Semillon grapes are big players in the world”s major winemaking regions. However, they”re more often partnered with accompanying white varieties such as chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, most notably in Europe. They deliver unique tastes that, by popular demand, blend best with acidic varieties. Semillon grapes also deliver some of the finest dessert wines to the table.
Wines using Semillon grapes are versatile. Many of them are delicious when young, but can age nicely too. Colors range in golden tones, growing deeper over time. In New World production, particularly Australia, they receive more attention as a standalone variety, which lets the range of flavors shine on their own.
Semillon Viticulture and History
Semillon grapes have a storied history and often a love/hate relationship with producers and the public. It is a prolific species and once was the most-grown variety around the world.
Semillon grapes are most remarkable for acquiring the “noble” rot Botrytis cinerea, due in part to their thin-skinned, tightly bunched characteristics. Rather than causing destruction in the ripened stage, this disease contributes to a concentration of sweetness treasured by many.
Late harvesting and proper conditions produce Botrytis-withered grapes. For drier selections, growers harvest early, which leaves them less susceptible to any disease.
In France and other areas of the world, Semillon grapes remain a major part of the crops, but mainly for blending in lesser proportions. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were instrumental in importing and developing Semillon vines.
Other high-growth regions once included Argentina and Chile. Due to a lack of interest in Semillon wines on their own, growers began adding other more popular species. Blends today are readily available, while Semillon wines receive less rack space.
Semillon Around the World
In Bordeaux, Semillon grapes are among a trio of approved grapes, along with Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc. In blended wines, the name is often left off the label entirely.
Semillon grapes are famous, of course, for flavorful dessert wines. Specifically, Bordeaux”s Sauterne region brings us the prized, and priciest, bottles from Chateau d”Yquem.
In Australia, growers once gave them their due with true full-bodied Semillon wines. The Hunter Valley is world-renowned for its offerings. For instance, Semillon Hunter Valley style grapes make an excellent aging wine as do the varieties from other areas. Semillons here tend to be dry, yet refreshing.
They remain popular today, sometimes erroneously labeled Riesling, but Chardonnays and Sauvignons reign supreme. In its drier form, Semillon also tends to have a lower alcohol content than some of its peers.
Semillon Producers and Interesting Facts
Some Semillon wine names come with a fascinating story. Kalleske Lorraine Late Harvest Semillon is one such label. It”s a tribute to winery owner Troy Kalleske”s mother who is a national multi-title winner as the fastest grape picker. The facility is an Australian Certified Organic maker based in Greenock. The wine also receives rave reviews.
In the U.S., California is the largest producer, although Semillon varieties come from many other states. The trends in growing and production come and go.
Other treasures in Semillon wines include:
- Aspen Estate Semillon blended with Sauvignon. This is among the lower-priced wines with wonderful citrus overtones and recommended for immediate consumption.
- The majority of Semillon varieties in France come from Bordeaux. Other than the sweet Sauternes and Barsac productions, the dry versions are “Bordeaux blanc.”
- Rosemount Chardonnay Semillon. This is an estate blend with a wonderful balance of fruits and grassy tones. The winery, located in New South Wales, continues to rise in popularity. Enjoy it primarily with bolder fish and sauce dishes.
- From the U.S., look for surprisingly good taste in Washington state”s L”Ecole No. 41, which produces some well-received dry wines.
Semillon vines are often guinea pigs of the wine industry. Because they thrive so quickly, growers use them to test potential crop areas.
Flavors and Food Pairings
Like any other species, the weather, timing and growing conditions affect Semillon grapes. With Botrytis, of course, they become exceedingly sweet. Experts give palate reports that range from woody to grassy. Some say it is nutty while others may find it delivers a burnt flavoring to the taste buds. From an aromatic standpoint, Semillon ranges from indistinct to quite robust.
The very reasonable pricing of Semillon and blended wines makes them popular for casual drinking as well. That perhaps also gives them a pass-over with many connoisseurs, making this select wine choice difficult to find. However, these wines are surprisingly good and most who indulge gladly admit they”re a bargain for the flavors and quality.
Consume Semillons within five years of bottling unless otherwise recommended; blends will last longer. They”re always ready for immediate enjoyment and as a white wine, tend to pair with same-colored foods. Fish and shellfish of any type are a perfect match as is poultry. Pasta with white sauce also makes a good pairing.
Sweeter varieties are dessert and cheese favorites.