Session 5: Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc
Landmark Australia Tutorial 

Iain Riggs (above) of Brokenwood presented session 5 of the Landmark Tutorial, which focused on Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. In terms of Australia's fine wine dimension, this was perhaps one of the weaker sessions, but this was through no fault of Iain's. It's just that while Hunter Semillon is deserving of a place in the pantheon of Australian fine wine, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon/Sauvignon blends, while often good wines, aren't really fine wines.

We began with Semillon. One of the first thing that European colonizers did in Australia was to try to recreate the wines of their homelands. To that end, they imported a range of grape varieties, including a green grape that became known as 'shepherd's Riesling'. This was established in the Hunter, where it was used to make what was often labelled as Hunter Riesling. Remember, at this time Riesling was the most expensive of all white wines. It spread throughout Australia.

But of all the places Semillon was grown, it was the Hunter where it performed the best, and was the accountants' darling, producing a large juice yield of 800-900 litres per ton.

Classic Hunter Semillon is a paradox of a wine; a lucky accident. There's something about the subtropical, damp conditions of the Hunter that enable this variety to achive proper flavour ripeness at low alcohol levels. After all, if you thought about it too carefully, you wouldn't think of planting Semillon here. The classic Hunter style of Semillon is unoaked and has low alcohol. It is made simply, and bottled quickly; indeed, you can have it in bottle within 6 weeks of crush. Young Semillons have flavours of grass, cut hay, straw, lime juice, vanilla and lanolin. You can sometimes encounter herbaceous flavours, but these wines won't age. Normally, though, Hunter Semillon flourishes with bottle age, which is probably the reason that this style has become so celebrated.

The grapes are picked early, often at 10% potential alcohol (18 Brix). There's a short ripening window of 30 days from veraison to picking, which compares with, say, 45 days in the Clare. Even though the grapes are picked early, acdification is sometimes necessary. Finished wines have about 6 or 7 g TA (tartaric). In the early stages a bit of tartaric might be added, and then perhaps a touch of citric acid at bottling,

The climate and soil of the Hunter allow for flavour ripeness at low sugars, but exactly how isn't clear. There's a low diurnal range of temperatures, and quite a bit of cloud cover. It's also quite humid. Yields are 2.5-4 tons/acre. In the hunter there are 11 hectares of Semillon vines over 100 years old; these vineyards tend to limit their own yields. Semillon gives a huge juice yield of 800-900 litres per ton, but Iain will take the press cut at 650 litres, and then settle for even as long as 3 days before fermentation.

Iain started a reserve program for Semillon in 1992 at Brokenwood. But under cork he was finding that at 5 years, the discard rate for his reserve Semillons was 30% because of premature oxidation.

The Sauvignon Blanc story is much less interesting: Australia does make some good ones, but they're not really fine wines. Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc is the classic blend from Margaret River: these are crisp, clean, fresh wines for early consumption. They often have quite a bit of methoxypyrazine character, which means that they go tinned-pea and herbal with age.

Tyrrells Vat 1 Hunter Semillon 1998
This wine has won 17 Trophies and 33 Gold Medals on the show circuit. Yellow colour. Nose starting to show toasty, spicy notes along with taut herbiness and sweet citrus cordial notes. Then palate is dense, youthful and savoury with good acidity and a citrus finish. Still a baby with great potential. 93/100

Brokenwood ILR Semillon 1999 Hunter
Taut, focused, herbal and citrussy on the nose. Firm and full with hints of lanolin. It's a serious effort, but let down by some subtle musty notes it isn't clean so I haven't rated it.

Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon 2002 Barossa
Very fresh, assertive and in-yer-face citrus aromas dominate. The palate has some creamy depth to the focused citrussy fruit, and perhaps there's a little oak influence (actually, it is unoaked) with lovely intensity. Serious effort. 93/100

Tempus Two Copper Zenith Semillon 2003 Hunter
Intense, fruity, citrussy wine with some richness on the palate. Bold, bright and fruity with lovely forward personality, drinking really well now. 90/100

Vasse Felix Semillon 205 Margaret River
Full, rich, fruity, citrussy nose with a distinctive herbal, grassy character. The palate is ripe and full with some green pepper/methoxypyrazine notes, but it just about works in the context of this wine. Drink now. 89/100

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2006 Hunter Valley
Minerally, fresh nose with a hint of lemon. The palate is taut with subtle, herby, toasty fruit. Quite rounded with nice concentration and a lemony edge. Not showing a lot yet; one for the future when I suspect this will get a much higher score. 89/100

Thomas Wines Braemore Individual Vineyard Semillon 2008 Hunter Valley
Fresh, citrussy nose. The palate is simple, taut, lively and fresh with good acidity and tight lemony fruit. Good concentration to this tight, minerally wine. Potential for further development. 90/100

Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Adelaide Hills (tank sample)
Highly aromatic and fresh with vibrant fruit and some grassiness. Rounded and fruity.

Angullong Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Orange
Fresh, pure, vibrant and grassy nose with green herbs, tomato leaf and a hint of talc. The palate is open and fruity with subtle grassy notes. Nice and fresh but lacks real impact. 88/100

Logan Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Mudgee
Aromatic herbal nose with attractive green pepper notes. The palate is rounded and fruity with some herbaceous character. Good balance but lacks vibrancy. 88/100

Goundrey 'G' Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2008 Mount Barker
Fresh, vibrant, grassy/herby nose. Nicely intense on the palate with sophisticated, smooth, slightly chalky grassy fruit. Very attractive. 90/100

Cape Mentelle Walcliffe Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2006 Margaret River
Barrel fermented. Rich, intense, toasty nose with green herby notes and prominent oak. The palate is taut and intense with some creamy, toasty oak as well as bold fruit character. A crazy wine that just about works. A very individual style. 91/100

Brookland Valley Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Margaret River
Distinctive fresh, green herb and pepper nose. The palate is intense, bold and herby with lots of methoxypyrazine character. Attractive but green. 88/100

Rosemount Show Reserve Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Western Australia
Intense, ripe and fresh with nice herbiness. A rich style that's ripe and full. 87/100  

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09 
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