British wine critic Jancis Robinson calls Hunter Valley semillon “one of the unsung heroes of white wine production.”
I’ve always wondered why semillon isn’t more popular with wine lovers? After all, it can be enjoyed young, but it also evolves beautifully over time and can be cellared for 20 years or more. And because semillon is an early ripening variety the flavours are fully ripe at relatively low sugar levels, leading to a dry white wine with plenty of acid and low alcohol levels (around 11% versus chardonnay at 13.5%).
When young, semillon is pale in colour and typically fresh and tangy with lots of citrus notes, making it a perfect accompaniment to a meal of fresh oysters and grilled white-fleshed fish! Yum! As it ages the colour deepens and the palate becomes softer and richer, although it’s never as full-bodied as aged chardonnay.
In wine critic Huon Hooke’s opinion, “Hunter semillon is, like Mosel riesling, one of those whites that prove that length – or persistence – of flavour does not depend on a certain level of alcohol. Even 10% alcohol Hunter semillons, such as the legendary 1994 Mount Pleasant Museum Elizabeth, have plenty of extract and length.” (Hunter Valley Semillon, Huon Hooke. com)
The Hunter was the first place in the world to use only semillon to make a high quality, light, dry white wine. Tyrrell’s, the fifth generation family owned winery, started making semillon in the 1860s and has been bottling its flagship Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon since 1963.
Winemakers were quick to realise that semillon does well when planted on the Hunter’s sandy soils, especially the ancient river beds that run through the Hermitage Road/Causarina area where Tyrrell’s and the other famous semillon vineyards are sited.
The legendary winemaker Maurice O’Shea put McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant winery on the map when he started making semillon in the 1920s. Today his prized Lovedale Vineyard still grows fruit for the winery’s flagship wine, the Mount Pleasant Lovedale Vineyard Semillon, released after six years of bottle age.
Other benchmark Hunter semillons include the Brokenwood ILR Reserve Semillon, which is named after long-standing chief winemaker Ian Riggs, the Briar Ridge Signature Karl Stockhausen Hunter Valley Semillon and the multi-award winning McLeish Estate Semillon.
By Merrill Witt, Editor
Photo Credit: McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Lovedale Vineyard
Back vintages of the McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Lovedale Vineyard Semillon and the McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon are currently available on the Cellarit Wine Market.