Semillon is a thin-skinned early ripening white grape. Semillon is used primarily in Bordeaux, France. It is the key ingredient in Sauternes. When drunk alone it tends to have a grassy, figgy flavor. Semillon is often blended with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc for added balance.
Apart from Bordeaux, Semillon is also grown in substantial amounts in California and Australia, at one time Semillon was the most planted white grape anywhere, but has fallen out of fashion. Semillon arrived in Australia in the early 1800s - it is currently well known there in the Hunter Valley. Semillon tends to be a very easy vine to grow and is often used in new wine regions to test the climate and soils.
Semillon can be drunk young for its fresher flavors, or it can be allowed to age so the mellower flavors come through. It should be drunk within 5 years.
Semillon seems to have originated in the Bordeaux region of South West France, where it was certainly well recognised in the eighteenth century. This grape grows all over the world but its history is difficult to pin down. It first came to Australia in the early 1800's. The best-known Semillons in Australia come from the Hunter Valley where it's known as Hunter Riesling. France, Portugal, Israel, Tunisia, Australia, California, South Africa and South America (especially Argentina and Chile) grow various amounts of the grape. Semillon was at one time the most widely planted white grape in the world, but plantings of this grape have dropped dramatically. By the 1820's it accounted for over 90% of all South African plantings. By 1997, plantings of the grape were down to less than 1% of Cape vineyard. As of 2002, Australia had almost 17,000 acres of Semillon planted, and has gained a reputation for producing some of the finest Semillon varietal wines. The Bordeaux region in France has over 30,000 acres of Semillon and California has close to 3,000 acres planted.
France: Semillon is grown mostly in Bordeaux region where it is blended with Muscadelle and Sauvignon blanc. When dry, it is referred to as Bordeaux blanc and is permitted to be made in the appellations of Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Entre-deux-mers and other less-renowned regions. In this form, Semillon is generally a minor constituent in the blend. However, when used to make the sweet white wines of Bordeaux it is often the dominant variety. In such wines the vine is exposed to the “noble rot” of Botrytis cinerea which consumes the water content of the fruit, which helps concerntrate the sugar present in its pulp, the grapes shrivel and the sugar and acid levels are intensified. In 2002 there was over 30,000 acres of Semillon planted in France, but the amount growing here has steadily declined. Due to the declining popularity of the grape variety, a shortage of this grape variety is expected in the future, with fewer clones being cultivated in nurseries. Concerned growers in the Bordeaux region have formed an association to grow their own clones and insure the future of the grape here.
Australia: Semillon is widely grown in Australia, particularly in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Four styles of Semillon-based wines made there: a sweet style, after that of Sauternes, a commercial style, often blended with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, a minerally, complex, early picked style which has great longevity, and an equally high quality,dry style, which can be released soon after vintage, as a vat or bottle aged example. Hunter Valley Semillon is never matured in oak. The latter two styles are considered unique to Australia. Most examples of these bottle-aged Hunter Semillons exhibit a buttercup-yellow colour, honey or burnt toast characteristics on the nose and complex flavours on the palate, with a long finish and soft acid. Young Hunter Valley semillon is almost always a dry wine, usually exhibiting citrus flavours of lime, lemon or green apple. Cooler year Hunter Semillons seem to be the most highly sought after, with some of the 1974 and 1977 vintages still drinking well. Semillon is also finding favour with Australian producers outside of the Hunter Valley in the Margaret River and Barossa Valley regions. The Adelaide Hills is becoming a flourishing region for Semillon with the cooler climate here helping growers producing some wines of great complexity. Elsewhere this grape can be found growing in areas such as California, where it is primarily used to blend with Sauvignon Blanc. The grape is also grown in South Africa and Chile.
Semillon grapes can be used to produce both sweet and dry wines. They are usually blended with Sauvignon Blanc to help control its strong fruit flavour. Varietal Semillon is best paired with white meats such as chicken and fish. Dry Semillon works well with pasta salad, clams and mussels. This grape can also be used to produce sweet dessert style wines.