5: Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
& Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Adelaide Hills (tank sample)
Highly aromatic and fresh with vibrant fruit and some
grassiness. Rounded and fruity.
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
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
'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
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
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
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
the Australian Wine Research Institute
1 - Regional Classics
2 - Riesling
3 - Shiraz and Blends
4 - Historical Perspective
5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
7 - An Alternative View
8 - Chardonnay
9 - Pinot Noir
10 - Blending the rules
11 - Sparkling
12 - Fortified
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