Super Semillons

A few months ago I reviewed several locally produced Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blends and lamented the fact there is very little single varietal Semillon produced in New Zealand these days. I pondered what one would have been like if it had been picked early to retain acidity and released after about five years of bottle age. June Hamilton of Nelson-based Kaimira Wines contacted me. “I’ve got one of those,” she said. And very soon after that conversation a bottle was winging its way to me. Now I’m not sure when it was released, but being 2008 vintage it was five years old anyway.

kaimirasemKaimira Brightwater Semillon 2008 has an intriguing toasted lemon/lime scent with the merest suggestion of sandalwood and it’s wonderfully tangy to the taste with preserved lemon, candied tropical fruit (pineapple comes to mind) and those wonderful Semillon connotations of dried hay and sunny days. There’s an underlying nuttiness, a sucking-on-a-river-pebble dryness, an earthy leesy savouriness and a fine film of honeysuckle nectar on the pulsating finish. It builds in complexity and coats the mouth with its richness and warmth. It has outstanding presence and length. We served this with pork strips baked with kumara and orange and it worked a treat – the kumara and orange component especially.

This is a current release from Kaimira, it has 13.3% alcohol and it’s a steal at just $18 from the cellar door. The tech notes on the Kaimira website – – state 4.6 g/L residual sugar (so it’s technically dry), 6.8 g/L titratable acidity and pH 2.98. This would have been mouth puckering when young – as all the great Semillons are – but five years on from vintage the acidity is still tangy but integrated and harmonious too.

At the New Zealand International Wine Show this year, where I had the pleasure of sponsoring the ‘Other White Varietals’ trophy, it was Aussie Semillon that reigned supreme. Three from Australia – all from the Hunter Valley – were in contention for the Trophy along with little known locally produced Arneis and Sauvignon Gris. The winner was of course Semillon and was the oldest of the five wines vying for the trophy in this section.

tyrrells2006It is not surprising in my opinion that the judges went Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2006 for this svelte beauty has garnered elegant complexity with bottle age. And it’s a relatively low 10.5% alcohol too. The colour is straw – no indication at all of its age, and the aromatics are wonderfully fresh. There are bitter orange/marmalade peel nuances and an amalgam of aged Semillon characters – honeysuckle, citrus blossom, apple skin, lemon curd with a Kaffir lime infusion. An exciting wine with an exotic allure. I can’t find any tech details other than alcohol, but do know that it will have high TA, low pH and be almost bone dry. Oh, the youngest vineyards are over 40 years old too.

I can only imagine how this will taste when it is 21 years of age. Spectacular if my experience of 21-year-old Semillon is anything to go by. That happened recently.

tyrrells1992Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 1992 was handed to me in a glass. I had to guess what I was drinking. With its deep golden colour and rich, buttery, creamy presence, I thought it was Chardonnay but then glorious toasted lime and coconut kicked in and there were surges of vibrant and refreshing acidity. Never tasted 21-year-old Chardonnay like that. Full-bodied and mouthfilling and for its age, outstanding.

If you want wine to cellar for a special occasion, think Semillon – and one with a screwcap closure like the Tyrrell’s 2006 or the Kaimira 2008. They won’t disappoint when they are opened at that special occasion.

Kahurangi Estate – – is the agent for Tyrrell’s in New Zealand. Like Kaimira they are based in Nelson. The Vat 1 is around $65 dollars a bottle. Of course it is available from the best wine stores too.

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