Margan Semillon 2008

After a few vintages (2005-7) of relatively forward Hunter Semillons, it’s nice to open one that is clearly a leaner style, perhaps more suited to delayed gratification. As such, this wine presents a challenge to the taster in that much of its interest is projected rather than immediate. But I’m enjoying it a great deal, even if this enjoyment is related to a sense of anticipation around what it will turn into. Sort of like a slightly measured date you know will end in fantastic sex. I keep visualising how its fine structure and flavours will fill out and change, with honeyed opulence and (I hope) the slippery mouthfeel that my favourite aged Semillons have.

But back to what’s in my glass now, which is by no means unenjoyable on its own youthful terms. The nose, while lean, is strikingly perfumed, with powdery citrus notes and more astringent, grass-like aromas. It actually reminds me a bit of Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, but without the outrageous herbs and tropical fruits. There’s weight, too, some juicier lemon and mandarin perhaps. All in all a fresh, vibrant nose with tremendous focus and just enough weight to encourage a sip. 
The palate delivers the full promise of the nose in all respects. It’s taut, with shards of intense lemon and lime piercing the tastebuds alongside more grassy flavours. Good impact and volume initially, tapering smoothly through the mouth to a finish that is ultra-lean but terribly persistent. Mouthfeel is a highlight even at this young age, with fine acidity and excellent form. It’s a great framework for the wine to develop its mature flavours. 
It’s a cheapie ($A18) and I think it will turn into something very special. Next bottle in about five years’ time, I reckon. 

Price: $A18
Closure: Stelvin

B3 Barossa Semillon 2006

This is the latest wine to take part in what I fondly refer to as my ongoing “neighbourhood Chinese takeaway wine matching” experiment. One of life’s little pleasures.

Really typical Barossa Semillon aroma, showing quite fleshy fruit notes of citrus and perhaps pear, plus some composting hay and a hint of honeyed age. The aroma profile is relatively thick and even, if not hugely expressive. In the mouth, a lot more forward, thanks partly to an acid structure especially well balanced for approachability. The acid is very fine and even, delivering good impact without being forbidding. A big wash of flavour starts right at the tip of the tongue and widens out towards the middle palate. This is a relatively weighty wine, and its structure, whilst present, is counterbalanced by a juicy mouthfeel that’s all about flavoursome drinking. There are definite indications of bottle age, and these nascent flavours add some complexity to primary flavours of citrus, sweet hay and soap. The overall effect is vividly autumnal and recalls slowly decomposing leaves. It’s also a bit rustic and unrefined, in the best possible way.

Barossa Semillon is quite a different beast from Hunter, and I often choose the former for more immediate gratification and a less intellectual drinking experience. This wine isn’t as full-on as some Barossas can be, with no discernable oak influence and little in the way of winemaking artifact. It’s also fresh-tasting within the context of the style, neatly avoiding vinous obesity. It could probably be a bit tighter but I kind of like its easygoing nature. A delicious and straightforward wine that would go well as a picnic quaffer. Not bad with the Chinese either.

Thomas Braemore Semillon 2008

There have been some exciting write-ups of this wine in the blogosphere and, because I require only the slightest excuse to invest in Hunter Semillon, I ordered a few right away. This is my first bottle. The aroma shows citrus blossom, hay, wax and soap. It combines delicacy and a sense of considerable weight. There’s an underlying complexity of flavour that is unusual in young Hunter Semillon in the austere mode and, though it merely lurks in the background, this detail makes it a challenging wine to untangle. In the mouth, an explosion of acidity backed by considerable palate weight. It’s all very dry — in a chalky, minerally sort of way — creating an impression of high toned, detailed fruit flavours. There’s really good thrust through the palate, the wine almost leaping onto the middle of the tongue. With young Hunter Semillon, it can be revealing to taste one slowly, straight from the fridge through to room temperature. This one, for example, avoids becoming fat or flabby, and retains its essential character as it warms, but adds an extra dimension of power and nuance, even a little fruit sweetness, and a slippery edge to the mouthfeel. The whole remains firm and shapely, though.  Impressively, persistently long.To my taste, this is definitely one for the long haul, and I’m glad I have a few stashed away. I’ll be trying this again in about five years’ time. If you’re drinking it now, do as I did and try it with something moderately greasy like a potato, bacon and onion tart.Update: on day two, all the elements are amplified, with very intense citrus flavours, a greater sense of weight and finer acidity. This is pure quality. I suspect its mouthfeel in particular will develop beautifully with time.Thomas Wines
Price: A$25
Closure: Stelvin

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2004

It’s customary to bang on about this classic label in terms of its value for money. To be sure, I love that I’m able to purchase a wine held back from release until its point of maturation for under $A15 (and I paid somewhat over the odds,too). It’s especially ironic that McWilliams persists with its release strategy across the Mount Pleasant range when other labels, including some premiums, are pushed out earlier and earlier, very much to the detriment of the consumer who might like to obtain at least a little enjoyment soon after purchase.

Thomas Braemore Semillon 2006

There is a group of small, energetic producers in the Hunter Valley exploring classic regional styles with considerable success. Thomas Wines presents a portfolio of single vineyard wines that aim to showcase the individuality of each site. I see from its website that it was established in 1997, so well over ten years ago at this stage. The last few vintages have generated quite a bit of excitement, though, especially the KISS Shiraz and this Semillon label.

Some toast quickly blows off to reveal a still-youthful aroma profile. Tangy citrus juice collides with higher toned, powdery florals. There’s perhaps a bit of rubber too, but it’s not especially intrusive and, for me, adds an interesting funky undertone to the aroma. Very nice to smell. 

The palate is structured like a polished jewel, with consistent, linear acidity from tip to toe. Like a wedge, it starts from nothing and builds smoothly through to the finish. Along the way, intense and complex citrus notes land precisely, with good detail and definition. By the time the middle palate arrives, the mouth is awash with crisp yet full fruit flavour. Although the acidity is firm and beautifully structured, it’s not forbidding, a well balanced foil to the generous fruit. Elegant, long finish that becomes quite chalky in texture.

A really excellent Semillon that should be fascinating to watch over time. Cracking value.

Thomas Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin

Tulloch Julia Semillon 2005

The question of how long to age wine seems, to me, one of the most vexed of all, and something about which there’s rarely agreement amongst enthusiasts. Ironically, it’s also one of the most reliable crutches for wine snobs wanting to throw a bit of weight around, a phenomenon to which I am, I’m ashamed to say, painfully allergic. I remember walking past a group of rather tragic-looking men at Wine Australia a few years ago as one tossed his head back triumphantly and crowed: “Of course, it won’t age.” As if that were the ultimate mark of a wine’s quality (or at least a wine lover’s discernment).

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I shall relate it, somewhat tenuously, to this wine. The back label states it will benefit from “three or so years” in bottle. Quite conservative for a reserve-level Hunter Semillon, even one from a relatively forward vintage like 2005. The Tulloch website suggests eight or more years is appropriate. I guess we’ll just need to be the judge. I definitely have a preference when it comes to this sort of thing, enjoying fully mature Semillon that has lost most of its primary citrus character. Vastly more experienced tasters than I have often suggested Hunter Semillon passes through an awkward, “adolescent” phase on its way to glorious maturity, and this wine, right now in any case, provides an interesting illustration of this point of view.

Not that it’s unpleasant. In fact, my first sniff was very promising with definite signs of toasty bottle age and a generally forward aroma profile. Powdery citrus and honeyed lanolin predominate. I find the aroma a little blurry, as if each note isn’t quite distinct and detailed enough to claim its place, but it’s comfortable and generous. The palate is more telling. It pulls in all directions, youthful citrus colliding uncomfortably with the first signs of that waxy, slippery mouthfeel that is every Hunter Semillon lover’s joy. There are hints of honey and toast, but they amount to little more than coming attractions, and don’t yet possess the full flourish they will, no doubt, one day have. Consequently, there’s a bit of a hole in the palate, not enough citrus on the one hand and not enough bottle aged flavours on the other. Honey is developing weight as the wine sits in my glass, but it’s not quite there yet. Nice long finish.

This may seem like a negative tasting note, but in fact I’m quite excited. This will be a quickly-matured, deliciously easygoing wine in a few years’ time, and I’m particularly looking forward to how the mouthfeel develops.

Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon 2005

Just checking in with a not-so-old friend tonight. They say Hunter Semillon goes through a dumb phase before emerging, butterfly-like, from its cocoon. There’s nothing reticent about this wine, not now, and I suspect not ever. It’s too juicy and generous a style.

A distinctive, waxy aroma that is already showing signs of bottle age. There’s a sheen of toast that overlays citrus-like Semillon fruit. True to style and very clean, yet weighty and exhuberant too, which is typical of these 2005 Semillons. In the mouth, an explosion of acidity and flavour. I love the acid here, it’s three dimensional and mouthfilling all on its own, if not overly sculpted. It’s also well balanced with respect to fruit flavour, which has sufficient intensity to stand alongside all that structure. More waxy citrus dominates emergent but definite aged notes of honey and toast. There’s so much going on here, it’s actually a little cluttered on the palate, but this doesn’t detract too much from one’s enjoyment.

Bloody nice. It’s still pretty young, but drinking very well now, and showing promising signs of bottle age that should realise over the medium term. I can’t wait.

Price: $A30
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: November 2008

Moss Wood Semillon 2003

One from the cellar.

Shy nose with hints of cream, astringent herb, grapefruit and a touch of tropical richness too. I’m smelling an aged dimension to the aroma profile in the form of light toastiness, but it’s still quite primary. A pretty, complex whisper of a nose.

The palate shows greater generosity. A cool, crisp entry that bristles with fresh acid texture. You’d never know this wine had already spent several years in bottle. Steely acidity carries astringent citrus flavours through the mid-palate without significant pause. Here, mouthfeel shows a softer, creamier face, without subverting the wine’s significant structure. Intensity is quite impressive, and there’s some complexity of flavour too, although it’s all quite austere in profile and, consequently, challenging to describe in terms other than “flint” or “mineral.” A pleasant lift through the after palate precedes a long, clean finish. It’s in these last stages that some fruit weight finally appears, and it is of the grapefruit and citrus pith variety.

The last bottle I tried, perhaps two years ago, showed quite differently. It was more generous, softer and quite luscious, and the winemaking treatment (battonage, etc) was clearly evident. I wonder if this wine is going through a phase, or perhaps there’s some bottle variation at play? On the basis of this example, I’d be looking to check on its progress in two to three years’ time. I don’t have a lot of experience with this label, though, so others’ insights are welcome.

Moss Wood
: $A30
: Stelvin
Date tasted
: September 2008

Tatachilla Growers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Anecdotally, Sauvignon Blanc, alone and in blends, seems to be the quaffer of choice for casual work lunches and similar occasions. It’s not hard to see why; flavours are for the most part easily discerned and unchallenging. There are some quite lovely versions of the “classic dry white” blend. The Grosset springs immediately to mind, and the Margaret River style seems especially prized by the lunchtime crowd. Most examples, though, seem to express more modest vinous aspirations. This one, from McLaren Vale based winery Tatachilla, is made from fruit sourced across South Australia.

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 1999

Bottle variation has been an unfortunate hallmark of the lesser Mount Pleasant wines, something the use of Stelvin closures may ameliorate. This 1999 Semillon, though, is bottled under old-fashioned cork, and my experience of it has been up and down. The last bottle, opened perhaps two weeks ago, was dumb and lifeless. I thought I’d try my luck again tonight, and I think this bottle is more representative of the wine’s quality and character.

Lovely golden colour. The nose was initially a bit muted, with a little prickly sulfur. Closer to room temperature, and the wine is showing a range of elegant aromas, such as beeswax and a lightly herbal astringency, perhaps some buttery softness too. Still quite fresh at nearly ten years of age. The palate shows remnants of the spritzy acidity often observed in young Semillon, but this soon gives way to a waxy, slippery mouthfeel that lovers of aged Hunter Semillon will no doubt adore. This wine’s line is akin to a wedge that starts tight and widens progressively through to an expansive finish. On the way, classic notes of sweet honey and lanolin caress the tongue, along with some citrus-like reminders of youth. There are also hints of caramel and butter, and in some respects one could be forgiven for thinking this is a Chardonnay. Palate weight also accumulates towards the after palate, to the point where it’s really quite mouthfilling and almost chewy. Good length.

This wine is just starting to show at its best and, although not the most complex or most intense, shows brilliant typicité. Bloody good value.

Mount Pleasant
Price: $A12
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: July 2008