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James on Hunter Valley semillon

Publish Date: 01 Jun 2017

Authored by: James Halliday

It's Hunter month on Halliday Wine Companion and to kick it off we have James on one of his all-time favourite wines – Hunter Valley semillon. Here he discusses this inimitable Aussie style and offers five examples to try. 

I raise eyebrows when I disclose that my mother’s amniotic fluid was Hunter River semillon – Lindeman’s in its glory days to be precise.

The walk-in cellar of our (then) house in Bellevue Hill was exclusively stocked with Lindeman’s Semillon (variously labelled riesling, hock, white Burgundy and Chablis) and Shiraz (labelled claret or Burgundy). Most were Private Bin, the bin number changing each vintage. This became more complex with the Reserve Bin wines introduced in the '50s, each with a four-figure bin number that included a bottling sequence, style and quality.

The earliest recollection I have is of the 1956 Private Bin 591, a particular favourite of my father. Another was the 1961 Reserve Bin 1616, which was the sole white wine made that year, had small proportions of verdelho and gewurztraminer, and won its last gold medal at the Sydney Wine Show in 1974.

Amniotic fluid or not, judging one-year-old semillons isn’t easy. Apart from acidity, they are significantly less open and expressive than one-year-old rieslings. Semillon’s freshness is a major plus, but one is left to tease out the fruit line and length. Thus the De Iuliis Semillon received 97 points at the Sydney Wine Show (top gold) and only 88 points (bronze medal) at the Hunter Valley Wine Show ‘16.

The arrival of the screwcap prompted Bruce Tyrrell to declare this a golden age of semillon. Those, like myself, who prefer semillon when it is around 10 years old, can feel secure in the knowledge that the wine won’t suffer the auto-da-fé of the cork gods and can safely cruise through to 20-plus years.

The rhetorical question is why were those cork-closed Lindeman wines winning gold medals when they were 10-15 years old? Mainly because screwcaps weren’t on the table and as the English wine trade often said, “There are no great old wines, only great old bottles”. There seemed to be no alternative, and you simply accepted wines that were maderised and soft (unacceptable today). When screwcaps did arrive and proved their longevity, the two wines to benefit most were semillon and riesling.

All of which means in my case that the two wines I enjoy most, and hence drink most often, are pinot noir (from any great region around the world) and 10-year-old (and older) semillon from the one place that produces the greatest examples: the Hunter Valley.

5 to try
by James Halliday

2011 Brokenwood ILR Reserve Hunter Valley Semillon
97 points

It has a lovely combination of lemongrass freshness with perfect first stage development of sweet fruit and honey... See full tasting note

RRP N/A | 2031 | Brokenwood

2016 De Iuliis Hunter Valley Semillon
95 points

The crossover with 1yo riesling can confuse, but the acidity is more pronounced, the lemongrass notes are peculiar to semillon and, as they age... See full tasting note

RRP $19.95 | 2031 | De Iuliis

2016 Gundog Estate The Chase Hunter Valley Semillon
96 points

Its bouquet surges out of the glass with lemongrass/hay aromas, the palate then imprinting its suite of flavours for... See full tasting note

RRP $30 | 2031 | Gundog Estate

2014 Leogate Estate Brokenback Vineyard Hunter Valley Semillon
95 points

Has taken the first steps towards the full spectrum of flavours that will emerge over the coming years... See full tasting note

RRP $22 | 2024 | Leogate Estate Wines

2011 Mount Pleasant Lovedale Hunter Valley Semillon
97 points

Gleaming, almost iridescent, straw-green; the wine’s trophy and eight gold medal show record (culminating in Sydney in 2016) covers every relevant show. See full tasting note

RRP $70 | 2031 | Mount Pleasant

Next article: James on Oakridge chardonnay

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