Semillon, is easy to grow. It’s major fault is interestingly, its best loved virtue. Semillon is prone to developing rot. This is a good thing because Semillon is especially susceptible to being struck by botrytis. Known as noble rot, once Semillon becomes infested with botrytis, it also develops amazing characteristic sought by lovers of sweet wines all over the world!
Semillon, with its think skin, low acid fruit and rich, oily profile is perfect for Sauternes. In fact, it is the dominant grape variety in the entire Sauternes appellation that is used to produce sweet, white, Bordeaux wine. While its also planted in Australia, America and other regions, it reaches its full potential with the sweet Bordeaux wine from the Sauternes and Barsac appellations. In Bordeaux, the Semillon is blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle in Graves Pessac Leognan, as well as in Entre-deux-mers to produce dry, white Bordeaux wine.
The magic of Semillon takes place due to botrytis. When a grape is attacked by this rot, the berries are consumed by the development of rot. They shrivel on the vine. Sugar levels ratchet up and as the grapes dry and lose water, they become incredibly concentrated with sweet fruit, roasted nut and honey coated, tropical flavors.
Semillon was at one time a very popular white wine varietal. It was widely used for the production of dry white wines. In fact, in the early 19th century, the grape was thought to be the most widely planted white varietal in the world. It inhabited 90% of all of South Africa’s vineyards. As a point of reference, today, the grape covers about 1% of South Africa’s vineyards. To combat the loss of the vines and the ever decreasing amount of clones available, in 2008, a group of seventeen different Bordeaux wine producers agreed to form a cooperative that focused on growing their own Semillon clones.