Old World vs. New World: Sémillon

A shadowy figure Sémillon cuts; DOES IT EVEN EXIST?! It’s a mysterious grape that knows how to blend in. And it sports disguise names—perhaps it is a spy! But reporting to whom? No, Sémillon has an identity all its own that strikes me as a secret love child of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc . It has that lanolin lick that gives it weight reminiscent of Chenin Blanc, and is likewise prone to botrytis, but can be herby and lemony and have striking acidity that calls to mind Sauvignon Blanc. Or is it just that it gets blended with Sauvignon Blanc, so we get confused? To add to the ball of confusion, given age, Sémillon gets those fun toasty and honeyed notes. It has its idiosyncrasies, and yet it hides. It takes cover behind the names Bordeaux and Sauternes . It masks itself in blends, botrytis, and oak…maybe Sémillon (also sometimes spelled without the accent over the e) WANTS to remain under the radar. Well, I’m blowing its cover. Sorry, Sémi, your time has come. Now take off your baggy wool sweater and strut your stuff. I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to objectify it; it’s just more people should seek it out. This is my opinion, but you’re welcome to borrow it. True, some of the most famed Sémillon-based wines are Sauternes, that lusciously sweet and ethereal nectar that gets its kick from noble rot. Those are another story. One I should write soon, probably. But today I am looking at the dry Sémillon-based wines of the world. Sémillon is mysterious in roots as it is in personality. It is similar to Sauvignon Blanc genetically, but they don’t seem to have a parent-child relationship. Its origins may be in Bordeaux’s Left Bank, or even the Entre-Deux-Mer, but confoundingly enough, it might be named for local pronunciation of St-Émilion, despite the fact that Semillon isn’t really cultivated there. But that is just a rumor. I confess I likely tasted some of these far earlier than they would show best—although I’ve been told that during the first few years, they can be be great, then shut down until they are maybe 7. At least this is the lore of Hunter Valley. Speaking of, shower wine pick? I’m going with the Andis Old Vines. Old vines because I like a wine from a vine with experience if it's gonna see me naked. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ FRANCE I haven’t encountered a bottle from France that was straight up Sémillon, albeit were I including sweet wines, the classic proportion is apparently about 4:1, Semi to Savvy B. I’ve decided that if what a region does is blend a grape then hell, that is part of the terroir of a grape. Oak is also not unusual here. 2017 Clos des Lunes Lune d’Argent 70% Sémillon, 30% Sauvignon, it is a charmer. Smells luxurious; like if a smell could have a texture, this would be a very very very fine tweed that has been spritzed with vanilla and honeysuckle essence. But then oh! Here come the pyrazines, those green pepper notes. But they are well-behaved ones that will open the door for the vanilla tweed. On the palate the tweed becomes velveteen, weighty in its own way. Speaking of, there is citrus that brightens up wax, rather than a waxed lime. If that makes sense. The acidity of the lime comes back atcha on the finish. This wine is not only charming, but it knows how to keep the relationship fresh. 2019 Château Haut Rian A bargain to be sure. Now, this is merely 60% Sémillon and it shows. In a blind tasting I don’t know that I would know it was Bordeaux Blanc. At least for us fools taking tests, a ‘classic’ example I’d expect to pick up some oak on and I don’t think that was at play here. Rather this presents as Sauvignon Blanc with a soul. A bit of depth. At first interaction with your nose and taste buds, it is all citrus and greenery but then you get some weight, some apples with honey. This is why they blend these two, y’all, they are a harmonious match. WASHINGTON Washington has its way with other Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, so is it so surprising that Semillon does well here? It is not. Sadly people still don’t often think to themselves, ‘gosh, I could fancy a glass of Semillon’, so you don’t see a ton of it. But if you see L’Ecole, tis well worth a try. 2019 L’Ecole 41 Semillon Pears and white pepper florals on the nose egads! And lemons. Silky bordering on waxy body but with that characteristic acid zing to give it a pulse. True tis 88% Semillon and 12% Sauvignon Blanc. It is not the most complex. It is interesting. It truly has the body of a ripe pear and the zip of an underripe one. It is funny since I don’t normally like pears, but this is a pear I can entertain. It also feels warming and comforting, maybe that is the cloak of lanolin. As I drink it, I picture myself as some sort of…Scotch or Norse goddess running naked through the brush but not totally naked because I am cloaked in a lambskin and crowned with a white flowery tiara and munching an underripe pear as I zip through woods along a river like lightning. CALIFORNIA 2019 Andis Wines Bill dillian Old Vine Semillon Andis is a perennial favorite of mine. Out of undersung Amador they also make a Barbera that makes my heartstrings go pling. But I’ll stick with the Semillon review right now. This Semillon would be a daytime robe. It is comforting, with plush apples and honey notes and the body of silk but its medium weight silk you want to wrap yourself in. But the acidity is acute, so you can get some work done while wearing it. It’s actually a robe that can translate from work-from-home robe to home dance party when the day is over and you are ready for fun robe, as it ends with flowery notes that invite you to party. 2013 Forlorn Hope Nacré Yount Mill Vineyard Sémillon Napa Semillon! It tilts at tasting like modern Sancerre, which barely tastes like Sauvignon Blanc but is wildly popular, so good for it. It is tasty. But on second thought, it is like Sancerre on steroids; it has a hint of the viscosity and slight nuttiness and petrol bite that come with being 8 years old. I was nutty and had an attitude at that age too. My attitude was I felt more like a boy than a girl, and this wine feels more like Sancerre than Sémillon, but then again, as I said, Sancerre barely tastes like Sauvignon Blanc anymore. Does this matter? Not really because it is a delicious drink. Going on golden hued, mineral on the nose, ripe citrus and viscous yet acidic enough that all seems appropriate and not out of place on the palate. And a minute later you realize it was not a medium finish but a long one because suddenly you get grass but also wet granite and hay. Fun times. Give this wine a minute to open up. It will be tempting to chug, but you’ll be rewarded for taking your time. AUSTRALIA In Hunter Valley, Semillon is known for being picked with high acid and low abv. And aging like nobody’s business. 2014 Tyrell’s HVD Semillon Honeyed pears and honeydew and all that. The nose explodes like a debutante ready to flee the nest. This wine is ready to dance, but it can also be in a deep convo in the corner, party be damned. We are gonna hang out and talk. 2019 Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon Bright! Zig! Sparkly! It is limes and tangerines and stones and smoke too. It is young but assertive. But it is not a total smack in the face; there is an oily underbelly cutting in. And a crack of salt and pepper. Not quite integrated YET. Like when you are making salad dressing and the oil and vinegar are starting to come apart except not QUITE that bad. It is a dressing with more vinegar than oil, but you are glad the oil is there. Fun times. Can’t wait to taste in a few years like the sweet comedian who is trying to sneak snark into their routine, this wine will find its balance. So, Old vs. New, who wins? If someone held a soda gun to my head, rather than getting my ear squirted full of Diet Dr. Pepper (an anomaly in restaurants; the first place I bussed at stocked this much to my delight) I would gasp and say…Okayyyyyy it is Australia. Hunter Valley. Aged Hunter Valley. Perhaps new beats old because as a spy, Semillon must always keep moving. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? 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Andis Wines

Bill Dillian Vineyard Old Vine Sémillon 2019

Yes please mag I have another. Because my synesthesia causes me to liken wines to fabrics and/air clothes I’m calling this day robe wine. Silky and comforting but with equal parts kick the keep you on your toes because the last thing you need is a day robe to put you to sleep. — 3 years ago

Severn, Trixie and 13 others liked this

Château Haut Rian

White Bordeaux Blend 2019

One of those wines that makes you say “huh, so that’s why they blend Sémillon with Sauvignon Blanc”. Although the Sémillon makes up slightly more of the blend the greenery of SB punches throughout not obnoxiously so. Like the Semi was holding out the plank of wood expressly for the purpose of SB breaking it in half with its bare hands. All the green things and citrus but there is depth and warmth and a bit of weight. And dang it’s a bargain. — 3 years ago

Severn, Chris and 16 others liked this

Forlorn Hope

Nacré Yount Mill Vineyard Sémillon 2013

Nom-alicious. I know nom is a tired term but I’m using it. Next thing you know I’ll use the word moist except that this is not moist but full on wet. But also dry. Technically. It boasts ripe citrus and minerals, freshening the 8-year old viscosity and nutty nature. It is a beautiful wine with a fresh finish, it still feels fresh though—some things get better with age. — 3 years ago

Serge, Daniel P. and 13 others liked this
Matt Perlman

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Nutty by nature
Ellen Clifford

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@Matt Perlman haaaaaa totally nutty by nature 🤣

L'Ecole No. 41

Semillon 2015

I don’t normally like pairs yet somehow this wine makes me think of a pear I like. One whose texture is not too too. And also there’s a lot of other fun flavors like white pepper and lemon so maybe it’s just a pear with more personality and we get along — 3 years ago

Serge, Chris and 12 others liked this

Clos de Lunès

Lune d'Argent White Bordeaux Blend 2017

What a courteous wine, each element and sensation making room for the next. There’s waxiness and pyrazines and honeysuckle and flowers and vanilla beans but they are all teaming up to support citrus. But the team effort shines through. Balanced, delicious, interesting, it is a courteous wine. I don’t know if it is a thrilling one but I’d ask it out again. And maybe again. As the night goes it keeps revealing more of itself to me, I don’t mind seeing more. — 3 years ago

Daniel P., David and 20 others liked this
Ellen Clifford

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@Adrian Baste cheers to more lolzzzz
Wulf Losee

Wulf Losee

Normally I’d never describe a white wine is being chewy but this is definitely chewy. It’s got a lovey velvety texture. And it goes down smooth. No harsh notes, but it’s not insipid.
Ellen Clifford

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@Wulf Losee that’s a good way of describing it!


Hunter Valley Sémillon 2019

Probably drinking this too young but it has the body and zip and gravel moves that make me a Sémillon lover — 3 years ago

Scott, Serge and 14 others liked this