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The Semillon Grape, The Unsung Hero of Wine

Semillon is one of the world’s leading varieties of grapes, even though it seems to always be a second tiered grape because its is usually blended with other varieties, rather than marketed on it’s own. It’s extremely hard to come up with a list of defining tastes and aromas that are characteristic of this grape, nonetheless, Semillon is still worth a second look and hopefully this extract will shed some light on this unappreciated fruit.

Semillon originally made itself at home in France, particularly the Bordeaux region where holds the title of being the majority white grape grown. Often blended with other wines, Semillon can be found in classic Bordeaux whites, as well as the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac. It is a rather hearty wine and simple to cultivate with consistent production of between six to eight tons per acre. It is honestly resistant to most diseases, with the exception of the fungal infection, Botrytis cinarea, also known as “noble rot.” This is due to Semillon grapes having tightly packed bunches and relatively thin skin. If this rot attacks ripe grapes, it causes them to shrivel, and these moldy looking grapes yield small quantities of extremely concentrated juice that is then used in making mouth-watering sweet white wines of fantastic complexity and longevity. Semillon is the key component in making these wines. In fact, Semillon grapes make up 80% of the blend in Château d’Yquem, the most expensive and well-known dessert wine in the world.

While Semillon is the majority white variety in Bordeaux, Graves, and Sauternes, more grows in Chile than anywhere else on Earth. Early in the development of Australia, Semillon (often incorrectly labeled as Riesling) dominated as the major white variety, although the vineyards are mostly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc today. The Hunter Valley in Australia, but, is still known for producing this grape in numbers and was one of the pioneers in the country in cultivating it. A unique minerally, lemony style is produced, which is crisp and lean when young and is made without the influence of oak or malolactic fermentation. But, the wine transformations with age, evolving into a complex, nutty, honeyed wine with fantastic complexity and depth. Hunter Semillon is one of the few Australian white wine styles that ages gracefully over extended periods.

While it can be said that wines that are dominated by Semillon lack youthful aroma, they tend to have a honestly full body and be low in acidity. It is because of this that Semillon makes a wonderful “second” grape in blending of wines producing some wonderful flavors. Semillon even works well when blended with the well-known loner, Chardonnay, giving richness and weight without sacrificing the aromatic delicacy.

Even though this wine may be seen as a second-class wine to many, it is hard to know why when it is so versatile. The ability to make some of the highest quality dessert wines as well as its ability to be combined and compliment wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc prove that this is more than some ordinary grape. Semillon is the unsung hero of many bottles of wine, and now it’s time for this underestimated grape to shine.

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