Meet Semillon, Bordeaux's White Wine

Semillon grave vines, Australia. Asia Images / Photodisc / Getty Images

Sémillon is one of Bordeaux's big white wine grapes (the other being Sauvignon Blanc and to a lesser degree Muscadelle). Especially vulnerable to Botrytis Cinerea, or Noble Rot, which concentrates the sugars of late harvest wines and is responsible for many of the world's most famous dessert wines, Sémillon is a perfect candidate for sweet white wine. The Sémillon grape is the dominant grape used in making the ultra unctuous, sweet Sauternes of Bordeaux.

While Sémillon is the major contributing grape in Bordeaux's sweet wines, it's frequently blended with Sauvignon Blanc to create a dry, white wine known simply as Bordeaux blanc.

Known for being a fairly low-maintenance grape to cultivate with the ability to thrive in a wide variety of soils, the thin skins of the Semillon grape make it particularly susceptible to botrytis (a good thing) and sunburn (not a good thing). Care must be taken to manage the canopy for maximum fruit protection in the warmer growing regions. The medium-sized berries take on a golden, yellow hue at maturity.

The Look, the Smell and the Taste of Semillon

  • The Look of Sémillon:  Semillon contributes a deep golden color to a wine, even more so if the grapes have been botrytised.
  • The Smell of Semillon: With an aromatic profile that ranges from subtle fruit to floral and some spice to a bit of earthy and herbal, this particular grape does not dominate the nose, but supports the blending process with its ability to offer the rich fruit character of honeyed apricots, quince, candied peach and creamy vanilla tones. In fact, its ability to pick up and spotlight the impressionable oak influences are another draw for blending with this grape.
  • The Taste of Semillon: There is an overall elegance and concentration, an unctuous quality that botrytised Sémillon offers to the wine in the form of heavier textures, intense fruit and high viscosity. With its lower levels of acidity, almost oily textures, more subtle aromatics and rounder profile, it is the perfect complement to the leaner lines, zesty profile and fresh acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Sémillon also enjoys a reputation for aging well over the long haul.

    The Place & Role of Semillon

    While Sémillon has called France home for centuries, the grape has made it's way to South Africa, Chile and Australia with considerable success. In Australia, it is made in both sweet and dry styles. It's blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and even showcased as a single varietal in both oaked and unoaked variations. While lacking complexity as a young single varietal wine with a bit of age Sémillon can take on the rich, full flavors of candied fruit, carmalized nuts and enduring honey-like nuances.

    Sémillon Producers to Try:

    Sauternes from Bordeaux

    Brokenwood (Aus)

    L'Ecole 41 (WA)

    Covey Run Reserve (WA)

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