I am sure you are all familiar with the stars of the wine world such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot and I would suggest that some of you could also name a few characteristics for each of them such as “can be buttery and elegant”, “high in tannins”, “soft and fruity” etc. But what of those lesser-known varieties that rarely make it to the front label of your bottle? They may not even be noted on the back label, particularly on European labels – but don’t get me started on that again.
Semillon is one of my favourite lesser-known varieties (I have many wine favourites, I know, and I make no excuses). Yes, it makes its way onto the front label of some wines in the New World but is usually in a blend with the star that is Sauvignon Blanc so I suspect it isn’t that well understood. It contributes herbaceous and citrus aromas along with flavours of lemon & honey. In Bordeaux it is part of the local trio of grapes, together with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle producing dry white wines but more importantly they are responsible for some of the World’s greatest sweet white wines from the Sauternes appellation.
Semillon is the dominant variety in Sauternes mainly because it is susceptible to Noble Rot (Botrytis) which is a “good” fungus that concentrates the sugars in the grapes and additionally stimulates the production of glycerol giving the wines a wonderful viscosity along with sweetness. Botrytized wines have aromas and flavours of honeyed fruits, dried apricots and marmalade, sometimes boiled cabbage but we will ignore that. Chateau d’Yquem is the most famous property in Sauternes producing some of the most expensive wines, however stay with me, there are more accessible wines to come.
In Australia Semillon produces an exceptional dry wine in the Hunter Valley region. The best examples reach maturity after 10 years tasting of lemon, honey and butter and have become very nutty, all of which is achieved without the help of oak. Finally, you may have heard of “Noble One” a truly iconic wine from the De Bortoli company produced in Riverina, New South Wales. It is a Botrytis Semillon that constantly wins awards around the world, not exactly an unsung hero after all. Imagine how pleased I was to find a Botrytis Semillon in M&S here in KL that I could share with my students. Even more satisfying the back label informs that it is made especially for M&S by De Bortoli of Riverina. I hesitate to inform that the Hermits Hill 2008 vintage is available at RM99, unless, of course, I get there first. We tasted it alongside a Marmalade Pudding Cake, a match made in heaven.