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Plantagenet Hazard Hill Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Blend: 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon
A large, climatically diverse country producing just about every wine style imaginable, Australia is often misunderstood by consumers. It is not just a source of blockbuster Shiraz or inexpensive wine with cute critters on the label, though both can certainly be found here. It is impossible to make generalizations about a country this physically massive, but most regions are concentrated in the south of the country and experience either warm, dry weather, or more humid, tropical influence. Australia has for several decades been at the forefront of winemaking technology and has widely adopted the use of screwcaps, even for some premium and ultra-premium bottles.
Shiraz is indeed Australia’s most celebrated and widely planted variety, typically producing bold, supple reds with sweet, jammy fruit and performing best in the Barossa and Hunter Valleys. Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with Shiraz, and also shines on its own particularly in Coonawarra and Margaret River. Grenache and Mourvèdre (often locally referred to as Mataro) are also popular, both on their own and alongside Shiraz in Rhône blends. Chardonnay is common throughout the country and made in a wide range of styles. Sauvignon Blanc has recently surged in popularity to compete with New Zealand’s distinctive version, and Semillon is often utilized as its blending partner, or in the Hunter Valley, on its own to make complex, age-worthy whites. Riesling thrives in the cool-climate Clare and Eden Valleys. Sticky-sweet fortified wine Rutherglen Muscat is a beloved regional specialty of Victoria. Thanks to the country’s relatively agreeable climate throughout and the openness of its people, experimentation is common and ongoing and there is a vast array of intriguing varieties to be found.
Sometimes light and crisp, other times rich and creamy, Bordeaux white blends typically consist of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Often, a small amount of Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris is included for added interest. This blend was popularized in the Bordeaux region of France (where it also comprises outstanding sweet wines like Sauternes and Barsac), but is often mimicked throughout the New World, particularly in California, Washington, and Australia.
In the Glass
Sémillon provides the background to this blend, with a relatively full body and an oily texture. Sauvignon Blanc adds acidity and lots of bright fruit flavor, particularly white grapefruit, lime, and freshly cut grass. Used in smaller proportions, Muscadelle can contribute fresh floral notes, while Sauvignon Gris is less aromatic but offers ripe, juicy fruit on the palate. These wines run the gamut from unoaked, refreshing, and easy to drink to serious, complex, and barrel-aged. The latter style, usually with a higher percentage of Sémillon, can develop aromas of ginger, chamomile, and dried orange peel. The dessert wines produced by these blends, often with the help of noble rot, can have lush stone fruit and honey character.
Crisp, dry Bordeaux white blends are the perfect accompaniment for raw or lightly cooked seafood, especially shellfish. A more structured, Sémillon-based bottling can stand up to richer fish, chicken, or pork dishes in white sauces. These blends also work well with a variety of vegetables and fresh herbs, like asparagus, peas, basil, and tarragon. Sweet dessert wines are traditionally enjoyed with strong blue cheeses, foie gras, or fruit-based desserts.
Sauternes and Barsac are usually reserved for dessert, but smart sommeliers know that they can be served at any time—before, during, or after the meal. Try these sweet wines as an aperitif with jamón ibérico or oysters with a spicy mignonette, or during dinner alongside hearty Alsatian sausage, poached lobster in beurre blanc sauce, or even fried chicken.