It’s time for the next instalment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last time we learned about the G grape, Gewurztraminer, and this time around we get to know a grape that I love returning to time after time – Semillon.
About the Noble Grape Challenge
Let’s refresh ourselves on what’s going on here – Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of flavours and characteristics found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites and going through them from lightest to darkest, we’ll learn about the key characteristics and flavours of each.
Semillon isn’t a very well known grape, which is a real shame because it’s delicious. It’s also probably because it’s most often used in blends. Like many of the world’s favourite grapes Semillon got its start in France – Bordeaux to be exact. I know, weird right?
Bordeaux is known for its big, fancy, bank-breaking reds, but white wine gets made there too. Granted, most of the white wine grapes planted there get used for Sauternes (the most delicious of dessert wines, in my opinion), but those same grapes are often used to make delicious still white wine as well.
What are those white wine types you ask? Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and – you guessed it – Semillon.
In blends Semillon is mostly used to give body and structure. I think this is because there’s often a bit of a waxy texture that people pick up with Semillon, often referred to as lanolin. It’s a bit of an unfortunate descriptor, but I’m not sure waxy is any better.
Generally speaking, the less ripe the fruit is at harvest the more the wine will show flavours of lemon and green apple – tart green fruit, basically. If the fruit is more ripe at harvest you’ll start to get pear, mango, papaya – those lovely orange tropical fruits that so rarely get the chance to shine.
One more thing! Semillon has thin skin which makes it especially susceptible to noble rot. It’s noble rot that dries out the grapes to make Sauternes. Thanks Semillon, for your part in making this delicious wine. #blessed
The Test Case
Today’s test case is the Margan Family Semillon from the Hunter Valley in Australia. Hunter Valley is pretty much the only place outside of Bordeaux known for making good Semillon (or any Semillon, really).
Semillon is annoyingly tough to find in any form, let alone as a single varietal. It took some scouring to even find a couple of options, and even there were so few options on the LCBO website. I was prepared to have to throw my personal taste out the window (currently for full-bodied whites) and possibly to have to try a couple times before finding anything. And then, lo and behold, I found this bottle hanging out in the Vintages section of my regular LCBO – SCORE!
(I’ll admit, it was a little more than I usually spend on a bottle (I usually hang out around the $15 mark) but since a bottle of single-varietal was so hard to find, let alone a full-bodied one, I’ll make the splurge.)
- The colour is a pretty vibrant straw yellow, a classic sign that this is a young wine.
- The nose is lovely! Peach, apricot, maybe a bit of mango. It all smells very orange and ripe.
- There’s also something adding some depth going on on the nose. Some white pepper or ground ginger, maybe. Intriguing.
- Wow, the flavour is really juicy! Right away it’s hitting me with bright acidity and medium-to-full body. I am so here for this wine.
- The peach, apricot and ground ginger all make repeat appearances on the palate too, along with maybe some white flowers (honeysuckle, perhaps?)
- It’s fruity and full and just a bit spicy on the palate. I LOVE IT.
This wine is so up my current alley. Fresh and fruity, approachable (meaning it doesn’t make you need to steel yourself before taking a sip), fullish body and a little spicy? YES PLEASE.
If any of this sounds good or interesting to you you need to get to your local wine shop immediately. And then taste it and let me know what you think!
Next time on NGC – the penultimate entry and another of my favourite white wines, Viognier.