It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where its susceptibility to noble rot concentrates the fruit sugars and acids in the grapes to produce some of the most luscious, sweet wines in the world, most notably that of Chateau d’Yquem, a blend of four-fifths semillon, one-fifth Sauvignon Blanc.
On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia’s most individual dry whites, in particular those from the Hunter Valley, which develop a buttered toast character with age, while the richer, fuller-bodied, lemony Barossa Valley Semillons can also be excellent.
Generally, its richness and body is often used to complement the aromatic Sauvignon, although in cool, maritime climates such as New Zealand, it can develop pungently grassy characteristics. Semillon, often spelt with the accent dropped outside France, is also widespread in South and North America, and it’s planted in eastern Europe and South Africa too, where it never quite scales the heights achieved in France and Australia.
Semillon varies in character considerably according to its region of origin. In Bordeaux blends with sauvignon, it can be citrusy with a lanoline-textured, waxy, honeyed richness, while Hunter Valley semillon famously develops lime and buttered toast flavours with age, in contrast to the more pungently grass and asparagus-like characteristics associated with cooler climates. Made as a sweet wine, it makes some of the world’s most lusciously sweet, exotically marmaladey whites.