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The Sémillon Grape

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About Sémillon

(Synonyms: Blanc doux, Chevrier, Colombier, Groendruif, Hunter River Riesling, Malaga, Wyndruif)


Semillon grapes Map showing the Bordeaux region of France

Sémillon is a white-wine grape originating in the Bordeaux region of France, where it has historically been a major component in the regional white-Bordeaux blends along with Sauvignon Blanc. Today it continues to be significant there, though (as with all Old World regional wines) rarely as a monovarietal; it is also a major grape in Australia, as further discussed below. There are smaller plantings in most of the other major wine regions of the world, from Chile to South Africa.

Sémillon is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page), though that status is almost certainly derived from the amazing dessert wines (as in Château d'Yquem and other Sauternes and Barsacs) it makes, from Bordeaux to Washington State, rather than our focus here, table wines (which is not to say that it cannot make excellent table wines, given due attention).

Sémillon is a grape shifting from the Old World to the New. Alone and even as an ingredient in blends, it is currently losing popularity in France, to the extent that the makers of the famous dessert wines have banded together to grow their own so as to assure a continuing supply. A major reason, ironically, is that both winemakers and consumers in France and indeed much of the world consider Sémillon to be lacking in greatness owing to a lack of complexity and clear distinctiveness when used in or as a table wine—but that situation is very different in Australia. Its chief role in Bordeaux has always been as a "softener" of the much more aggressive Sauvignon Blanc grape, but winemakers today can better control that without needing as much blending of mollifying grapes, hence the dwindling of interest in its homeland.

Sémillon as a monovarietal table wine is, however, now taken quite seriously in Australia, where several styles exist. Of those, the two most interesting are (to quote Wikipedia) "a complex, minerally, early picked style which has great longevity; and an equally high quality dry style, which can be released soon after vintage, as a vat- or bottle-aged example." Those are said to be styles unique to Australia. Specimens from the Hunter Valley region, arguably the premier Australian specimens, are never oaked (but with maturity famously take on a deceiving quality of oakiness). Sémillons of the aged sort tend to taste somewhat honeyed and toasty; the younger style emphasizes fruit, tending to display citrus aromas and flavors.

(A curious conundrum will emerge if you read through the various sources quoted and linked below: the degree of acidity of Sémillon wines. It would appear that Sémillon is definitely a high-acid grape—which is exactly why it ages so long and well—and so many descriptions have it. Nonetheless, many other descriptions refer to it as low-acid—even though the same description may well, some sentences later, also refer to the grape's high acid. One is left to ponder that anomaly, but suspects that it might be the difference between warm-climate and cool-climate growing conditions, as grapes not fully ripened tend toward distinctly higher acidity; one flag is alcohol content: Sémillon wines over perhaps 12% alcohol are probably warm-grown and less acid; wines under 12% are likely to be cool-grown and more acid.)

Factoid: As of the early 19th century, Sémillon was thought to be the most widely planted white-wine varietal in the world.

Some Descriptions of Sémillon Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Most examples of these bottle-aged Hunter Semillons exhibit a buttercup-yellow colour, burnt toast or honey characteristics on the nose and excellent complex flavours on the palate, with a long finish and soft acid. Young Hunter Valley semillon is almost always a dry wine, usually exhibiting citrus flavours of lemon, lime or green apple. Cooler-year Hunter Semillons seem to be the most highly sought after, with some of the 1974 and 1977 vintages still drinking well."

  • Wine Folly

    "Sémillon wine is loved for its full body, like Chardonnay, but with flavors closer to Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. . . The primary fruit flavors in Sémillon wine are lemon, apple, pear and green papaya. There’s something very waxy about the taste of Sémillon which wine writers often describe as lanolin. Depending on where Sémillon is grown it can range from being a zesty, palate-cleansing wine like Sauvignon Blanc to a rich, creamy, lemon-flavored wine like oaked Chardonnay. . . Hot-Climate Sémillon: More ripe fruits, including mango, yellow peach and papaya, can be found in warm climate Sémillon. It’s not uncommon to find wines from these regions using moderate oak-aging to add buttery notes to the flavor. Hotter-climate regions include California, South Africa, Argentina, South Australia and part of Washington State. Wines will be higher alcohol with about 12-14% ABV. Cool-Climate Sémillon: When winemakers pick Sémillon less ripe, the wines have a lot more acidity and often resemble their popular cousin, Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus flavors of lemon, lime zest and grapefruit are accentuated in this style when winemakers don’t oak-age their Sémillon. A cooler climate Sémillon will also have more flower aromas. Cooler climate Sémillon wines (where grapes are picked less ripe) are commonly from Washington State, Bordeaux, Hunter Valley Australia and Western Australia. In these areas, wines will have about 10-12% ABV"

  • Victoria Moore, The Telegraph

    "So now you find two incarnations of Hunter sémillon. The first might almost be deemed a sauvignon blanc substitute: it is young, unoaked, lithe and grassy and refreshing, tinted with citrus flavours, but more delicate, not as attention-seeking or as raucous as the dreaded SB. The second is aged sémillon. More than almost any other grape, sémillon undergoes an extraordinary alchemy as it ages. If in its infancy it is reminiscent of mown grass, with a quicksilver citrus quality, with time that grass turns to hay, the citrus softens into a rich beeswax and lanolin and out of nowhere the grape throws up a nutty, toasty edge with the smell and a rasping texture that would have you swear, absolutely swear, it had spent some time breathing through the oak of barrels. I like sémillons when they’re caught midway between youth and age, so they still have a bit of zesty drive, but also soar with this magnificent, swooping, seemingly impossible complex transformation. Such is the texture that, blind tasting, I sometimes confuse them with Clare Valley riesling – but they don’t have the matching lime, the lilac or the acidity. "

  • Bruce Cass Wine Lab

    "The reason these wines are so well regarded is the extraordinary ability of Semillon to develop beguiling bouquet as the wines mature in the bottle. There's nothing quite like it. Young Semillon has a fat texture, but a fairly bland aroma, often described as 'fig-like,' and a pleasant, but short finish. Often this non-descript character is a function of Semillon's tendency to produce massive crops. Fifteen-year-old, dry Semillons made from grapes grown on old vines, water stressed to reduce crop levels, are an entirely different story. Their bouquet becomes rich and penetrating with a toasty, 'hazelnut-like' character which remains on the tongue for minutes, and in the mind for years. "

  • The Wine Anorak

    "Picked early at low potential alcohol and unoaked, in their youth Hunter Valley Semillons are rather neutral, acidic white wines. With several years in the bottle, though, they undergo a metamorphosis, putting on weight and developing a delicious toasty, honeyed character that could fool you into thinking they've been barrel fermented. The best examples can carry on evolving for decades."

  • Wine for Normal People

    "Unaged, dry Sémillon is a very lemony, citrusy wine. It tastes like (dare I say?) just boring white wine — neutral with some acid but not much character. Sometimes it can take on an herbal or tropical note, and can be a little like candle wax too, but it’s generally a little boring without any age. I think this wine is better when it’s been held in the bottle for a while. With a little age, Sémillon gets interesting. I’ve had a few that are a bit older and they are amazing. Boring white wine turns into something honeyed and croissant-like, and can allegedly (I haven’t experienced this particular phenomenon myself) taste like buttered toast, even if there’s been no time in an oak barrel, which is generally responsible for toast-like flavors."

  • About.com

    "Sémillon contributes a deep golden color to a wine, even more so if the grapes have been botrytised. With an aromatic profile that ranges from subtle fruit to floral and some spice to a bit of earthy and herbal, this particular grape does not dominate the nose, but supports the blending process with its ability to offer the rich fruit character of honeyed apricots, quince, candied peach and creamy vanilla tones. In fact, its ability to pick up and spotlight the impressionable oak influences are another draw for blending with this grape. . . With its lower levels of acidity, almost oily textures, more subtle aromatics and rounder profile, it is the perfect complement to the leaner lines, zesty profile and fresh acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Sémillon also enjoys a reputation for aging well over the long haul. . . While lacking complexity as a young single varietal wine, with a bit of age Sémillon can take on the rich, full flavors of candied fruit, carmalized nuts and ongoing honey nuances. "

  • San Francisco Examiner

    "Dry versions of semillon have a signature waxlike nose. Vanilla, citrus, grass, floral and sometimes green pepper aromas can be noticed. While usually full-bodied with a round mouth feel, it can be deceptively high-acid. Semillon found a hospitable home in the Hunter Valley of Australia, where, without any oak, it creates wines that improve over the course of a decade and can age even longer."

  • Forgotten Grapes

    "It’s a grape that sometimes tastes similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, and yet is still completely different, with brighter citrus, less grassiness, and a lighter, paler color. . . Most dry Semillons typically have a very pale straw color to them, nearly clear in the glass save for the slightest tint of yellow . . . Dry Semillons are youngish wines, so you’re not going to get an overwhelming perfume-y nose on them by any stretch of the imagination. The scents you’ll get on a Semillon will be very dry and crisp, similar to a Sauvignon Blanc but not grassy (the similarities between the wines are why they are such well-matched blending partners). You will get guava and other tropical fruits, maybe some orange or Mandarin orange even an orange cream . . . But dry (not dried) tropical citrus fruit is the key aroma in a Semillon wine. . . You’re definitely going to get a dry, sharp, citrus snap to a Semillon – more tropical fruits like the guava and some pineapple and even a Limeade flavor in there. It might start out with just a touch of sweetness too but then develop quickly into the more sour, acidic citrus fruit flavors. Don’t be afraid; the acid is a good thing. The wine should be very dry and very clean on the finish, with only the slightest hint of an aftertaste too."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Wines dominated by semillon may lack much youthful aroma, but have fairly full body and tend to be low in acidity, even "oily" or "fat" at times. Semillon also has an affinity for oak, accentuating subtleties such as "toast" and "smoke" that emanate from wines' "spice" rather than its "main ingredient", but nonetheless adding complexity. This is the flavor profile of a supporting role grape, rather than a star, and most winemakers use semillon in blends, if at all. Semillon is the soft, subtle, rich Yin to balance the Yang of sauvignon blanc, which can be aromatically aggressive and acidic. Semillon even works well when blended with that notoriously standoffish loner, chardonnay, providing weight and richness without diverting aromatic delicacy."

  • Wine Searcher

    "The best Hunter Valley Semillons have such high acidity that they used to be referred to as Hunter Valley Riesling, although there seems to be less confusion these days. These wines are some of the longest living whites in the world. .  Intensely structured Semillon wines may be barrel aged, while fresher examples are typically blended with Sauvignon Blanc and fermented in stainless steel."

  • Fiona Beckett, The Guardian

    "In Australia's Hunter Valley, say, it's at its most distinctive – almost like a riesling, as indeed it used to be known. . . Sémillon from the Barossa is richer and fatter – more pineapple than lime – and perhaps more to your taste if you're a chardonnay drinker. . . And in the Margaret River, sémillon can be as green and grassy as the sauvignon with which it's generally blended, a synthesis that oddly creates a wine that's riper than both."

  • Jon Bonné, SFGate

    "To him, the failure is in comprehending what great Semillon requires: poor, gravelly soils (in Livermore, as in Graves); serious winemaking; and that willingness to wait. . . But there's no real reason for our Semillon betrayal aside from the whims of fashion. When grown carefully and picked with some green flavors amid the typical fig and honey, it shines. The gastronomic potential is profound. It's less obvious than Chardonnay, less strident than Sauvignon Blanc."

  • Gerald D. Boyd, Wine Review on Line

    "Australia is the best known wine region where Semillon excels. Among the prime spots for Australian Semillon are South Australia’s Barossa Valley and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, where the unoaked style is favored. The intriguing thing about mature Hunter Semillon is that it smells and tastes like it had been aged in oak, though the wine never touched wood. A similar depth and structure are obtained in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia and Western Australia’s Margaret River by blending Semillon with a little Sauvignon Blanc. . . With young Semillon you often get crossed signals that can put off the consumer. Aromatics are scant and the wine tends toward fatness, or a ripe oily texture. . . With bottle age, Australian Semillon becomes a different animal, often described as “honey and toast.” Mature Semillon’s fruit profile is riper, more mature, leaning away from green apple and more toward figs, bread dough, straw and a toasted component that can easily be confused with the scent of toasted oak barrels. . . Youthful Semillon appeals with hints--though sometimes muted ones--of lemon grass and lemon peel, crisp green apples, lime juice, freshly mown grass, vanilla, and refreshing vibrant acidity."

Some Sémillons to Try

(About this list.)

Examining reviews and competition results soon makes one thing crystal clear: not many brands of Australian Sémillons are making it into the U.S. Here, for example, is a taste-off of 49 Sémillons; here's another of 44 Sémillons. Try to find any of them at retail in the U.S. Neither of the big wine-search engines show any but a very few. (Yes, you can find some Sémillons among the usual big-name, single-digit-price bottlings, but we're talking about serious wine here, not plonk with a funny animal on the label). So we have included relatively few Oz Sémillons, but have included a few of the reputedly better other New World bottlings; Washington State gets some play here, as that is a locale beginning to show promise with Sémillon.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Peter Lehmann Sémillon, $12 - $15.
    (Australia, Barossa Valley; do not confuse this entry-level wine with this maker's more expensive "Margaret" bottling)

    Some quotations and facts:

    ♣ Lehmann is currently revising their product array for the U.S. market; their Semillon will soon come as "Art Series" basic and, one level up, "Portrait", which is where this wine will probably fall; there will also be, above this, "Masters" and "Stonewall" lines, which may not have Semillon bottlings. Those are beside Lehmann's "Clancy's" and "Layers" lines, which are sort of experiments in blending.

    Very restrained and clean, with a slightly spicy nose of under-ripe green pears, melons, lemon and straw, Peter Lehmann's 2010 is one of those young semillons whose shy fragrance suggests its palate should do all the talking. The medium-weighted palate does follow a similar path initially, speaking clarity through youthful, restrained flavour, but if you read between the lines it mentions a few extra details. Firstly, there's a genuinely understated concentration of clean, juicy texture, followed by a mid-palate evolution in flavour profile. It proceeds to reveal more dry grass aspects trailed by a surprisingly savoury, lanolin-like note, which lingers calmly into the aftertaste alongside a soft push of simultaneously creamy, sour-citric acids marked by a faint bitter edge. For under $10 [Australian] there's a bit more going on here than your average quaffing white and, it probably tastes (and reads) like more than it is. Simple, yet cleverly complex. Drink to 2016. 88 points

    Brilliant pale straw yellow colour, this had a fresh, crisp bouquet of citrus fruits with lemon and grassy notes, quite lively and vibrant. Dry on palate, medium to lighter weight, this was zesty with racy acidity, and the minerally lemon and grassy flavours quite piquant and cutting.

    In the glass: Lehmann Semillon is pale yellow with distinctive green tints. On the nose: Poured cool and swirled vigorously, shows vibrant stainless steel and mineral characters of tropical fruit, mostly dry pineapple. From the aroma, seems like this will be round, full and aromatic. On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are in fact sweet, full, stainless steel on the mid-palate, showing sugar but less fruit than I anticipated. Hints of apple, pear and lemon swirl in a mineral base. The finish shows more steel than fruit, closing with an acid upbeat. In summary: Overall, rates three stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale. Best value at its bargain price. Following long decant, full week in partially filled bottle under vacuum kept in cool basement: More oily pineapple on the nose. Less steeliness and more fruit on the palate now, but gives the impression of being a bit tired. Seemed stronger on its immediate opening.

    Typically good value from one of the biggest names Down Under. Lip-smacking lemon and lime fruit with a mineral backbone.

    A fruity style of semillon that has all the hallmarks of summer. Peter Lehmann has a reputation for producing fine semillons that rival the greats from the Hunter and this wine is softer in its approach and represents great value. Dry and crisp with grapefruit zip, lime juice and the light floral notes reminiscent of spring flowers along a mineral backbone.

    Light yellow with green tints in the glass. Citrusy nose. Medium weight, spicy, peppery, drying lemon, tangy, good acidity, bright, crisp, very light honey. Lemon rind on the mouhwatering finish.

  • Tyrrell's "Old Winery" Sémillon, $13.
    (Australia, Hunter Valley)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Looks: Clear and bright, with a slight gold colour. Very light looking. Smells: A bit of fresh apples, and a hint of grass. Feels: Light. Tastes: I have a real fondness for this label, as it keeps Hunter Semillon alive at a great price. But don't be fooled - every so often this label brings a serious semillon to the table. This vintage is a very acceptable wine, and from experience I had it drunk in amongst some toffy-nosed NZ Sav Blanc and all punters in the room commented on this wine over the others. It is not complex - simple, fresh apple acid with a hint of dry grass and fairly short on length. A very slight hint of sugar causing more smoothness on the front than sweet. Finishes nice and dry and ready for food.

    A terrific wine for the money, this is a bargain with plenty of class to boot. The nose is all lemon and grapferuit pith and the palate's really bright, crunchy and juicy. Great balance here – lovely wine.

    Pale, greenish, milky, lanolin nose, with lime herbaceous grassiness. Soft style. Good.

    Light green-yellow; a clean, fresh bouquet offers pure varietal character with its mix of lemon and herb; the palate is very lively, the spritz-tingle not overplayed. 87 points

    If you are new to Hunter Semillons and want to whet your appetite with a junior version of this crystalline, citrus-imbued beauty ["Vat 1 Semillon"] from the great Tyrrell’s stable, then stock up with a case of 2009 Tyrrell’s Old Winery Semillon . .  You will be shocked and amazed at just how much poise and breathtaking elegance is found in these wines.

    The lush nose has white peach, citrus, herb and honey aromas. It’s smooth and round, and perhaps boosted by a whisper of fruit sweetness. Relatively soft acid makes it a Hunter to drink now.

    The Old Winery Semillon is pale in colour and has floral aromas on the nose. With its soft lemon/lime citrus flavours, lighter fresher structure and clean refreshing finish, this attractive wine style is a great alternative to sauvignon blanc or riesling.

    Youthful aromatic, boiled sweets character to the nose. Lively, crisp but quite commercial palate. Tastes a little bit like a young Clare Valley Riesling.

    Opened to a fairly fresh bouquet of lemon, lime and feint wax and grass. On the palate it seemed a little young, with decent balance and length. [2006] Essentially the same wine as the 2005, but certainly less complex. Maybe cellaring will attend to that.

    I was reliably told by my associate that it is the perfect drop for a sea food supper and I tend to agree. My initial thoughts were of cider, it had the same acidity as an apple cider and had a wonderful fresh finish. Being a scrumpy fan this went down well with me.

  • Brokenwood Wines Sémillon, $15 - $21.
    (Australia, Hunter Valley; do not confuse with their pricier "Oakey Creek" or "ILR Reserve" bottlings)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Pale yellow. High-pitched, mineral-driven aromas of lemon zest, talc and spearmint. Taut and juicy, showing citrus fruits, a hint of green apple and strong minerality. Picks up deeper melon and pear character with air and finishes dry and persistent. I like this wine's linear character.

    [A Brokenwood Semillon vertical tasting conducted in 2011:]
    2010 - a winsome, lemony nose and palate is subtly infused with lemongrass. A mouthwatering finish, slightly saline finish shows a clean pair of heels. Very good, very youthful.
    2009 – this is already showing waxy lemon and hints of kaffir lime. It’s quite ripe and forward with juicy,zesty acidity. Delicious already!
    2008 - a tricky year is reflected in a sweet herbal, slightly dusty nose and palate with an undertow of lemon. Puts me in mind of a Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend.
    2007 - an inviting nose with ripe and waxy lemony fruit, some lemon curd showing too, all which follow through in the mouth. Rounder, stony acidity makes for excellent, still primary drinking now. Very good with powerful and pure fruit.
    2006 – into the next stage of development with ripe lemon curd and lemon butter on nose and palate. It’s less structured with seemingly lower acidity than the others – would be terrific with a nice piece of fish, with lemon butter sauce!
    2005 - a brighter, zestier, lemony nose - plenty of vim and vigor in this top year. Waxy and round in the mouth with lemon/lime cordial, hints of lanolin and a lovely lick of acidity which makes for a long, lingering and animated finish. Very good indeed. Lovely balance.
    2003 – (the first of the screwcapped vintages) tight and pithy with lemon pip freshness and bite to the nose. In the mouth, it’s surprisingly rich and waxy with a honeyed mouthfeel, ripe citrus, lemon and lime curd as well as lanolin and white porcini on the finish. Lovely complexity and balance. Long and lingering.
    2001 – cork taint.
    2000 – much more developed than I expected after the 2003, its nose and palate putting me in mind of a Coteaux du Layon from the Loire with its camomile, dried herbs, honey and lemon. It seems quite round, low on acidity and a little short in the mouth in comparison with others, though the flavour spectrum is complex and, at a recent tasting in London, this worked really well with a Dover Sole dish at Hakkasan. Enjoyable but not one to keep.
    1999 – what a contrast, this has oodles in reserve. A very fine, lemony nose subtly shows its age with hints of honey and spicy orange. Waxy, but with a tight citiric spine, in the mouth, it just keeps building and building. Terrific drive, with a super-long, reverberating finish. Outstanding.
    1997 - its deep yellow hue signifies another gear change. Significantly more developed than the 99, with beeswax and earthy dried porcini notes on the nose. In the mouth, it just seems to have lost its mojo, showing little drive behind its lemon lozenge/lanolin flavours.
    1995 – deep gold and rich and round on the palate with beeswax, honeyed lemon, tinned peaches even. Still present acidity. It just lacks harmony/balance.
    1994 – a quietly impressive wine with a subtle herbal/lemongrass edge to its still fine boned lemony nose and palate. Lanolin notes remind you of its vintage but it shows lovely delicacy, purity and youth to its long finish. Excellent.
    1987 – deep gold, with a slightly earthy note, toast, pot pourri and honey. It’s a teeny bit “stretched” but there’s lots of interest here and still decent vigor.
    Wood Matured 1986 - antique gold with a concentrated nose and palate well endowed with hot buttered toast, ripe, honeyed lemon, lemon lozenge, lime shred and hints of dried herbs, buttermint/menthol. Still potent with great generosity of flavour.
    1985 - red/gold with a lovely nose dripping with honey, lemon and beeswax. There’s a backdrop of toast to the nose which is more pronounced on the palate; spicy orange too. So round and honeyed is it in the mouth it feels almost thick enough to spread on toast! Long and lingering and not just on account of its texture, thanks to a sustained hum of acidity. Impressive.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (May 2011), 87 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (August 2011), 90 points

    ♣ James Halliday Australian Wine Companion (2012), 94 points

    ♣ London International Wine Fair (2011), Silver medal

    Taut, fresh and lemony with crisp, bright lemon and herb fruit. High acidity. Lean and pure with lovely freshness. 90/100

    A mix of lanolin, beeswax, lemon pith and a slight grassy edge here too: this is crisp and bright. The palate's like fresh-cut apple, really tangy, with fresh texture and crunchy acid.

    Nose: Honeydew, stone-fruit, chalk-dust, elmer’s paste and some flintiness. . . A nice attack of citrus, lemon/lime zest, grapefruit pulp and kiwi combined with razor-sharp acidity make this wine a natural with all sorts of seafoods.

    The 2010 Semillon gives intense notes of freshly squeezed lime, lemon meringue and wet pebbles. Dry and light-bodied, it has a nice nervy tautness and very crisp acid that lingers long into the finish. Delicious now, it should cellar well to 2016+.

    Delicious young Hunter Semillon with lovely taut acidity, good citrus/green apple flavours and a texture that’s as pure as silk. Will no doubt age well but pretty accessible right now. 4* (89 points)

    Light, tart and appealing for its lively, leesy pear and lime flavors, lingering nicely.

    Brokenwood's entry-level Semillon is always a reliable introduction to the Hunter Valley style. Crisp, zingy citrus fruit and light body make it a fine accompaniment to raw oysters or other shellfish when young.

  • Ricardo Santos Sémillon, $15 - $25.

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is a serious white wine made from 70-year-old Semillon vines. It’s lightly fragrant of minerals and white flowers and round and soft in the mouth with a waxy, unctuous texture and light herbal, almond, and melon flavors. A very nicely balanced wine of considerable charm. Especially recommended for those looking for something different and special in a white wine at a very accessible price.

    Color: Bright, pale yellow. Nose: Pear and white blossom flowers. Taste: Dry, with soft citrus flavors. Crisp acidity that lingers gently on the palate. Summary: This is not a Chilean wine, but let’s face it, Mendoza is just over the mountains and I don’t ever get straight Semillon wines from Chile to review. Besides, too many people are not aware of what a wonderful wine Semillon can be. If you enjoy a subtle, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, you will enjoy this Semillon. With its balanced fruit, acidity, and taste, its an easy wine to get into it. Rating: 4*

    [2009:] A complex and attractive white with a balanced structure of white peach and pineapple mixed with small amounts of tropical fruits like melon.The palate is complete. Strong body with great minerality, honey sweet and bitterness berry stem like and also some buttery oak stuff gently involving. Solid backbone with long lasting aftertaste that entertains your memory putting apart its elements. I´d say 93 points white with a wonderful value component.
    [2010:] This . . . single vineyard shows more fruit shifted palette. The melon and white peach are striking. The complexity is wider than 09 vintage with an edge of herbal citrus, and soft minerality.A buttery toach present too. A 94 points white. Probably the top only-Semillon white.

    The aromatics are something that typically makes semillon special, with fragrant fruit, floral and spice aromas. The aromatics were pleasant with this Argentine semillon, but not exceptional and somewhat restrained. It offers mostly citrus aromas, like lemon and lime, but also shows some pear, flint and cut grass. The palate has good acidity and a slightly creamy mouthfeel with flavors like lemon, apple and pear. The finish is moderately long, with tart apple and mineral flavors. All told, this is a nice wine. It’s not necessarily what I would typically look for from a semillon, but it’s tasty and offers a different perspective on this varietal.

    Waxy to the max, with baked apple, dry spice and plenty of oak on the bouquet. Thick and mouthfilling in terms of texture, with creamy melon and sweet apple flavors. Turns pithy, stalky and bitter on the finish. 84 points

    Ricardo Santos’s 2012 Semillon from Argentina’s large Mendoza region shows the heights the grape can achieve on its own. Only a tiny bit of semillon is grown in Argentina, so this wine is a real treat. Santos sources the grapes from the 70-year-old vineyard of his neighbor, Roberto Azaretto, and the quality of the fruit is stunning. The wine is full and generous with white peach, apricot and mandarin orange and herbal and vanilla notes.

    [Google-translated from Spanish:] Very good color and luster. Aromas of flowers and white fruit (pears and highlight some peaches) with good intensity. Cool and very nice. The palate is frank and balanced. Collect some minerals. Emphasizes its good acidity and high oiliness. Very good structure and persistence. Value Price Quality Very Good to Excellent.

  • Fidelitas Sémillon, $15 - $20.
    (Washington State)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A fine example of pure, varietal, Columbia Valley Sémillon, this is like liquid honey, without the sweetness. It’s more like the essence of honey flavor, coating the mix of peach, pear and fig fruits. Smooth as silk, supple and soft, it’s a lovely effort. 90 points

    Pressed in the tank but fermented and aged in small partially used French oak barrels, the goal was to produce a rich and full mouthfeel for a naturally crisp wine. Using the soil composition of Stillwater Creek Vineyard‘s lava rock run-off combo (sand, silt, slate and limestone to name a few) in Columbia Valley, the basalt-enhanced minerality is one of the first aromas that pulls out of the glass. Pineapple, smoke and toast arise from the oak, with an herbal and lime zest tone in the back as apple prevails over all in the final sniff. The rich and full palate is achieved by juicy red apple, true to the fruit with a tart crispness and acidity. Fruit-forward, round and medium-bodied, the citrus tang in the finish allows the wine to burst in the final phase. Almost as active as [winemaker Charlie Hoppes'] resume, this wine is refreshing and bright.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 89 points

    Spicy clover and arugula meld nicely with sweet apple, fig and melon in this second entry from Washington. It weighs in on the soft side of the Semillon spectrum, with creamy peach and mango fruit flavors that are colored by light oak and a nice touch of vanilla. Soft acidity comes through on the finish.

    An appealing aroma profile of lemon and spice. Crisp, clean, and tart on the palate with abundant lemon flavors. 100% Semillon. Barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak. 13.7% alcohol. Rating: + (Good)

    Nose: Honeydew, petrol, meyer lemons, chalk dust, and cascade detergent. Taste: IF you could imagine what it’d taste like to smother your tongue with cantelope and honeydew then pop in a mouthfull of steel bb’s – that’s what’s going on here for me. The mid-palate throws in the meyer lemon and a kiwi component but also brings some acids to the party. Decent acids on the back-end but not enough "perk" on the finish to make this wine very interesting to me for its price of $18.

    [Owner/winemaker Charlie Hoppes'] 2004 semillon is certainly among the best in the state. It is complex and stylish, with a creamy, lanolinlike texture and many layers of aromas and flavors that remind me of tree fruits and citrus.

    The Fidelitas Semillon is a beautiful wine that is soft and well‐rounded yet crisp and bright. A brilliant hay hue, this wine offers aromas of golden apple, meyer lemons, chamomile and freshly cut grass. The lush, full palate provides hints of ripe pears, lemon zest and white flowers set within a viscous body and refreshing acidity

  • L'Ecole 41 "Seven Hills Vineyard" Sémillon, $18 - $20.
    (Washington State; L'Ecole makes several Sémillons and blends, of which this is said to be their best; if you can't get it, try their regular "Columbia Valley" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    If there’s a better Semillon in the country, I can’t find it. This is 100% varietal, done in a rich style featuring ripe, round, peachy fruit. Barrel fermented, it has some interesting notes of honeysuckle, clover and sweet apple. The pure, round fruit is what makes this Sémillon a standout. 91 points.

    The estate bottling is 100% Sémillon and tastes a bit riper and more peachy than the Columbia Valley bottling, though perhaps less nuanced. Barrel fermented in both new and second year French oak, it adds honeysuckle, sweet apple and a hint of mint to the sweet fruit.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (June 2008), 91 points

    The 2006 Semillon Estate Seven Hills Vineyard delivers aromas of melon, apple, and citrus. Round, full-flavored, and ripe, this savory effort has superb balance and a long finish. . .  Despite the [winery's] expansion, quality has remained consistently excellent. L'Ecole's original fame was the result of its success with Semillon. Today the winery produces three.

    This wine has a mild scent of sweet white flowers to go along with its browned apple aromas. It exhibits warmth, savoriness and a buttered-apple quality with a sturdy, weighty mouthfeel that would complement cider-roasted pork.

    Restrained, fruity nose with nice balance between the fruit and new oak. The palate shows citrus and spice, with good balance: it's fruity, but the oak gives some spicy complexity. Very good+

    2006: A simple, unassuming white just brimming with pretty summer fruit flavours. A pure delight.

    Fresh open buttery golden fruit style. Very classy fruit structure which needs time to evolve.

  • Amavi Cellars Sémillon, $17 - $25.
    (Washington State; c. 13% Sauvignon Blanc, may vary with vintage)
         ($21.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    It's a brilliant gold color, luscious, with spicy/toasty aromas and a hint of leesy character. The fruit is a complex mix of apricot, pineapple, and melon, with excellent acidity, and the Sauvignon Blanc gives it a melony streak. 92 points, Editor's Choice

    The sémillon had a nice floral nose, crisp pear/citrus and mineral notes in the mouth, and a balanced creaminess from the oak. I can't wait to have another glass of this superb wine tonight.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 31, 2010), 88 points

    [The] wine had a nice forward bouquet of peach, floral notes and honey. This was a nice preview to well presented fruit flavors of white peach, melon, and citrus, all of which spread in a balanced manner across the palate. The wine was well balanced and had a nice sense of complexity, with a very complimentary acidity. I found it to be a wine worthy of an enjoying during a warm afternoon, when a crisp refreshing white really is appreciated. It is not often you find Semillon as a varietal and this one was worthy of the effort.

    It was fabulous. Very big and effervescent without being crisp and light. A great white wine in winter months, when you crave more hearty substantial food and drink. Lots of tropical fruit, without any cloying sweetness. From the Walla Walla AVA, so nice I'd drink it twice.

    Fresh, vibrant notes of honeysuckle flowers, white peaches, and Meyer lemons lead to richer notes of lychee nuts and figs. A subtle stony characteristic lingers in the background. Nuances of tropical fruits emerge, rounding out the crisp flavors of citrus and stone fruit. This wine displays exquisite balance in its weight and texture, providing a soft mouthfeel and lively acidity.

    I was sold with the very first sip of their Semillon. Bright, sweet and fruity. It was wonderful and smooth.

    Redolent of sharp licorice and soft fig, the wine is clean and dry on the tongue with a citrus zest to the finish that makes me crave another oyster.

    Pale, straw yellow in color. Nose is a bit tight at first, then vanilla aromas come through. More vanilla, straw, melon, and pear on the palate. Dry and medium-bodied with lively acidity and a long, slightly bitter, finish. Quality: 3 stars (out of 5). QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)

  • Ahlgren Sémillon, $17 - $18.
    (California, Livermore Valley)

    Some quotations and facts:

    ♣ Very sad to say, Ahlgren is going out of business (the elderly owners could not find a buyer), so buy up what you can find. One wine fancier wrote "As for California, the two best producers of Sémillon are Kalin and Ahlgren." Not coincidentally, as a wine consultant wrote, "as steward of America's best Semillon resource, Wente [winery, one of the oldest Sémillon makers in the hemisphere] is forced to seek markets for the finished product in Europe. They do sell some of the fruit from their superb old El Mocho Semillon vines to Ahlgren and to Kalin wineries." Kalin is another good Sémilon choice, but outside our price range.

    Nice pale golden colour . . The nose is quite floral - white flowers, with pear and pineapple, and a little honey. It has a rich mouthfeel from barrel fermentation coupled with almost 3 years in the bottle. As to the flavour, well it's rather like a dry Sauternes. Now I've had dry wines made by Sauternes producers such as Rieussec; they tend to show structure, acidity, minerality and not a great deal of fruit. This isn't like that; it really does taste like a dry Sauternes. Certainly there's acidity, but there's tropical fruit and honey, yet it's bone dry. Instead of the botrytis spiciness there's some white pepper. Initially the wine was cold (since that's the way my wife likes her whites); as it warmed up to room temperature it showed much more character. At $17 a bottle I would call it a Value. 89

    The shocker was the magnum 1986 Ahlgren Santa Cruz Mountains Semillon that my friend Matthew brought over. Fresh and vibrant [in 2008], yet showing that semillon honey/waxy character, I found this wine (from Santa Cruz–wtf!?!?) to be just delicious.

    Straw golden color, clean and bright, the bouquet is rich and opulent, filled with ripe figs, pear nectar, and light oak; rich, broad and full-bodied on the palate, this impressive, mouth-filling, flavorful wine echoes the figs and pears on the nose, shows light-to-moderate oak, and exceptional balance and complexity, even in its youth; the wine is rich enough to carry the 14.0 percent alcohol with no trace of heat; the finish is long and flavorful. Very fine indeed.

    [F]rom a vineyard owned by the Wente Family. Pale brassy color – somewhat shy nose, but shows identifiable Semillon fruit – pretty fruit flavors in the mouth, showing ripeness balanced with good acidity that keeps the wine refreshing – does not display the austere minerality I associate with this variety, but is quite delicious and fun to drink.

  • Andis Sémillon, $19 - $20.
    (California, Amador County)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This young, delicious Sémillon is creamy yet bright, complex, pretty and crisply sweet—like biting into a just-picked fig. Light in alcohol, this baby can be sipped all night long. 92 points

    Andis makes a stunning Semillon that simply tastes of Summer: pears, apples and a little citrus, it’s a smooth wine with a nice mouth feel and goes with shrimp the way peanut butter goes with jelly.

    I was dazzled by a lovely 2011 Semillon recently, crafted by winemaker Mark McKenna at Andis Wines in Amador County. This richly layered, well-structured wine bursts with ripe melon, quince, and peach flavors, and offers a delicate, floral-figgy-honeyed aroma. With enough bright acidity to keep it surprisingly light on the palate, this captivating Semillon is a great alternative to Chardonnay.

    Wine maker Mark McKenna designed this 100 percent semillon with Australia in mind, harvesting fruit early and making a floral (!) version with superb acidity for aging. The wine is delicate, yet has distinctive flavors . . . A dramatic new wine from an unlikely location.

    Sometimes you taste a great wine and you need to know more about it. I had a delicious Semillon -- fresh, with green fruit and plenty of character -- from the place in California I least expected that grape: Amador County. Then I had it again at a group dinner full of wine experts and I found myself overfilling my glass until ... hey, where'd that wine go?

    This wonderfully aromatic wine (with old vine grapes from fifth-generation farmers the Dillian family, whom Friedlander calls "inspiring") shows hints of mineral with fresh white and yellow fruits, laced with a geranium-like floral component. It is zesty and has a note of sweetness.

    Clear, pale, in color. Pear, floral, mineral, on the nose. White peach, pear, floral, mineral, on the palate. Mild acid, crisp finish. 88 points

For a Splurge

The obvious choice would seem to be Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon (Hunter Valley, Australia), available at retail for $40 to $45.

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