In recent years I’ve become quite fond of Hunter Semillon and at this time of year it’s a perfect tipple.
In his AFR article “Why there’s nothing like a crisp Semillon from the Hunter Valley,” Max Allen hit the nail on the head. He praised 2017 Hunter Semillon for its vibrance and purity, at the same time acknowledging its incredible cellarworthiness: “yes, I love the flavours of bottle-aged Hunter Semillon… but the wine I wanted to take home and drink was the youngest one.” Australian Financial Review, 22nd June 2017.
I couldn’t agree more. You just need to buy enough to enjoy now and still have a few left to cellar for a few years.
Many of us, including me, have overlooked Semillon. Jancis Robinson doesn’t mince words in Wine Grapes, “Semillon is not a fashionable variety,” but “it has a noble history of being responsible for some of the most distinctive dry white wines in the world.” And it’s Hunter Valley Semillon that’s entirely responsible for this reputation.
“… classic Hunter Valley Semillon… such wines are among the greatest and most distinctive in Australia, if not the world.” Huon Hooke.
“Unblended, in Australia’s Hunter Valley, it is responsible for one of the most idiosyncratic and historic wine types exclusive to the New World.” Oxford Companion to Wine.
“Hunter Valley Semillon is one of Australia’s miraculous wines.” Decanter Magazine.
Hunter Valley Semillon is “one of Australia’s great gifts to the wine world.” Jancis Robinson MW.
Semillon grapes at De Iuliis winery.
Classic Hunter Valley Semillon is picked early, fermented to dryness, and bottled early without exposure to oak. Because they’re picked early, the grapes have plenty of natural acidity and lower levels of sugar, the latter of which results in lower alcohol in the finished wine. The great thing about Semillon is that, unlike many other varieties, it’s able to reach flavour ripeness at these lower sugar levels. German Riesling is also capable of this.
Hunter Semillon has an incredible ability to age while still being eminently drinkable along the way. When young, it’s bright, racy and refreshing, with crisp acidity and lemony flavours. With age, it transforms, becoming darker in colour and taking on honeyed, toasty oakey notes, to such an extent you’d swear it was oaked. With age, Hunter Semillon gains flavour and complexity, but due to its low alcohol and bright acidity, it retains its delicacy.
Another thing I enjoy with Hunter Semillon is the lower alcohol, usually around 10%-11.5%. It doesn’t knock you around like some of the 14-15% wines common these days. Hunter Semillon’s bright acidity makes it great with a wide range of food, and best of all, largely due to its unfashionable status, it’s very affordable. Now you can have your cake and cellar it too.
Back to Max Allen’s AFR article in which he refers to a handful of wines, including the 2017 De Iuliis Semillon, noting that it’s “drinking well, full of the mouth-watering fish-friendly freshness and apple/citrus/chalk flavours you'd expect to find”. It’s one of my favourite affordable Hunter Semillons from one of the best producers in the Valley.
De Iuliis Semillon 2017
On a trip to the Hunter a while ago I visited the terrific De Iuliis Wines (pronounced de yooly-iss). Joss De Iuliis migrated as a child from Italy in 1960 and built a successful engineering business in the Hunter, which he sold in 2003. But the winemaking traditions and vineyards his family had owned for generations in the Abruzzi region of central Italy were still on his mind. In 1988 Joss and wife Anna bought a property in the Lovedale Road region, in the heart of Pokolbin. About 40 acres of vines were planted in 1990, with most of the fruit being sold to Tyrrell's.
Joss and Anna’s son Michael, completed postgraduate studies in oenology at Roseworthy Campus, Adelaide University in 1999. He went on to be a Len Evans Tutorial Scholar (2004) as well as a finalist in the Young Winemaker of the Year Awards (The Wine Society, 2005). He was also one of 8 Nominees for the 2013 Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year. As James Halliday said of Mike “He has lifted the quality of the wines into the highest echelon.”
The family built a state-of-the-art winery in 2001 and continued to plant new vineyards and acquire established ones. These days the family has about 80 acres of their own vineyards and source additional fruit from a handful of carefully selected growers. They handle about 150 tonnes of grapes, making them a small to medium sized winery by Hunter standards. By comparison, Tyrrell's does close to 3,000 tonnes and Margan does between 600-700 tonnes.
De Iuliis is considered one of the Hunter’s top producers, with James Halliday’s Australian Companion to Wine rating the winery 5 stars every year since 2010. Mike was awarded 2015 Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year and 2016 Hunter Valley Cellar Door of the Year.
This wine is fresh, lemony and zesty, but has quite a juicy mid-palate with aromatic beeswax notes. A great drink now wine, but I’m still going to keep a couple.
"Mike De Iuliis is a lovely fellow, not that it matters so much, but it’s nice to drink wines not made by bastards. This is textbook, kind of juicy, easy to drink now Hunter Semillon. Almost a ginger thing happening, along with ripe lemon and appropriate flinty bits to keep it in check. The finish is showing a touch of toast and honey already.” 91 points, Gary Walsh, The Wine Front.
Joss and Mike De Iuliis.
“The bouquet has a quiver of citrus, lemongrass and talc, the palate firing its arrows with perfect precision, filling the senses with Meyer lemon juice and crisp acidity. The wine is open for business but also has a great future. Drink to 2037. 10.9% alcohol.” 94 points, James Halliday Wine Companion 2018.
“Appearance: Pale, lime green. Aroma: Lifted aromas of intense lemon and lime citrus. Palate: A crisp, clean wine dominated by fresh citrus, balanced acidity and intensity of fruit flavours add length to the palate. Cellaring: Perfect for early consumption, suited to cellaring.” Winemaker’s notes.
James Halliday Top 100 Wines 2017
(1 of only 2 Semillons in the whites under $20 bracket)
Bronze - Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
Bronze - Hunter Valley Wine Show 2017
A no-brainer. Stock up.
I can offer it for $18 a bottle Go to new vintage of this wine
FOOD MATCHES FOR SEMILLON
Young Semillon, light and zingy:
Semillon with a little bit of age and development: