Guide to Sémillon

Sémillon grapes are used to produce some of the most expensive dry to very sweet bottles of white or dessert wine found throughout many of the world's most prominent wine-producing regions.

At times, the grape is also used as part of a blend, particularly alongside the more famous sauvignon blanc grape varietal, often meaning it never truly receives the attention it deserves.

In this guide to sémillon wine you will be provided with the knowledge you need to begin to understand this amazing grape varietal, including its origins, how it tastes, how to match it with food, and the regions most prevalent in its production.

For a quick summary of some of this, see our handy graphic below.

Sémillon Quick Guide

Why is it Called Sémillon?

A native to the famous French wine-producing region of Bordeaux, which is located in that country’s south-western area, the sémillon grape varietal has seen widespread international growth over the years, including into many regions within Australia, South Africa, and even parts of South America and the United States.

At one point in history, the sémillon grape was the most widely planted grape varietal in the world, which is quite astonishing when you consider that today it mostly flies under the radar in many consumers' minds and wallets.

In any case, the name for the grape is often said to have come from the French town of Saint-Emilion, which is located within the Bordeaux region.

Irrespective of its origins, however, sémillon grapes are known to be quite easy to cultivate, with the grape varietal being able to be effectively grown in both warm and cool climate areas, producing somewhat distinct styles of wine.

Perhaps its most important attribute, however, is the fact that it is so highly susceptible to developing rot, facilitating the production of the very sweet Botrytised dessert wine.

How do Sémillon Wines Taste?

Semillon Flavour Wheel

As stated previously, sémillon grapes can be used to produce dry to very sweet styles of standard white or dessert wine, depending upon where it is produced and the winemakers preference.

Bottles of standard sémillon white wine that have not been affected by Noble Rot are known for their dry, low to moderately acidic, and light to medium bodied style, with prominent flavours of grapefruit, papaya, lemon, pear, and apple presenting to varying degrees, depending upon whether it comes from a cool or warm climate.

It is also the case, in many warm climate areas in particular, for the wine to undergo additional ageing in oak for some time prior to bottling, where it develops overtly buttery, creamy, and roasted nut flavours, similar to those found in many oaked chardonnays, making them taste somewhat sweeter.

When the grape varietal is used in the production of Botrytised dessert wines, exemplified in those bottles of Sauternes coming from the Bordeaux region, it is known for its incredibly rich, full-bodied, gently acidic, and intensely sweet style, with strong flavours of honey, sweet apricot, mango, baking spice, marmalade, and lemon curd shining through.

As you can see, sémillon grapes can be used to produce extraordinarily variable styles of dry to very sweet white or dessert wine, making it possible to almost always find a bottle that is right for every occasion or set of taste buds.

Sémillon in France

Due to its origins lying within France, the sémillon grape varietal has a long history of production within the European country, where it has been used by local winemakers there to craft both dry and very sweet standard white and dessert wines.

Whilst the grape varietal can also be found in many of the other prominent wine-producing regions of that country, it is within the Bordeaux area, particularly in the subregions of Sauternais, Graves, and Entre-Doux-Mers, where the varietal shows its greatest strength.

For more on the grape varietal as it appears in France, read this article, where you can discover more about the history of the grape varietal there and in other parts of the world.

Bordeaux Sémillon

In the world famous Bordeaux region, the sémillon grape is perhaps most famously used in the production of the Botrytised dessert wine made in the Sauternais subregion, where it’s bottled under the name Sauternes.

Bordeaux Wine Region Map

These wines are characterised by their intensely sweet, rich, full-bodied, and low to moderately acidic style, with prominent flavours of baking spice, marmalade, honey, sweet apricot, lemon curd, and tropical fruits resonating strongly.

Bottles of Sauternes are also some of the most age worthy types of wine produced anywhere in the world, with it being possible for them to be cellared for more than several decades.

Apart from being used to craft exquisitely sweet dessert wines, it is also possible to find sémillon being used to create decidedly more dry, light to medium bodied, and moderately acidic styles of standard white wine.

Due to the cooler climate of the region, bottles of sémillon produced in the areas of the Bordeaux can be left unaged, resulting in wines with more moderate levels of acidity and bristling with zestier flavours of grapefruit, citrus, and crisp pear and apple, or they can be aged for some time prior to bottling, softening the levels of acidity and adding additional layers of flavour such as butter, cream, and toasted nut to the final product.

To explore more about how the grape varietal is used in the production of premium wines in the Bordeaux region be sure to visit this site, where you can investigate further.

Sémillon in Australia

The sémillon grape varietal has existed within Australia since at least the early to mid 19th century, meaning winemakers in many of the famous warm and cool climate areas of the country have had their hand in producing sémillon-based wines for almost two centuries.

In the warmer climates of Australia, particularly within the Barossa Valley region, it is used to produce slightly more expressive styles of dry to delicately sweet white wines that are known for their overt tropical fruit flavours and soft levels of acidity.

They can also be aged in oak for some time prior to bottling when coming from these areas, creating wines with a delicately sweet flavour profile and enhanced body.

In the cooler climate regions, however, such as is the case in the Hunter Valley, it is known for its slightly higher levels of acidity, lighter body, and prominent flavours of zippy citrus and grapefruit, where it is often left unaged in oak and as a standalone varietal, to showcase these highly refreshing characteristics.

To discover more about the grape varietal and its history within Australia visit this page, where further details on its origins and tastes can be found.

Hunter Valley Sémillon

The cool climate winemakers in the Hunter Valley region, which lies in the central-eastern area of the state of New South Wales, have been producing excellent bottles of sémillon wine for decades.

Hunter Valley Wine Region Map

Typically speaking, the examples coming out of this region are known for their enhanced levels of acidity, especially when compared to those coming from warmer climates, and more pronounced flavours of citrus when drunk fresh and young and stronger in their secondary flavours of nuts and honey when it has been aged in the bottle for a long time.

For more on the characteristics of sémillon-based wines, especially those coming from the Hunter Valley region, read the information found in this article.

Margaret River Sémillon

The Margaret River wine-producing region, located in the state of Western Australia, is known for being quite moderate in its climate, with warm sunny days juxtaposed by cool, dry nights.

This allows the crafting of wines with a somewhat balanced flavour profile of moderate acidity and moderately strong fruit flavours.

Margaret River Wine Region Map

The examples of sémillon coming from this region are often blended alongside sauvignon blanc grapes, producing wines with distinctive amounts of zesty herbal characteristics and citrus backbone.

These wines are also known for being quite dry and light to sometimes medium bodied in their style, with moderate amounts of acidity being able to be commonly found.

Pairing Food with Sémillon

Sémillon wines are best separated upon whether they’re coming from a warm or cool climate, as this helps in deciding not only the expected flavour profile of the bottle in question but also the best food pairing options.

Pairing Food with Sémillon

Those coming from cooler climate areas are best consumed alongside fresh, steamed, or lightly grilled seafood dishes, zesty salads, and finally, light delicately spiced Asian stir-fries.

Warmer climate bottles of sémillon, however, are more suited towards lightly spiced white meat dishes, moderately spiced asian stir-fries or Indian curries, and finally, heavier seafood dishes, including snapper or cod fish.

The final food pairing recommendation for sémillon wines, reserved for those examples that are Botrytised, such as the bottles of Sauternes coming from Bordeaux in France, are to pair these with blue cheeses, cheesecake, and finally, almost any kind of sweet fruit-based dessert.

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