Grapevine: Going under the radar with Semillon
The hunt for good value in the wine world is endless.
The pre-eminent producers and regions are usually found out and see their prices climb rapidly, particularly where they are constrained by the size of the plots they farm, with no scope for expanding those boundaries without compromising quality. Then there are the regions, and grape varieties that seem to remain under the radar no matter how good the wines may be. In Australia we have a few contenders, Hunter Valley Semillon being just one.
The Hunter Valley is a challenging place to grow grapes. High humidity, along with hot summers and the chance of heavy rainfall makes for plenty of potential for disease such as rot to hit the crop.
Semillon is often harvested relatively early, to retain acidity and likely to avoid the threat of late rains. This no doubt contributes to its under-the-radar status. Inconsistency due to difficult vintages means that it is hard to gather some momentum in the market as one great wine or vintage may be let down by the next for those new to regions wines.
The great thing about Hunter Valley wines at the moment is we have a string of good to excellent quality vintages in the market making it a much safer and exciting proposition than at times in the past. 2019 was somewhat drier than normal, but not so much as to negatively impact on quality. 2018 saw plenty of rain in spring before conditions dried up with a long, moderate spring and warmer summer, pulling harvest a little earlier than normal, but with healthy fruit. 2017 saw plenty of winter rains before a long cool spring and warm summer allowing winemakers to pick at their whim.
In its youth, Hunter Semillon is crisp, dry, subdued in its flavours; giving away citrus juice and zest, grass, fresh herbs with great length and persistence to the flavours. Often barely reaching over 11 per cent alcohol, it is a brilliant, refreshing white for the summer months. The 2019 Semillons are beginning to hit the market and ready to be enjoyed for their youthful freshness and tension. Most examples such as the 2019 De iuliis Semillon (pictured) can be found under $25 with the very best wines, typically single vineyard wines rarely reaching over $40, which is a bargain for the pinnacle example of a wine and region with a long, proven track record.
The De Iuliis from 2019 is all lemon and lime citrus, zesty but with a slightly softer edge than normal, possibly due to the warmer conditions resulting in riper fruit. This, for most, is a good thing the wine is vibrant but accessible and generous in its flavour which means you get a good picture of the style instantly. The flavours are long and persistent and while complexity isn’t at its highest now, delicious, refreshing drinking certainly is.