semillon guide
Semillon : Understanding the famous grape variety from Sauternes

Semillon is a white grape variety, that can be made into single varietal wines, but is also very commonly found in blends.

Grown a lot in France, it is also found all over the world, and is notably present in Hunter Valley in Australia where it produces fabulous wines.






The Semillon grape variety originates from the Bordeaux region in France, where it is still widely planted. There, it is mostly blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, to create dry, crisp white wines. While the grape is resistant to most diseases, it is susceptible to a fungus called Botrytis (also known as noble rot). This fungus develops on the skin of the grapes, causing them to dry away, resulting in berries that are very concentrated in sugar and flavours. These grapes form the base to create sweet wines – this is the technique used in Sauternes, as well as other appellations such as Barsac and Loupiac to name a few.


Semillon has a handful of typical aromas, although depending on where it’s grown and how it’s vinified, it will develop other aromas

Key Semillon aromas :

  • Lemon
  • Pear
  • Papaya
  • Apple

When Semillon has been influenced by noble rot, as mentioned above, then a whole new layer of aromas will develop:

  • Almond
  • Quince
  • Honey



As with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, you have to think about the climate when buying a Semillon wine.

Grown in a cooler climate (Bordeaux, Washington State, Hunter Valley), the wines will tend to have a higher acidity, tend to have a lower alcohol level, and will develop zesty favours or lime and grapefruit as well as floral aromas.

Warmer climate Semillons will be rounder, richer, and usually higher in alcohol. It’s not uncommon for Semillon to be aged in oak, which will impart flavours of butter and toast to the wine.

Sweet wines (Sauternes, Barsac, etc.) are in an other category altogether. What makes these wines so special (beyond the way they are made which in itself is a small miracle) is that the high sugar content is balanced beautifully by a high acidity. This makes for a wine that is pleasant to drink, fresh and not overly flabby.




Bordeaux Semillon blends are a wonderful match to fish and seafood dishes. As mentioned they are usually blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Sushi lovers, if you’ve never tried sushi paired with a Bordeaux White, I highly recommend you give it a go! As with all white wines, cheese is another great pairing. Here I would recommend goat’s cheeses, which will pair beautifully with Semillion.  Semillion can also be paired with Asian dishes, although I would avoid overly spicy dishes. Think pad thai or mild Indian curries.  Sauternes and Sweet Wines are also great wines for food matching. While everyone in France drinks Sauternes with Foie Gras, I personally think it’s a bit too much sweetness and fat all at once on the palate. For me, there’s a magic pairing that I’ve recommended time and again: Sauternes and Roquefort (or other blue cheeses). It is just divine! 

semillon with cheese


The first region we must name is is of course the South-West of France, not only Bordeaux but also the wider wine growing regions around Bordeaux, such as Monbazillac, Bergerac and Sauternes.

It is worth noting Hunter Valley in Australia as a notable region growing Semillon. The grapes are picked early, and the wines are aged in oak, resulting in a complex, dry white wine, that can easily age 10 or 20 years. Elsewhere, Semillon is grown in Italy ( Tuscany), Argentina, Chile, Australia (Hunter Valley), South Africa and in the USA (California and Washington State).


BEST Semillion WINES: 5 to try

I would recommend you to taste both of dry and sweet wines.

About dry wines :

  • Château Haut-Lagrange blanc, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France
  • Tofanelli estate, Dry Semillon, Napa Valley, USA
  • Château Climens, Cyprès de Climens, Barsac, Bordeaux-Sauternais, France
  • Waterkloof, Circle of Life, Sauvignon Blanc-Chenin Blanc-Semillon, Western Cape, South Africa 2012
  • McLeish estate, Semillon, Hunter valley, Australia


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