Remember the ugly duckling that became a very fine swan? That's Sémillon, the often misunderstood grape behind some of the world's finest white wines.
You'd think that the grape responsible for the great dry and white wines of Bordeaux would have been planted more widely around the globe. With the exception of Australia, it hasn't - why? Maybe that youthful sulkiness is to blame…
Hard to love when young, Sémillon blossoms with age to reveal an altogether different character. Both dry and sweet version can be splendid, with Bordeaux and Australia being the main producers.
Young dry Sémillon is lean, green and mean, crisp certainly, but often not a very enticing experience. There are three ways of getting around this. First, by adding a splash of the more aromatic Sauvignon Blanc; second, through fermentation and ageing in oak; and third, through patience - Sémillon ages to glorious toasty maturity, acquiring notes of lime juice, toast and custard on the way. Bordeaux and Australia are both strong on dry Sémillon, and both are also very adept with sweeter styles. In particular, Sauternes from Bordeaux is Sémillon-based, again with Sauvignon as a favored blending partner.
Semillon used to be known in Australia as Hunter River Riesling.
I can't afford Sauternes. Are there other sweet Sémillons from near Bordeaux?
Yes - try Monbazillac, Ste Croix du Mont and Loupiac.