Dry semillon is the ideal match for fish and seafood, while its sweet form is perfection with foie gras and cheese
Because of its acidity, dry semillon blended with sauvignon blanc can be great with the sweet flesh of shellfish and seafood, especially lobster. It’s particularly good with meatier fish like monkfish or well-seasoned sea bass, and makes a great pairing for the creamy sauces that often accompany white fish. From the sweet point of view, the classic pairing of Sauternes (a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes infected with ‘noble rot’) with foie gras really is special, the buttery liver harmonising perfectly with the rich sweetness of the Sauternes at first encounter, before the wine’s acidity kicks in to cleanse the palate for the next mouthful. I also think semillon in its sweet manifestation is great with ripe soft cheeses, particularly those with a good, musty streak of blue running through them. This, to my mind, is a much finer marriage than Sauternes with pudding, for most dessert dishes become just too much of a sugary thing with a wine this sweet.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Good dry semillon has honeyed, citrus and apple fruit flavours, preferably with a few years on it, and a slightly buttery edge from judicious oak ageing. Bad dry semillon, on the other hand, is fat, oily and flabby.
Semillon in the Hunter Valley used to be called Rhine Riesling, though not only was it made without the benefit of said grape variety, it also tasted nothing like it.
Although Bordeaux blanc will often be dominated by semillon and sauvignon blanc, it can also feature hefty dollops of muscadelle and ugni blanc, as well as guest appearances from the likes of merlot blanc, ondenc and mauzac. Château d’Yquem is made from 80 per cent Semillon and 20 per cent sauvignon blanc, so semillon can claim to make one of the world’s greatest and most expensive wines. Shame about the rest.