By Lisa Rowlands

Native to the Bordeaux region of France, thin-skinned Sémillon is a fairly vigorous vine with high yield potential. It is generally regarded as an easy grape to cultivate, ripens early and offers good resistance to most viticultural hazards, except of course, Botrytis Cinerea, whose close attention it welcomes. This fungus - which develops as dry and moist air conditions alternate - causes the grapes to dry out on the vine, intensifying their flavour compounds and sugar content, hence maximising the sweetness of the resultant wines.

Sémillon is usually the dominant variety in the dessert wines of Bordeaux, where it is blended with the other permitted grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, and only occasionally vinified as a varietal. However, in addition to its pivotal role in these much revered wines, the grape is also used in a number of Bordeaux’s dry whites, sold under the labels of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. Amongst the most acclaimed of these is the principal white offering of the famed Château Haut-Brion (appropriately named Château Haut-Brion Blanc!) - a wonderfully rich and complex wine with great ageing potential.

As well as Bordeaux, Sémillon is also grown in other parts of southwest France and in a number of new world regions. Of these, Australia’s Hunter Valley is perhaps the grape’s most favoured patch, where it is vinified in a range of styles, ranging from sweet blends - in the style of Sauternes, to oak-aged, dry varietals. There are also significant plantings in the United States, South Africa and Chile.