Friday, June 19, 2009


Australian semillon is a classical style which I feel is misunderstood by the average consumer (I'm mainly referring to my home state of South Australia, not New South Wales). It's famous for its ability to transform from clean and simple, fairly light whites when young, to rich and complex wines when mature, with highly desirable butter/toast/honey characters.
It's no secret that New South Wales' Lower Hunter Valley sets the industry standard for the style, but other regions are beginning to catch up fast. The Margaret River and Clare Valley come to mind, but it's Barossa Valley semillon which has really grabbed my attention lately.
Makers like Burge Family Winemakers, Henschke and Rockford are getting the job done well, often with oak; however, it's Peter Lehmann that's seriously caused me to rethink my previously held beliefs. The two releases to date of their Margaret Reserve Semillon have been mind-blowing.
I'd also like to point out to people living in New South Wales that we here in South Australia are rather misrepresented when it comes to your semillon on our shelves. Is it because you snap it all up yourselves you greedy bastards? The wines of Brokenwood, Mount Pleasant and Tyrrell's are easy enough to find, Margan as well maybe, but if it's other Lower Hunter semillon you seek in S.A. then be prepared to do some searching. We also seem to be at least 6 months behind when it comes to release dates. I wouldn't expect to see many 2009s here until the start of next year.

Reviewed below are the Mount Pleasant Elizabeth 2004, Peter Lehmann Margaret 2003, Rockford Local Growers 2005, Tyrrell's Reserve Stevens 2003, Tyrrell's Vat 1 2000 and Vasse Felix 2008. The two Tyrrell's wines are no longer current vintage but they're both of interest, especially the value-plus 2003 Reserve Stevens if you can still find it.

 - Region: Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
 - Price: $12-$22
I've always believed that bottle aged Hunter semillons sealed with corks experience distinct bottle variation. Slowly but surely, the cork is being phased out. A defining moment has been the 2004 Elizabeth, the first Elizabeth I've seen sealed with screwcap, which casts a sense of relief over my fears.
Glowing yellow, it reveals a classically varietal fragrance of melon and straw with honeyed undertones of lemon herbs. Rather broad and forward, the palate's somewhat cooked, toasty flavours of lemon citrus, melon and herb are framed by soft, zesty acids, however, it lacks the length and cutting precision of the very best vintages.
ü Despite its reliable closure this probably isn't the best Elizabeth to lie down, but it continues to amaze me how I expect a $13 bottle to be amongst the best of its type, cheers Mount Pleasant! Point of note: I've rated the last 4 vintages of this wine on a sliding scale; 2001-93pts, 2002-92pts, 2003-91pts and now... Drink to 2011.
90 points

 - Region: Barossa Valley, SA
 - Price: $28-$36
Previously labelled as Reserve Semillon, Peter Lehmann's Margaret astounded critics with its inaugural 2002 release. Placed atop James Halliday's semillon list (96pts) and named Jeremy Oliver's Best Dry Semillon (95pts), it's diverted the attention of some of Australia's keenest semillon drinkers away from the Hunter Valley.
A more than worthy follow up which was included in the Adelaide Review's Top 100 Wines of 2008, the 2003 Margaret is youthfully bright; pale-yellow in colour, revealing an impressively expressive, fresh nose of buttery nuts, quince and citrus over a clear influence of mineral. Its radiant palate is beautifully full and intense, brimming with exceptional depth and complex rubbery texture; it unloads layers of mineral accented lemon, melon and grape characters, which build with intensity and structure. Secondary nuances of beeswax and fresh garden herbs develop from its inner core, with a vibrant presence of chiseled acidity leaving the mouth with persistent flavour and a delightfully clean aftertaste devoid of excessive dryness. 
üAs a big fan of Hunter semillon I've been completely blown away and surprised by this near perfect, hot year Barossa semillon. Wow, what a wine! Drink to 2023.
96 points

 - Region: Barossa Valley, SA
 - Price: $17-$26
Rockford is an idiosyncratic winery with a very loyal following. They're just one of those producers that make you feel glad you live in South Australia.
Mid-yellow/beige in appearance, the 2005 Rockford Semillon reveals an attractive mix of youthful freshness and development. Its waxy expression of grassy, green apple characters work nicely into persistent notes of dry straw. With a gently constructed framework of slightly sour, lemony acids, it leaves the mouth feeling adequately refreshed.
Lacks true class, but it is a tasty little drink nonetheless. Drink to 2011.
90 points

 - Region: Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
 - Price: $20-$34
The Stevens Semillon is a less expensive, single vineyard alternative to Tyrrell's mighty Vat 1. With some vines dating back to 1863 its fruit source, the Stevens Glenoak vineyard, is considered one of he oldest semillon vineyards in the world.
Intensely aromatic, its youthful, zingy lemon fragrance reveals an underswell of butter/vanilla/toast characters, which provide a perfect reflection of an unoaked Hunter semillon halfway through its life. Blessed with a restrained, mineral presence of melon/citrus flavours overlying an undercarriage of savoury, nutty tones, its full smooth and juicy palate drives with outstanding length and refinement, amid a wash of uplifting, crystalline acidity.
üAlthough not built for the super long term, the 2003 Stevens is wonderfully reflective of Tyrrell's style. It contains the harmony, length, depth of flavour, texture and acidity of Australia's very best semillon. Drink to 2013.
94 points

 - Region: Lower Hunter Valley, NSW
 - Price: $43-$63
With my sincerest apologies to Mount Pleasant's Lovedale and Brokenwood's ILR, Tyrrell's Vat 1 is the king of Australian semillon.
Still pale-yellow but heading towards beige, this 9 year old Vat 1 offers a perplexing, toasty fragrance of honeyed oatmeal and yeasts supported by fresh notes of green capsicum and grapefruit. The considerably bright, complex bouquet is followed by an unusually proportioned, viscous palate whose brittle green edges surround vegetal, lanolin and cooking oil flavours, with undertones of butterscotch and mineral.  It climaxes into a finish defined by sour citric acids.
ü Possibly a result of the bottle variation encountered in mature, cork-sealed semillon, the 2000 vintage might be off the mark by Vat 1's blueprint but its bizarre abnormality has still won my vote of approval. Drink to 2012.
93 points

 - Region: Margaret River, WA
 - Price: $23-$32
Since taking over the winemaking duties at Vasse Felix, Virginia Willcock has fashioned some truly elegant whites of finesse and longevity. I especially like what she's done with the very regional, mineral and funky semillon, now one of the Margaret's best.
Oozing distinct regional qualities from the glass, the 2008 Semillon's smoky, herbal nose of tight citrus and melon fruits with sweaty/mineral undertones precedes a sharp, racy palate of great purity. Crisp and crystal-clear, its exceptional mineral flavours drive and lift with a complementary extract of lively acidity and penetrating length. It's water-tight and brilliantly refreshing, as a lasting impression of freshness just urges you to go another glass.
üExquisite Margaret River semillon, but it strangely reminds me of some of the region's sauvignon blanc. Drink to 2018.
93 points


  1. Chris,

    I think you are spot on with your description of the 00 Vat 1. There is something almost sweet and confection like about it, even though it is clearly dry and sharp.

  2. Another SA worth a look is Willows semillon. Better than Rockford!