Sémillon is grape that stars in improbable marriages: with Sauvignon Blanc in classic blends made in France and Australia; with fungus Botrytis cinerea in Sauternes region of Bordeaux to create world’s longest-lived unfortified wines.
Long, long ago, Sémillon was among world’s most-planted quality white grapes, but its fortunes waned as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grew chic. Don’t expect that to last forever. Sémillon eptimomizes the loooong view.
Well-made White Bordeaux is sublime. The secret is Odd Couple chemistry of Sauvignon Blanc’s crisp acidity and grassy herbaceousness [cq] and Sémillon’s honey, figs, earthiness, and soft roundness. After oak aging, the marriage yields citrus, fruits, melons, vanilla, minerals, hints of grassiness—all with yummy, mouth-pleasing creamy softness.
Australians use Sémillon to make beautiful dry white wine all by itself. They also blend with Sauvignon Blanc in White Bordeaux style and with Chardonnay.
Age becomes Sémillon. As years pass, it develops signature rich honey flavor complemented with wondrous lush texture.
No discussion of Sémillon is complete without mentioning Sauternes—world’s greatest long-lived, non-fortified wine. Noble rot (Botrytis) attacks thin Sémillon skins, drawing out water, concentrating sugars. Then winemakers in southwestern Bordeaux evoke rich honey magic, blending with dollops of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
Long lived? Expensive? Auction prices for Sauternes Yquem from early 1800s—bottled during War of 1812—$80,000 a bottle. Too pricey? Yquems made during American Civil War (1865) go for just under $30,000 a bottle. Not shabby for an out-of-fashion grape.
• Château Suau Bordeaux Blanc. Equal blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in new oak; finesse and finish; realistic price. $17
• Peter Lehmann Sémillon Botrytis. Sauternes-style, viscous mouth, pineapples and honey; small sips after dinner. Australia. $17 (.375 liter bottle)
• Château Suduiraut Sauternes. Golden color; honey, apricot, peaches; complex nose. France. $80 (.750 liter bottle; also available in .375)
• Margan Style Range Botrytis Semillon. Balanced, apples and pineapples, lower alcohol (9%) desert wine from Australia. $30 (.375)