Go to: Semillon tasting characteristics | Origins of semillon | How to pair food with semillon | Serving temperature for semillon | The best Australian semillon regions
Semillon (pronounced seh-mee-yon) is a light- to medium-bodied white wine that comes in a range of guises and from various environments.
Crisp, citrusy and refreshing when young, with a capacity to age that trumps most varieties, despite these appeals, it often plays second fiddle to its blending partner, sauvignon blanc, and the ever-popular chardonnay. Industry insiders appreciate the unique qualities of semillon, but unfortunately, it has struggled to achieve broader appeal.
Today, semillon’s most important homes are its birthplace of Bordeaux in France and the Hunter Valley in Australia, where it arrived in the early 1800s. Each is responsible for a revered style in its own right – learn more ahead.
Broadly speaking, semillon starts as a light, lemon-citrus young wine and blossoms into one with loads of complexity, showing nutty, toasty notes. These latter characters might seem as if they should be associated with oak, but quite often, semillon sees none – another reason this variety is so remarkable. The next time you look to pinot grigio
for its freshness or chardonnay for its richness, try looking to semillon instead. Depending on its region, winemaking style and age, it can offer the best of lively whites and weighty, flavoursome types.
Born in Bordeaux, semillon was once one of the world’s most widely planted varieties. Today, it accounts for a tiny percentage of the globe’s wine-producing area. This dwindling makes semillon something of a rarity – a variety its producers work hard to promote and protect.
In Australia, semillon arrived as part of the James Busby collection in the early 1800s and found its first home in the Hunter Valley. This warm region of New South Wales remains central to the semillon story today, producing world-class examples.
Young semillon and shellfish, such as oysters, is a classic pairing. Semillon will match to all manner of seafood, and also complement the light spice and citrus of many Asian dishes. James’s tip for a fresh Hunter semillon? It’s “smashing with fish and chips”. If you’re considering a sweet semillon, soft, full-flavoured cheeses and pates are a fantastic choice.
The ideal serving temperature for semillon is 8–10 degrees.
Semillon is a pliable wine grape grown across the country. But Australia’s standout regions – the true champions of the variety – are listed ahead.
You wouldn’t think the heat and humidity of the Hunter would be a fit for semillon. Still, it produces what is widely known as the best dry style on the planet – a true wonder of the wine world. There are a few factors responsible for this quality, including a unique combination of climatic factors, old-vine sites, and meticulous winemaking, with the area’s historic wineries
incredibly proud of their work with the variety. The Hunter is best known for its unoaked young semillon wines that undergo a magical transformation with age, maturing into rich, toasty styles that still retain their brightness and fruit purity, making them captivatingly complex.
With sauvignon blanc a front runner of production in this west coast region, Margaret River leads the way when it comes to semillon blends. This focus on Bordeaux-style whites also complements its success with other varieties from the French region, such as its stellar cabernet sauvignon. While the Hunter holds the lion’s share of awarded straight-up semillon, Margaret River steals the show with its delicious semillon sauvignon blanc and sauvignon blanc semillon blends. These white varieties make a lovely pair, with the structure and citrus of semillon adding extra refreshment and complexity to the lifted aromas and fruity flavours of sauvignon blanc.
The Barossa produces a mix of mid-weight barrel-aged semillon and leaner, zippier styles. It also has a significant number of ancestor vines at its disposal, dating back to the mid-1800s. This South Australian region
is an excellent place to experience the diversity of semillon, offering wines
with upfront flavour and power as well as the classically zesty styles.
The Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills in South Australia are also notable areas for dry semillon wines, in single varieties and blends, and the Riverina of New South Wales is known for its sweet styles, with one famous example being De Bortoli’s Noble One.