When you’re in the mood for sauvignon blanc, you’re probably more inclined to reach for a bottle of Marlborough sauvignon blanc than a White Sancerre – a sauvignon blanc from the Sancerre appellation in the eastern part of the Loire Valley in France. In fact, when I opened a bottle of Sancerre on the weekend, a sauvignon blanc loving friend of mine exclaimed “what’s that?”
The blend of semillon sauvignon blanc also has its origins in France. It’s the dry white wine of Bordeaux. The percentage of semillon to sauvignon blanc varies depending on the appellation, and the best expressions of the blend come from the Pessac-Léognan and Graves. But while Pessac-Léognan’s Haut Brion Blanc has been described as the “Montrachet of Bordeaux” and sells for more than $1,000 a bottle, most people aren’t that familiar with White Bordeaux.
Semillon sauvignon blanc or sauvignon blanc semillon fans in Australia typically seek out one of the fine examples of the style from Western Australia’s Margaret River, a region that’s been perfecting the blend for 35 years.
This year the Pierro winery in the Willyabrup sub-region of Margaret River is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blanc L.T.C. Pierro’s proprietor, Dr Mike Peterkin, actually introduced the blend to the Margaret River in 1979 when he was making wine for Cullen’s. While he admits to borrowing the idea of blending the two varieties from the French, he does give himself credit for creating a new style, which emphasised aromatics, freshness and fruit character. His new take on a traditional blend was partly achieved through maturing the wine in stainless steel tanks as opposed to then French practice of maturing the wine in oak barrels.
That a semillon sauvignon blanc blend would do so well in Margaret River is not surprising given that the region is also home to many of Australia’s finest cabernet sauvignon blends – the great red wine style of Bordeaux. In fact, Peterkin was also one of the first to introduce to Margaret River the Bordeaux practice of blending red varietals. Today, cabernet sauvignon merlot, often with an added touch of cabernet franc and malbec, is one of the Margaret River’s signature blends, and yet another demonstration of the region’s success in making Bordeaux wine styles their own.
By the way, the “L.T.C” at the end of the Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blanc L.T.C stands for a little touch chardonnay. Hailed as a benchmark wine, like its top Bordeaux counterparts, the Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blanc L.T.C. has demonstrated great ageing potential. Wine critic Peter Forrestal recently conducted a vertical tasting dating back to the 2002 vintage. Several in the group regarded the 2002 as the pick the tasting: “complex, generous and plush with creamy honey-suckle flavours and crisp, exuberant acidity.” (Pierro Semillon Sauvignn Blanc L.T.C Vertical Tasting by Peter Forrestal, Pierro Willyabrup Warbler, No. 11, Autumn 2014)
The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker recently remarked that the “dry whites [of Bordeaux] remain some of the longest-lived and under-valued great white wines of the world.” Judging by the quality of the reasonably priced, long-lived Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blanc L.T.C. (the current vintage retails for around $27 a bottle), semillon sauvignon blanc from the Margaret River also looks like a bargain!