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Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2005

Top Aussie Sem. And it's not from Hunter Valley...

On Friday, a workshop conducted by Steenberg winemaker JD Pretorius towards a better understanding of Semillon. At the end of 2010, it was the 12th most planted variety in the country with the total area amounting to 1 182.4ha (some 30% of this is planted in the Breedekloof where it’s used to dolly up entry-level white blends).

In South Africa, there are two basic styles. Firstly, there are those with high methoxypyrazine counts (compound providing herbaceous aromas and flavours) and for such a wine look no further than the David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner from Elim. This is a controversial expression of the grape and whether you will like it or not depends very much on your tolerance for that “green” character. Much speculation about how these wines age with some contending that they soften and complexify, but my experience being rather that the best remain remarkably primary and the worst degenerate, becoming thick and soupy.

Secondly, there are those that have had some oak treatment and take on a more weighty texture with time in bottle. Here Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek leads the way. The wine is typically matured in 100% new French oak for 13 months, but at very low temperatures to keep oak extraction to a minimum. The 2008 tasted during the workshop showed great fruit concentration, the oak noticeable but very much part of the wine. Still two or three years off its best.

Constantia Semillon will perhaps always have the broadest appeal, the cooler climate growing conditions producing some but not excessive green character while a degree of oak treatment lends richness and texture. I thought the Steenberg 2007 (closed under cork) was all of a piece and had the edge on the Uitsig 2007 (screwcap) which was still coming around; meanwhile the Steenberg 2005 (also under cork) appeared unduly advanced relative to the Uitsig 2005 (screwcap).

By way of intrigue, Pretorious included Peter Lehmann Margaret Barossa Semillon 2005 in the line-up. Following a two-week fermentation period, the wine is bottled immediately and then cellared at the winery before being released as a five-year-old wine. Great fruit concentration offset by fresh but not seering acidity (abv 11.5%, RS 5.95 g/l, TA 7.38g/l, pH 3.03).

An overall impression arising out of the tasting is that single-variety Semillon is destined mainly to be the pursuit of wine-geeks. Pyriazine-driven Sem is a döppelganger for Sauvingon Blanc and so you could ask “what’s the point?” while those that have had some oak treatment are typically more about texture than overt aromatics and flavours.

An attribute of Semillon is that while it is low in pH, it is also generally low in acidity (contrary to the norm where a low pH typically corresponds to a high acidity). Clearly, the best examples can age, but they do tend to become a little ponderous. Vinifying it alongside Sauvignon Blanc to add a little verve is surely the way forward.

Comments

  1. Kwispedoor says:

    Christian, see if you can pull some strings and find a 1997 Klein Constantia Semillon. It was held back after a portion of it was released as a CWG (or mayne CIWG back then) wine and only sold a few years ago off the farm. I’ve had some disappointing bottles (oxidised, perhaps due to transport issues), but the good ones were stand-out beauties – and they don’t show half their age (most people at blind tastings guess it many years younger than it’s true age – in fact, everyone that hasn’t had it before. Those who did, often gets it spot-on because it’s so unique). If you find a well-stored one it should still be very good as my last one was, gobbled up about two years ago. It’s a pyrazine bomb with low alcohol and prominent acid. Not for sissies.

    At my club’s blind tastings, the older Semillons always comes up trumps against the newer wines. The winner at our most recent Semillon tasting (this year) was a 2001 Cape Point, with a 2003 Nitida in second place – superb stuff!

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