I’m a big fan of White Bordeaux wines (aka White Meritage wines), which are made up of primarily Sauvignon Blanc (around 80%) with a little bit of Semillon (around 20%). I love that these wines are tart from the Sauv Blanc, with a hint of a honey/oil finish from the Semillon. But I’d never tried a standalone Semillon until last weekend, when I got to try three of them.
The Wines We Tried
We tried two normal Semillons and one that was botrytized, meaning it had been hit with noble rot.
I’m sad to say that the two normal Semillons were a bit disappointing. They tasted like a boring cross between Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and maybe a few others. We got a little bit of minerality but no honey/oil finish or anything else that would really distinguish these wines from other wines.
The botrytized Semillon was wonderful. Winemag.com says, “Botrytized grapes aren’t pretty, as they turn shriveled and brown. Their juice, however, is golden, sweet and precious. Each grape needs to be handpicked individually, and yields are tiny. The resulting wines are complex, concentrated and can age for decades.” A lusciously complex, sweet wine. According to Madeline Puckett of Wine Folly, Sémillon is the primary ingredient in Bordeaux’s noble rot dessert wines, which include Sauternes, Barsac, Cadillac, Loupiac, Sainte-Crox-du-Mont, Cérons and Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux!
What the Experts Say We Should Taste in Semillon
Pucket of Wine Folly says that Semillon is France’s third most important white. She describes Semillon as full bodied, like Chardonnay, but with flavors closer to Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. She goes on to say that the primary fruit flavors in Semillon are lemon, apple, pear and green papaya. “There’s something very waxy about the taste of Semillon, which wine writers often describe as lanolin. Depending on where Sémillon is grown it can range from being a zesty, palate-cleansing wine like Sauvignon Blanc to a rich, creamy, lemon-flavored wine like oaked Chardonnay.” So, we definitely didn’t get the waxy, lanolin notes. I think we were more in the Chardonnay camp.
Hot-climate vs. Cool-climate Semillon
Puckett says that hot-climate Semillon exhibits ripe fruits such as mango, yellow peach and papaya and can easily look like Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Alsacian Pinot Gris or Viognier. Cool-climate Semillon is more acidic and is more likely to resemble Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Gruner Veltliner or Italian Pinot Grigio. Our non-botrytized Semillons were both from warm climates, Hunter Valley in Australia and Lake County in California. Hence more of the Chardonnay feel.
Semillon Food Pairing
Fiona Beckett of Matching food and wine recommends shellfish, fish and spring vegetables. She goes on to say that “Hunter Valley in Australia is the place to go for Semillon…Fresh and zippy when it’s young, more complex and oily (in a nice way) as it ages, this is the perfect wine for raw and lightly cooked shellfish especially with Asian flavors. Remember Hunter Valley wines are light – generally only about 11-12% ABV. Try them with: oysters, especially with an Asian dressing; fresh crab; clams; sashimi; seafood salads; spring vegetables such as asparagus and peas (a pasta primavera would work well with a Hunter Valley Semillon); dishes with fennel; dishes with a touch of citrus; lightly cooked fish dishes such as seabass; salads with goat cheese.”
For older vintages, she recommends smoked fish such as smoked salmon and smoked trout.
For fuller, richer styles, she adds seafood risotto and light meats in a creamy sauce to her list.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with Semillon. Please share them with us here. Thanks. Cheers!
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I’ve been a big Semillon fan since forever. But it is really hard to find a good bottling. Lots of it (often sold as “Sem-Chard” or “Sem-Sauv” blends) is made in Washington State, but I’ve only enjoyed maybe two out of the twenty I’ve tried, even though Washington would seem to be the “cold climate” you describe.
Recently, I had a really good stand-alone bottle from Foursight Vineyards in the Anderson Valley. Hard to find retail, but if you are ever up in Booneville, I recommend it. Here’s a review from Wine Mag. https://www.winemag.com/buying-guide/foursight-2016-charles-vineyard-semillon-anderson-valley/
Thank you, Rob! Until our tasting, we didn’t realize how hard it is to find good standalone Semillons. I’m going to be on the lookout for Foursight Vineyards! I’ll tell Jeff Nott as well.