Semillon Wines

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007 at 12:00 am

The history of the Semillon grape is quite hard to understand because it seems that its history has been lost ever since it first arrived in Australia in the early 1800s. One of the only known fact is that by the 1820s, the grape variety was able to cover around 90 percent of the vineyards of Southern Africa. In that place the grape variety was given the name Wyndruif which meant "wine grape". At one point in time, it was believed that this was the most planted grape variety in the world although in today’s time, it is no longer the case.

In the 1950s, Chile’s vineyards were composed of over 75% Semillon. Today, that number has plummeted way down to just 1% of South African Cape vines. This grape is quite easy to cultivate and consistently produces around six to eight tons of grapes per acre from its abundant vines. The grape is known for being quite resistant to disease. The grape is easily ripened and when it is in warmer climates, it takes on a pinkish hue.

Because the grape has a thin skin, there is also a risk of sunburn when it is planted on hotter climates. The grape variety is best suited to areas with days with abundant sunlight but has cool nights. This type of grape is quite heavy with low acidity as well as an oily texture. It is able to yield quite high and the wines that are based from it can age for a relatively long time. Along with the other types of wine such as Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, Semillon is one of only three approved white wines varieties in the Bordeaux region. It is also used to be the foundation for sweet wines such as Barsac and Sauternes.

Semillon is the major white grape variety in the regions of Graves, Sauternes and Bordeaux. In Australia today, the major white varieties are considered to be Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc. In France, this grape variety is grown mostly in the region of Bordeaux where it was combined with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. When it is dry, it is referred to Bordeaux blanc and is even allowed to be made in the appellations of Pessac-Léognan, Entre-deux-mers and other unpopular regions.

One of the troubles that this grape variety is susceptible to is the "noble rot" of Botrytis cinerea which happens to consume the water content of the grape, concentrating the sugar in the fruit. When this happens, the grape shrivels and the acid and sugar levels spike up.

Semillon is popular in the upper and Lower Hunter Valley which is north of Sydney. For a time it was known as the "Hunter River Riesling" However, outside of these regions, Semillon is not widely appreciated because of its supposed lack of intensity. Because of this, the plantings for this grape variety has decreased over time, particularly over the last century. The planting of Semillon may have died down but there will be people who will still appreciate it for its historical contributions and for being one of the cherished wines during its time.