Semillon is a white grape variety which produces two diverse styles of wine at two ends of the globe. At one end, you are looking at a variety that is low on alcohol, light in body, highly acidic, bone dry, and with an ability to age despite no oak. On the other end is an unctuously sweet, fleshy, weighty and complex style of sweet wine which goes through oak maturation and has the ability to age for decades in a bottle.
Note: The article refers to the grape variety as Sémillon- if wines come from France and Semillon- if wines come from New World (English Speaking Countries).
Semillon grows primarily in moderate and warm climates. When young, Semillon wines have simple primary flavours of apple, lemon and grass. Depending on the level of ripeness achieved, Semillon wine can range from medium to high in acidity and light to full in body. Semillon has the ability to age well with evolving tertiary flavours of fruit, nuts and honey in the bottle.
Fun Wine Fact: Semillon, often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, is a white grape with a hidden talent. While it may not hog the spotlight, it plays a crucial role in creating some of the world's finest dessert wines, lending its unique character to Sauternes and other lusciously sweet concoctions.
Semillon is used in a blend to add body and an ageing capacity to the wine.Semillon-based wines are matured in oak and often aged in the bottle.
As a dry wine, Sémillon requires very specific conditions to produce quality wine. Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc due to its full body and low level of acidity. A Sémillon with a complex structure is good for barrel-ageing, but when it comes to fresher expressions, winemakers usually choose to ferment them in stainless steel vats.
The most important region for Sémillon in France is Bordeaux. Here, winemakers blend Sémillon with Sauvignon Blanc to make dry wines. Premium quality wines from this region are matured in oak and can develop in the bottle for many years.
Sémillon is one of the four white grape varieties that is used in Graves appellation of Bordeaux, to make Graves Blanc. The wine is medium bodied and dry and can be made from varying combinations of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris.
Hunter Valley, Australia
This region produces a dry single varietal Semillon with a light body and low alcohol. Hunter Valley Sémillons have a very high level of acidity, which gives them great again potential. In fact, they are touted to be some of the longest living dry white wines in the world.
This region is also known for making good quality white Bordeaux blends consisting of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. With bottle ageing, they develop bold and complex flavours of honey and nuts.
Sémillon wines from Péssac Leognan, Bordeaux in France and Barossa Valley in South Australia are perfect for oak ageing. These wines have full body and secondary oak aromas.
Sauternes AOC: This small sub-region of Bordeaux AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) produces a sweet wine made from grapes that have been concentrated by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, also known as “noble rot”. The region’s foggy mornings, that are followed by hot and sunny afternoons, make the grape more susceptible to developing botrytis and therefore it is the most important grape variety grown in Sauternes.
Sauternes appellation has strict laws for cultivation of these noble rot graves. According to these, the winemakers can only pick the grapes when their weight reaches 221 grams per litre. This is done to ensure that once the wine finishes the process of fermentation, it still contains high levels of residual sugar. Vintages produced from harvesting grapes that grew under perfect conditions naturally have such high levels of sweetness. However in case of poor vintages, winemakers often resort to cryoextraction and even chaptalization to achieve the same effect.
In cryoextraction, winemakers freeze the grapes before pressing them, which brings down the amount of water in the resulting juice and thus produces a more concentrated extract. In chaptalization winemakers add sugar or artificially concentrated grape juice to permissible amounts.
Sauternes wine is sweet, with medium to high alcohol, full body and high acidity. It displays pronounced flavours of stone fruit as well as characters from oak maturation, like vanilla. It can mature for many years in a bottle and develop complex tertiary characters of dried fruit, honey and caramel.
Serving Temperature – 7 to 12 degrees Celsius. For a sweet wine like Sauternes, serving temperature will be 6 to 8 degrees
Glassware - Standard white wine glass
Semillon works well with seafood, especially shellfish, pork, veal, chicken, game birds or dishes with cream sauces. Cheese, both hard and soft, is another great pairing for Sauternes, but if you had to pick one, it has to be blue cheese.
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Originally published 31st August, 2023
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