Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Many Faces of Semillon - Part 1: Young and Medium-Aged Semillons

In my post entitled Overview of Australia's Wine Regions - Part 3 where I described the Characteristics and Grapes of Australia's Larger Wine Regions, I extol the unique and symbiotic relationship between The Hunter Valley and the Semillon grape.
Hunter Semillons are un-paralled anywhere in the world.  A multitude of Hunter wineries make great, great Semillons, in three styles which really relate to their age in the bottle and when they are released.  They are:
  • Crisp, new Semillons a year or two in the bottle
  • Semillons stored for 5 years before being released
  • "Museum" Semillons being bottled and stored 10 years before being released 

Because of the many different faces and tastes of Semillon, it has a multitude of uses.  It can be enjoyed on its own, with cheese and crackers, with Indian or Thai food, with eggs such as when serving an omelet or fritatta (one of the reasons I think of Semillon as the ultimate breakfast wine!), a Tandoori chicken pizza, or many other foods.  I also find when you need that 100 ml of white wine for cooking that Semillon fuses beautifully and enhances, but does not overpower the food with which it is blended.  My bride has a number of recipes in her great blog DAZ in the Kitchen where wine is required to cook the perfect meal.

But the real question is "Which age Semillon goes best with what type of food?"  With sharp cheeses such as a Blue Cheese or a Gorgonzola (which my bride uses when making a prawn Risotto and is outstanding!) demands a newer and crisper, more acidic Semillon.  I personally would almost always rather drink an aged or Museum-released Semillon.  However, with a sharp cheese and when a bit of acid is required, you should try a younger Semillon.  I have found two younger Semillons that in my opinion stand out (the rest are just not that interesting yet).  They are the Andrew Thomas Braemore Semillon and the Tyrrell's Johnno Semillon.

Andrew Thomas is one of finest wine makers in the Hunter Valley, if not one of the finest in the world.  And he is a really nice guy also!  I have had the pleasure of sitting next to him at a degustation affair with matching wines a few years back, and others have told me how pleasurable he was to meet and talk to when watching sport in a bar!  A great guy making great wine!

I have been surprised to to learn after buying some excellent Shiraz' such as the 1998 Tyrrell's Vat 9 Shiraz and the 2007 Pokolbin Estate Shiraz, that Andrew was the wine maker for both of those wines.  But that is a topic for another post.  Back to Semillon.

I have had the 2009 Braemore and it is brilliant.  Crisp, a touch of acid and a bit of lemon flavor.  Many young Semillons taste flat to me, but the 2009 Braemore is ripe with flavor.

The Tyrrells' Johnno is the other young Semillon I enjoy.  I have had the 2010 and 2011 vintages and both are exceptional.  It is a bit more edgy and acidic than the Braemore in my opinion, even though Tyrrell's positions it as a smoother type of Semillon.  However, it is a most enjoyable drink when you need to pick a Semillon right from the bottle shop.

I really start to enjoy my Semillons though when they have 5 or more years in the bottle.  They become less acidic (even thought many still have a lot of acid and a lot of life in them yet!) and more complex.  Both the Thomas Braemore and the Tyrrell's Johnno Semillons are worth keeping in the bottle for a few years if you have the discipline and patience!

There are almost too many good Hunter Valley Semillons to mention here, but for me, the top class includes the Tyrrels Vat 1 (especially the 2005 vintage), The Meerea Park Alexander Munro and Meerea Park Teracotta Semillons (anywhere from the 2004 - 2006 vintages), The 2005 Brokenwood ILR (I was fortunate to pick up the last 9 bottles at the cellar door a little while back), the 2004 Lindemans Semillon and the 2004 Thomas Braemore.  I am sure I have left some great wines off this list, but I can attest the wines I mentioned within are truly outstanding medium-aged Semillons.

These "medium-aged" Semillons go really well with egg dishes.  I had about a third of a bottle of the 2004 Meerea Park Teracotta left over one Sunday morning and heated up some leftover quiche for a late breakfast at about 11 am and a glass of the Semillon to go with it.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven!  Since I rarely drink in the morning, my bride and I now look for reasons to make egg dishes (such as a Salmon Fritatta or Quiche Lorraine) so we have the excuse to drink a medium-aged Semillon with dinner!  I also like my medium-aged Semillons with Indian and Thai food.

As so often is the case when researching material for a post, I came across something already written which does a good job of describing what I wanted to say.  A review of the Semillon grape from Wine Knowledge is worth a read and entirely matches my view on Semillon.

I have not recommended any Semillons from regions other than the Hunter Valley.  There are certainly some great Semillons produced in Margaret River and the Barasso Valley, and certainly some magnificent Semillons produced in the Sauternes and Barsac regions in France, but my deeper knowledge and appreciation of Hunter Valley Semillons makes me favor the Semillons from that region over all others.  My only exception to that would be the great dessert wines made from Botrytis Semillon from Sauternes such as Chataeu D'Yquem.  (See my post on "Why I think Chauteau D'Yquem is the Best Wine in the World", my most-viewed post of all time!)

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