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03 September 2012

Australia: Semillon

From tyrrells.com.au
I'll kick-off these random thoughts on how Australian winemakers have been quietly busy creating palate-provoking nectar out of the not terribly well-known Semillon variety (apart from in a blend with Chardy or Sauvignon blanc perhaps), by pinching a quote from Wine Australia's catalogue blurb from their big Dublin tasting a few months ago. It serves very well as a spot-on introduction: "Riesling (link takes you to a post on Aus Riesling) has a bad reputation with wine drinkers, Semillon has no reputation!"
To address this lack of knowledge, awareness or interest, there was an enthusiastic tutored tasting of Aus Semillon, going back to the 2000 vintage, led by Raymond Blake, wine editor of Ireland's Food & Wine magazine. I've tasted a few in my time, but this was a great reminder of what remarkable white wines, dry and sweet, can be made from Semillon in Australia, especially in the Hunter and Barossa Valleys and by certain wineries who really have mastered a distinctive style. Perhaps the problem is, when dry, it often makes a rather uncompromisingly 'steely' and subtle verging on plain un-obvious wine, austere even, that doesn't always reveal much without a few years bottle ageing bringing out lots of complex quirky flavours. Or, as a lush sweet wine, well, from just being very sweet really, which isn't many people's cup of grapes. Its typical very crisp acidity comes from early picking to preserve this age-bestowing freshness, which helps the wine blossom in bottle and also gives lighter alcohol levels of around 11% to 12%.
Anyway, here are my impressions of the six wines we tasted, all produced by pretty famous and widely-stocked names: Peter Lehmann, McWilliams, Tyrrell and De Bortoli. My, as ever very personal (!) tasting notes reveal the kind of sometimes unique characters, aromas and flavours that Semillon wines typically have or develop over time: toasty or toasted (yet these wines have no or little oak I believe), nutty, honeyed, oily, steely, lean, tight... Retail prices (Euro) and stockists are for Ireland, although these wines should also be readily available in the UK, US etc. Which goes to show what a bargain some of them are too.

2005 Peter Lehmann Art Series Classic Semillon Barossa (11.5% alc) - surprisingly pale for a 2005, toasted yeasty nutty and honeyed on the nose; quite rich and oily on the palate with a steely 'chalky' side too, turning creamier on the finish vs still fresh, tight and lean. Nice mix of lively, elegant and mature. €10 imported by Comans Wholesale, Dublin.
2001 Peter Lehmann Reserve Semillon Barossa (12.5% alc) - now called 'Margaret' Semillon I'm told. Not much deeper in colour really, toastier and nuttier with oily and 'charred' lees edges; rounded toasty and rich vs again quite delicate, steely and dry finish; lovely toasted maturing notes vs still crisp and lean underneath, more concentrated and finer than the above.
2005 McWilliams Elizabeth Semillon Hunter (12%) - a tad more golden perhaps, toasty yeasty honeyed tones lead on to crisp vs rounded creamy oily mouth-feel; quite complex showing good balance of toasted oaty maturing flavours vs still has steely bite. Was on "half-price" offer at Tesco for €10.
2005 McWilliams Lovedale Semillon Hunter (11.5%) - more yellowy in colour, bready yeasty aromas with delicate biscuit flavours vs crisp green fruit; lean and tight palate vs lightly oily maturity, more closed up and youthful even, long steely finish. €20+ imported by PLB Group (England).
2000 Tyrrell VAT 1 Semillon Hunter (11%) - relatively pale for its age, not very revealing at first showing light honey and apple notes; juicy steely with delicate crisp mouth-feel, zesty sherbet edges vs toasty yeasty touches on its long finish. Can't believe it's 2000 vintage, still young in some ways. Barry & Fitzwilliam, Cork.
2007 Deen de Bortoli VAT 5 Botrytis Semillon Riverina (11%) - exotic spicy apricot, sultana, orange peel and jasmine tea (!) aromas; very enticing lush nose and palate vs underlying orange zest, dried fruits and pineapple vs subtle acidity and length, rich yet elegant too. Lovely sweet wine. €10-€12 half-bottle Febvre Wines, Dublin.

More on some of these producers and lots of other Aus wine HERE.

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