region is famous for its distinctive Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends, which often rival the dry whites from the French Bordeaux region in blind tastings. Many producers employ barrel fermentation to increase the intensity of the blend and its fruit concentration. Margaret River Semillon as a single varietal is often oaked for a richer, more textural white.
Other standout regions for the variety includes the likes Clare Valley with Botrytis effected fruit from the Riverina producing sublimely sticky dessert wines too.
WHAT DOES SEMILLON TASTE LIKE?
The unique climates and terroir of the vineyards where Semillon is grown, adds interesting complexities and ageing characteristics, but typically a young Semillon will be pale in the glass and feature crisp, lemon-freshness on the palate. When enjoyed young like this, wine drinkers can expect a delicate, dry and characteristically savoury experience from their Semillon, but when bottle age occurs, these fresh and light wines can be completely transformed. After five, ten or even more years, the humble Semillon begins to exude luxurious, multi-dimensional qualities, including a depth and richness that is silky smooth and completely captivating.
WHAT OTHER VARIEITES IS SEMILLON SIMILAR TOO?
Western Australian Semillon is distinctly herbal, or grassy, which is a character very similar to its major rival, Sauvignon Blanc.
IS SEMILLON A SWEET OR DESSERT WINE?
As a table wine, Semillon is not ‘sweet’. However, when Semillon grapes are exposed to the botrytis cinerea fungal infection, they make a seriously delicious, sweet dessert wine.
In Australia dessert wines include our world-famous and elegant Late Harvest Riesling, Pinot Gris and Botrytis Semillon. Made from white wine varietals, they’re usually high in sugar and alcohol, making them sweet and sticky. The most popular style of dessert wine is Botrytis or Late Harvest, where a botrytis cinerea fungal infection (noble rot) is present in the grape – which splits its skin, thus dehydrating the grapes and concentrating the sugars producing a wonderful, sweet style of wine.
CAN YOU CELLAR SEMILLON?
Due to its naturally high levels of acidity, Australian Semillon, especially those from the Hunter Valley, can be cellared for at least 10 years, some even 20 years or more.
In brief, when cellaring wine, aim to:
- Store your wine between 12-14 oC
- Maintain a humidity level of about 50%
- Avoid storing near appliances of sources of vibration
- Store your wine in a dark spot out of direct sunlight
HOW DO YOU DRINK SEMILLON?
Most people serve their red wines straight from the shelf, and their whites straight from the fridge – and that’s ok! While there’s no harm in doing so, if you really want to enjoy your wines at their best, it helps to know that each wine has an optimal serving temperature.
White wines will have their delicate flavours suppressed if served too cold, meaning it’s a good idea to take them out of the fridge for a little while before serving. Aromatic whites like Semillon show themselves best at a lightly-chilled 6-8 oC.
BEST FOOD PAIRINGS FOR SEMILLON
Semillon has naturally lower alcohols, which means it is brilliant as an aperitif. Its citrussy nature of makes it a no-brainer with light seafood dishes – and especially fresh fish, prawns, crabs and oysters. Richer, more textural aged Semillon pairs beautifully with marron, and other shellfish, fresh seafood dishes including butter-based sauces, poultry or pork, and creamy curries.
For a quick look at what pairs with Semillon check out these tasty dishes and recipes.
So whether you’re looking for a white wine from the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley, Margaret River, Riverina, or any other premium Australian wine region, instead of reaching for a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, next time try a Semillon and discover a delicious new favourite.