While semillon grows in a range of regions around the country, it is most commonly found – and thrives – in the following places.
New South Wales
Semillon first found its home in Australia within the warm-climate Hunter Valley region. It flourished here, and today the region is famous for its unique benchmarks; a pure, dry white wine that matures remarkably with age. Other semillon-producing regions in New South Wales include Mudgee and Riverina, with Mudgee semillon sharing a resemblance to examples from the Hunter Valley. Riverina specialises in botrytis semillon – De Bortoli crafts excellent examples.
Margaret River produces distinctly herbaceous semillon wines. They're excellent for blending with sauvignon blanc – a role this grape plays in various combinations across the region.
Sauvignon Blanc Regions
While sauvignon blanc flourishes around Australia, its two most prominent homes are within Margaret River and the Adelaide Hills. In Margaret River, they're often blended with semillon and commended for their crisp yet juicy characteristics. The Great Southern region and Geographe also produce highly awarded examples.
Sauvignon blanc is one of the most popular white grapes in the Adelaide Hills region. In the cooler vintages, "the aromas have some or all of passionfruit, sweet pea, gooseberry and other tropical fruit", as described by James, with their palate sharing similar qualities. Similar to the Margaret River region, sauvignon blanc from the Adelaide Hills balances well with semillon, James saying “both varieties have an extra measure of depth, texture and structure”.
New South Wales
Thanks to the Orange region’s high elevation, sauvignon blanc is well suited the area. It excels here, with pronounced tropical notes including passionfruit, lychee and papaya. When raised in tougher soils, sauvignon blanc shows herbaceous characters that complements the tropical fruit flavours
In Bordeaux, semillon is commonly blended with sauvignon blanc and muscadelle, creating dry white Bordeaux and Sauternes. Semillon plants are increasingly diminishing in this famed wine-growing region, although there still remains a large amount in production: 7384 hectares as reported in 2009.
Sauvignon Blanc Regions
Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is some of the finest in the world, being especially herbaceous, and often high in acidity. Some even name New Zealand the sauvignon blanc capital of the world. Styles from Marlborough are especially popular, showing tropical fruit characteristics and fine balance. James says “the quality of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, its vivid flavours and its low cost all mean it will be here to stay.” Other notable regions include Hawke's Bay, Martinborough and Nelson.
In the Loire Valley, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume are the most notable wine styles using the sauvignon blanc grape. James says "Sancerre is a little more lively and precise, Pouilly Fume more sturdy and complex” and that “these are the ultimate food-friendly white wines at an affordable price".
Northern Italy, Austria, Slovenia
Known for their crisp and minerally characteristics and less intense fruit flavours, styles from Northern Italy, Austria and Slovenia are world renowned. They’re particularly food-friendly given their light and delicate flavours. Two Austrian producers worth mentioning are Manfred Tement, who crafts extremely balanced sauvignon blancs, and Sattlerhof, with styles showing floral, fragrant qualities.
The cooler regions of Elgin, Walker Bay, Elim and Hermanus provide excellent environments for sauvignon blanc production. Although blending with semillon is uncommon, Cape Point Vineyards and Delaire Graff in Vergelegen surprise many with their styles.
The natural advances of Chile – the pure water of the Andes, gravelly soil, no phylloxera, and a dry climate – prove excellent for sauvignon blanc. James says Chilean styles “appeal for their price and their softness of flavours, and are best drunk within 12 months of vintage.” Villard and Vina Casablanca both are significant producers.
Sauvignon blanc is often celebrated for its fruit flavours, primarily grapefruit, passionfruit and melon. Cut grass and bell pepper are unique characteristics to the blend, and not commonly found in other varietals.
Semillon is often considered richer than sauvignon blanc. It flavours lemon balm, peach, and fig, with other signature flavours including chamomile, and also toast and beeswax as it matures.
When semillon and sauvignon blanc meet in a blend, a classic dry white style is born. Semillon adds richness to sauvignon blanc’s tropical personality and sharp acidity, with its lemon balm notes being especially elevated.
Semillon was first spotted in Gironde around the 16th century. James says “Once domesticated, it seems very likely it was grown alongside – or, more probably interplanted with – sauvignon blanc and muscadelle.” Semillon and sauvignon blanc are, according to DNA studies, genetically quite similar, although there is no evidence of a parent-offspring relationship. Arriving in Sydney in 1831 with the Busby collection, semillon made its way to the Hunter Valley shortly after.
The first mention of sauvignon blanc fiers (an old synonym) dates back to 1534 in Rabelais’ Gargantua, and its first appearance as sauvignon fume was in 1783-84 in the Loire Valley. This is thereby its official birthplace, contrary to popular belief of a Bordeaux origin. In Australia, its story was greatly affected by New Zealand; the huge popularity of Marlborough sauvignon blanc in the early 2000s greatly influenced Australian preferences, and plantings in Australia thereby increased.
Young semillon and blends are compatible partners to seafood featuring tangy dressings – particularly oysters and fresh crab. Introducing dairy to these dressings is also delicious. For older vintages, try smoked salmon or chicken with Asian flavours. Sauvignon blanc suits similar foods, although citrus can be swapped for mild herb flavours – pesto is especially good.
*All wine styles and James Halliday quotes included within this article are taken from James Halliday's Varietal Wines. This title is available nationally and you can find a list of stockists here. If you would prefer a digital copy, you can purchase the ebook version here.