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South African Semillon

15 May 2007 by JR

Find the Cape Point (highly recommended but available only in South Africa according to winesearcher.com)

Last week’s trip to South Africa really reinforced for me the very special quality of Semillon in Cape vineyards. In the early 19th century Semillon (known then as ‘the green grape’ for its bright green leaves) was by a mile the most planted grape variety here  - more than 90% of all vines planted - and even today Semillon vines tend to be on average far, far older than other varieties, resulting in particularly resonant wines. It has never been desperately fashionable nor desperately unfashionable which has helped keep the vines in the ground. And the great thing is that South Africa’s dry Semillons (which is almost all of them) are full bodied, chock full of personality, while being both racy with a slightly green herbal quality yet lots of weight and fat, and seem to have the ability to age gracefully and interestingly.
 
Sauvignon Blanc does pretty well in South Africa but to my mind Semillon arguably does even better. Franschhoek has pockets of particularly senior Semillon vines and one of the best in my experience is Boekenhoutskloof Semillon. The 2004 is looking tight and youthful but very fine and concentrated – rich and long yet dense and chock full of lanolin. The 2002 on the other hand is just right for starting to drink now – broad yet tense, a very serious, layered wine indeed – a white with every bit as much body and nuance as any red of a similar age. There is also a particularly distinctive botrytised Noble Late Harvest version which has the sort of high acid, high sugar and low alcohol of a Beerenauslese and can clearly age extremely well. The 2004 was looking very promising last week on the winery’s hip new tasting terrace overlooking this up to 100 year-old, golden-leaved vineyard which had just been picked. (One of the winery’s dogs was still snuffling around among the vines gobbling the grapes that had been left on the ground.)
 
Also from Franschhoek is Landau du Val Semillon 2006, an extraordinarily satiny, pleasure-filled mouthful of polished lemon butter icing made with a fair but not overwhelming amount of residual sugar (16 g/l) from a small plot of vines planted in 1905. Stone Vine & Sun sell the 2004 in the UK.
 
The other source of great but much more obviously marine, cooler South African Semillon is the spur of hard, rocky land that juts out towards the Antarctic south of Cape Town encompassing both Constantia and Cape Point. Steenberg Semillon from Constantia can be delicious, if hardly subtle, while Cape Point Vineyards Semillon from the only winery of the Cape Point district is arguably one of the most consistent Semillon producers making a great, ageworthy, tangy version, part oak-matured.
 
Find the Cape Point (highly recommended but available only in South Africa according to winesearcher.com)
 

Tags:  South Africa
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