Sémillon | Sweet Product of Botrytis

Sémillon | Sweet Product of Botrytis

Fast Facts

  • Often more appreciated by those invested in wine rather than the average wine drinker
  • Synonyms: Groendruif, Malaga, Chevrier, Columbier, Blanc Doux, Wyndruif.
  • Australia is one of the biggest producers of Sémillon wine alongside France

History

Once a widely spread varietal across the world, the Sémillon grape has been reduced to a unique rarity for the high quality sweet wines of Bordeaux and dry whites of Australia. Primarily known for its richness of flavour upon its interaction with botrytis, Sémillon is the key varietal for the longest-living wines in the world, hailing from Sauternes and Barsac.

Location

The birthplace of Sémillon is undoubtedly that of Bordeaux, yet it rapidly spread to all of the south-west of France including the Bergerac region. Once spread around the world, it was a highly popular grape with high production levels in South Africa, labelled just the ‘wine grape’ for most of the early 19th century. Dramatically reduced now to being the fifth grape varietal of South Africa, it is still used in a variety of dry whites and select few dessert wines.

The true New World home of Sémillon is now in Australia, following a boom in the mid 20th century while presenting a wide range of low-alcohol dry whites in the Hunter Valley. Characterised by its early harvest season, the Hunter Valley producers have a skill for keeping the wines at only 11% ABV naturally, perfect for both drinking early or cellared for several years. The rest of Australia follows in the footsteps of France, picking at a much riper stage to produce rich, bold wines. Common practice now is the “Sem-Sav” blended wines that is highly popular throughout the country, or the blend with Chardonnay to lower costs of producing pure Chardonnay wines.

With its birth in France, it is truly a grape that has travelled far. Grown to enormous sizes and now settled to a few select yet distinct locations where its reputation is constantly growing.

Growing

As a white wine grape at heart, most would expect a vibrant green colour yet it has its own unique shade of amber in the vineyard, which also carries through to the cellars where the sweet nectar of Sauternes is created. As a thick skinned grape, it is easy to grow and ripens early, allowing it to be highly susceptible to Noble Rot (botrytis). When affected by botrytis the grapes take on a darker shade and the texture becomes quite gnarly, this is the sign all winemakers and cultivators wait for in anticipation. As it is no artificial sweetener or extreme sunlight that brings the sweeter flavours, it is the rot that ensures a ridiculously high acidity and sweetness concentration and helps produce the miracle that is Sauternes wines. Many passes through the vines occur to ensure optimal infection levels, less about the ripeness and more about the shade and texture of the skin.

Drinking

There are two major products of Sémillon; a sweet wine anda dry white wine. France produces primarily sweet wines with this grape varietal, a wine that takes on an array of flavours including; apricot, peach, nectarine and mango, with notes of citrus, nut and honey. The silky texture caused by the high sugar and glycerol content adds to the feeling that you are consuming the nectar of the gods.

More often found in Australia are the dry whites, these are regularly a blend with Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadelle to bring more acidity to the wine and balance out the palate. This is a common blend also in Bordeaux as the basic Bordeaux Blancs, or straight oaked whites of Graves and Pessac-Leognan.

Pairing

Not all sweet wines have to be paired with sweet foods, surprisingly savoury foods such as blue cheese, foie gras, and shellfish complement the sweet wine extremely well. It is best to keep in mind the vintage of the bottle also, as the higher acidity vintages bode well with a wide range of savoury items while lower acidity may be slightly more acute in pairings. Mildly-spiced Asian dishes are also a unique pairing for low-acidity wines that not many people would consider.

High acidity Sémillons are able to cut through rich creamy, cheesy dishes also, a nice dry white can accompany a delicious carbonara or risotto any day.

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