Wine Varieties

Semillon Wine in Australia

As with many grape varietals in Australia, Semillon has its origins in France. Semillon was one of the first grape varietals to be planted with en…

Semillon in Australia

As with many grape varietals in Australia, Semillon has its origins in France.

 

Semillon was one of the first grape varietals to be planted with enthusiasm in Australia. It has truly made its home in NSW, particularly the Hunter Valley. Australia and France are the only countries that take the grape with any great seriousness these days. If Australia can claim a particular style as truly original in the wine industry it is Hunter Valley Semillon. Semillon from the Hunter Valley has low alcohol and high acidity and therefore has incredible longevity.

 

Semillon from the Hunter Valley was once known as Hunter River Riesling. Styles from the region were blends of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. These examples were sweeter like wines from Sauternes in France.

 

While Australia has an international reputation for unique Semillon, particularly from the Hunter Valley, the international popularity of Semillon is limited. Considering the light and lean characteristics of Semillon, making it a great match for food and the appealing low-alcohol content, it would seem to be a blind spot for wine lovers around the world.

How to pronounce Semillon

Semillon is a French grape varietal and as such the pronunciation is not straightforward. The trick is to pronounce the double ‘l’ as a ‘y.’ Semillon is pronounced Sem-mee-yon.

Characteristics of Semillon wine

Semillon wine tastes tend towards austerity and are mouth-puckering little numbers when they are young. Youthfulness and purity of fruit can be found, particularly from the Hunter Valley, but the Barossa Valley is also known for excellent wines made from the grape. Semillons from the Barossa Valley are slightly fuller in body and perhaps fruitier whereas Semillons from Western Australia are grassier and more herbal that other regions.

 

Semillon aromas are of green apple, blossoms, lemon, lemon butter and perhaps lanolin. Palates range from tart lime juice, green pear, crunchy green apples to tropical fruits, nuts, passionfruit and grass. Examples from the Hunter Valley have high acidity, so time in a cellar can benefit the region’s Semillon. Ageing gives Semillon a golden hue and aromas of brown toast while taming the tanginess characteristic of younger examples.

Semillon food match

Semillon is truly underrated as a food wine both in Australia and overseas. These crisp, fresh, zingy wines are perfect with light shellfish. A Hunter Valley Semillon will pair well with Sydney rock oysters, sashimi or simple scallops on the shell. Richer styles of Semillon or those that have aged pair better with richer food such as lobster or smoked fish.

Semillon and cheese

Goat’s cheese is the go-to match for Semillon. Most fresh cheeses will go well but goat is best. A white-mould cheese such as Camembert will partner well with Semillon, particular those sweeter varieties. Zingy, tangy young Hunter Varieties will also pair with a cheddar cheese with some reciprocal bite. 

Notable Semillon regions

While Semillon is planted in South Africa, Chile, America and Argentina, it is mostly associated with France and Australia.

 

The sub-region of Sauternes in Bordeaux is famous in France and throughout the world for producing sweet white wines using the Semillon varietal. The most famous producer is Château d’Yquem. The winery holds the unique classification of Premier Cru Supérieur, which translates to ‘Superior First Growth’ meaning Château d’Yquem is the best of the best (First Growth) wineries in the region.  

 

In Australia Semillon grapes are grown in Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. Notable examples of South Australian Semillon come from the Barossa Valley. These wines are more full-bodied and fruity.

Semillon Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Semillon carries the purity of the fruit into the wine. It’s pale, almost watery to look at and is acidic to taste. Clean and fresh, it is also light with low alcohol being a particular drawcard for Hunter Valley Semillon. The characteristics of Hunter Valley Semillon are due to the wine being bottle-aged rather than in oak casks. Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s and Rothbury all produce excellent examples of Hunter Valley Semillon.

The future of Semillon

Hunter Valley Semillon continues to be a unique example of Australian winemaking. In contrast to the blockbuster reds from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Semillon is clean and light. This continues to inform international perceptions about the depth of Australian winemaking. That Australian wine had a reputation for restraint, elegance and lightness as well as big-bodied Barossa reds is in no small way thanks to Hunter Valley Semillon.

File under:

  • Semillon
  • Hunter Valley
  • White Wine