The Guide to Semillon Wine: France’s 3rd Most Important White


September 18, 2013 Blog » Learn About Wine » The Guide to Semillon Wine: France’s 3rd Most Important White

The word ‘Cabernet’ slips so easily off most people’s lips we forget that in the 1950’s, most Americans didn’t even know what Cabernet Sauvignon was. In the mid-century, Americans felt that Cabernet Sauvignon was too difficult to pronounce. So now that Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have become the norm it’s time to get familiarized with some new wine grapes. Get your glasses ready.

Sémillon wine is loved for its full body, like Chardonnay, but with flavors closer to Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. It’s an important blending component in White Bordeaux and is also planted throughout Australia. In the US, Sémillon wines are usually a great price for their quality. Despite how cheap it is, Sémillon has the pedigree to be alongside the most popular white wines in the world. Find out all about Sémillon wine; how way it tastes, where it grows and what you’ll enjoy eating with it.


Sémillon is France’s 3rd most planted white wine variety behind Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.


Semillon wine taste chart
 

Sémillon Wine Taste

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 vs. Cool Climate Sémillon

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 (this means they are lower-calorie!)
 

Did you know? One of the world’s most exalted dessert wines, Sauternes, is made with mostly Sémillon grapes.


Semillon wine in a glass with grapes
 

Sémillon (Semillon) Wine Characteristics

FRUIT FLAVORS (berries, fruit, citrus)
Lemon, Lime, Yellow Grapefruit, Citrus Zest, Apple, Pear, Green Papaya, Peach, Mango
OTHER AROMAS (herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth, other)
Lanolin, Hay, Honeysuckle, Wax Lips, Saffron, Fig, Honey, Ginger

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OAK FLAVORS (flavors added with oak aging)
Butter, Pie Crust, Cream, Dill, Popcorn
ACIDITY
Medium
SERVING TEMPERATURE
Unoaked: 45 ºF (8 ºC)
Oaked: 52 ºF (11 ºC)
SIMILAR VARIETIES
Hot Climate Sémillon: Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Alsacian Pinot Gris, Viognier
Cool Climate Sémillon: Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Italian Pinot Grigio
SYNONYMS
Semilion
BLENDING
Sémillon is commonly blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle in White Bordeaux.

Sémillon is also the primary ingredient in Bordeaux’s noble rot dessert wines which include Sauternes, Barsac, Cadillac, Loupiac, Sainte-Crox-du-Mont, Cérons and Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux.

 

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Tuna belly (toro) sushi. source

Sémillon Food Pairing

Think spiced. Because Sémillon wine has a moderate body, whilst maintaining a fresh zippy flavor, it holds up to bolder aromatic dishes. Try Indian spices (but not too spicy), Asian spices, even brown woodsy spices like cinnamon and star anise.

Currently White Bordeaux has a reputation as a sushi lover’s wine. No doubt this reputation is due to how Sémillon balances raw fish and pickled ginger. A classic dish with Sémillon dessert wines (like Sauternes) is Foie Gras. We also think it’s ridiculously good with salted caramel ice cream.

 

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Meat Pairings

White meats including Chicken, Pork Chop, Ham, Turkey, Foie Gras and Duck. Fish including Trout, Arctic Char, Catfish, Red Snapper, Grouper, Skate, Cod, Hake, Blackfish, Haddock, Redfish, Halibut, Black Cod, Monkfish, Chilean Seabass, Escobar

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Spices and Herbs

Coriander, Clove, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Fennel, Turmeric, Saffron, Dill, Chive, Cilantro, Shallot

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Cheese Pairings

Look for richly flavored and nutty cow’s milk and sheep’s milk cheeses. Examples: Compté, Gruyere, Cheddar

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Vegetables & Vegetarian Fare

Go for spiced, stewed and roasted vegetables. Try salads with citrus-based dressings and dried fruits and nuts. Look for these ingredients: Kabocha Squash, Butternut Squash, Corn, Almond, Sesame, Carrot, Bell Pepper, Green Onion, Zucchini, Leek, Potato, Yam

Sémillon Wine Regions

About 50,000 acres of Sémillon planted worldwide.

France 28,200 acres
Bordeaux, Bergerac (directly East of Bordeaux)
Australia 15,500 acres
South Australia, Western Australia, Hunter Valley
South Africa 2,900 acres
Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Western Cape
Argentina 2,100 acres
Mendoza (Uco Valley), Rio Negro Valley
USA 1,000 acres
Washington State, California
Chile 215 acres
Itata Valley

 

Sources
3rd most planted white wine in France per Wine Grapes , Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Jose Vouillimoz
Sémillon in Chile has greatly reduced based on winesofchile.org
France Sémillon wine acres (2011)
Australia Sémillon wine acres (2010)
South Africa vineyard statistics (2010)
Washington State Semillon 222 acres (2012)
Argentina Sémillon 2,100 acres (2012)


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By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified wine geek with a passion for meeting people, travel, and delicious food. You often find me crawling around dank cellars or frolicking through vineyards.