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New World: Semillon & Blends

A small category, but a good one, with the tasters finding a range of styles and, unusually for this year’s competition, good value for money too 

Food-friendly, characterful and capable of wines of stunning age and complexity, Semillon tends to be popular with sommeliers, if somewhat off the radar of the general public. Somewhat off the radar of the UK wine merchants, too, on this evidence, since it was one of the smallest white categories.

Which is a shame, because the feedback from the tasters was positive. At the cheaper end it was all South Africa and Chile. Above £7 it was all Australia – mostly Hunter Valley, but with submissions from other regions, too, which perhaps explained the variety of styles.

Last year this category picked up two Silvers and a Bronze, all under £10, all from Australia and none from the Hunter Valley. This might seem surprising, but in fact the East Coasters have regularly been outshone by their Margaret River counterparts in the Sommelier Wine Awards.

This year, though, they got their revenge, with three medals for the Hunter Valley (including our first ever Semillon Gold, see below) alongside an impressive cheapie from Buitenverwachting in South Africa that picked up Silver.

Styles ranged from the fruit-forward, light (and cheap) to the more food-friendly and weighty, some of them with a bit of oak and usually more expensive.

‘It’s very interesting,’ said Philippe Moranges of Hakkasan. ‘You go from the herbal to the very aromatic. If you are familiar with the herbal Semillon, then there are some very good wines here. And some of the deeper-coloured wines have really good complexity.’

One such was the Glenguin Old Broke Block, which was also one of the few wines entered to have a bit of age on it. Since Semillon is likely to be a hand-sell in any case, our tasters were hoping for a few more older wines, even if they were pricey.

But there were no arguments about the Buiten Blanc. ‘At that price, it could have been in the House White flight,’ said Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie admiringly. ‘And it would have done well.’

‘I’m more for the classic style – the richer and more complex. But it’s good to have the fruitier styles too, which were good value.’ Sara Bachiorri, The Glasshouse