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Semillon’s a grape that shines alone

Semillon Wine GrapesSemillon (sem-ee-yon) is a chameleon-like wine. It can be bone-dry, rich with ripeness or lusciously sweet. When mass-produced, it can be simple or decadently sweet.

Its unusual name raises the question: Is it a grape or a French wine region? It is, indeed a grape. And you may find it hidden behind a French Bordeaux label or lost within a blended wine.

But a few producers let it shine on its own. Growers in Australia’s Hunter Valley region in New South Wales have created an exceptional following by those seeking this grape solo. The wine is dry when young, but after about 10 years it begins tasting like rich, buttery marmalade. Wineries in neighboring Barossa Valley, in south Australia, offer a different style made from this grape, with a more steely lime character.

Semillon can be a great wine, but it is in France’s Sauternes and Barsac regions that it really shines. The grape in France has a very thin skin, making it perfectly susceptible to noble rot or botrytis, which growers welcome. Once it has survived in the vineyard for a long growing period, it is blended with sauvignon blanc. Semillon contributes weight and the ability to age in oak, while the sauvignon blanc adds acidity and flavor.

THE VALUES 

  • 2011 Peter Lehmann Semillon, Australia (about $12 retail)
  • 2011 Penfold’s Rawson Semillon–Chardonnay, Australia (about $9 retail)
  • 2011 Rosemount Estate Semillon–Chardonnay, Australia (about $9 retail)

THE SPLURGES 

  • 2010 Loan Barossa Semillon, Australia (about $24 retail)
  • 2010 Leeuwin’s Sibling Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, Australia (about $26 retail)
  • 2010 Chateau d’Armajan Sauternes, France (about $46 retail)