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Part 1: It is going to be a #Semsational summer

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Fresh young things!

Summer is hitting its stride already and it is only the first month of Spring! With the weather so fine, it is time to break out the crisp whites and here semillon should play a starring role. It is often lamented within the Australian wine trade that Hunter Valley semillon is a hard sell, yet it is one of Australia’s unique wines.

Hunter Valley semillon is an angular white wine offering plenty of pure citrus fruit aromas and flavours with some pretty floral notes when young, rounding out to a waxy honey after a few years in the cellar. To some, it has too much acid. To others, it has too little flavour, particularly when compared to the more pronounced aromas of current favourites sauvignon blanc or chardonnay.

The vintage action in the Hunter starts early, sometimes only just making it through December into January if it has been a warmer year before the semillon grapes start to be harvested. This means that the grapes still have high acid levels and lower potential alcohol – often hovering around 10 – 11.5%.  The best wines will have pleasing fruit weight with a line of acid structure along the palate which finishes long and fresh. This acid gives Hunter semillon a long life in the cellar compared to many other white wines.

Of course, the Hunter Valley is not the only region growing semillon in Australia. There is plenty of excellent semillon grown in the Margaret River, Barossa and the Clare Valley are stars amongst other fine wine growing areas.  These wines have a tendency to be riper with flavours in the stonefruit and sometimes tropical fruit realms, with softer, rounder acid, higher alcohols and fuller fruit weight. Some will even have seen some time in oak giving them an intriguing complexity and lifting them to an almost cultish status: such as Domaine A’s Lady A and Mount Horrocks Semillon.

Five #semsational semillons :

Henschke Louis Semillon 2012 ($25) – From the Eden Valley. There is plenty of lemon citrus and stonefruit with a hint of savouriness.  Texturely, there is some silk and acid is softer though still prominent. Henschke has been working on their winemaking and oak regime to get a better blend of phenolics to the palate. This is apparent in the way the wine shapes the mouth along its tangy length while remaining fresh.

Scarborough White Label Semillon 2011 ($27) – A prettily ripe semillon from a vineyard that used to be Lindeman’s – the Sunshine Vineyard. Ian Scarborough says that some of the 1970’s wines from this vineyard is still drinking well.  After tasting the 2009 with little evidence of the four years of age it has clocked up so far, I would expect that the White Label Semillons will have a great life in the best vintages. Grapefruit citrus is alive with white flowers and sherberty lime juice. While it is tangy, it is soft and very long. (Cellar Door Only)

Thomas Wines Cellar Reserve Braemore Semillon 2013 ($30) – A wine that is a ‘must have’ on any semillon-lovers list.  Andrew Thomas focuses on making semillon and shiraz from the Hunter and he does it very well. This vintage has a floral lift to the lemon and stonefruit core.  There is also a minerally edge.  The fruit resonates along the palate making it a wine matches a saucy fish dish as well as it will be a pleasure sharing with friends.

Note: the current Braemore is 2009.

Mt Horrocks Watervale Semillon 2011 ($30) -  One of Australia’s fully barrel fermented and matured style of semillon from the Watervale sub-region of the Clare Valley.  A leesy wine that has seen 11-12 months in barrel (40% new) giving a fuller rounded smoothness with a backbone of toast.  It is certainly big hitting but is well judged giving creamy and savoury spice support to the lemon zest and ripe apple characters.  A great food wine and very more-ish, even on its own. Sometimes hard to find, but well worth seeking and getting a few down into the cellar.

Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2013 ($75) – One of the benchmarks of Hunter Semillon and one that is usually released with some age on it.  The current release is 2007 and this new release 2013 is available to members of their cellar door club to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary of the first vintage release of the wine. Lime juice, stonefruit characters with a hint of melon. The Vat 1 is soft fruited, big hearted and the flavours last generously in the mouth.  A wine that is easy to drink now or to languish in the cellar for a decade or maybe two if you can resist the lure.

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