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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

South African semillon

A while back, the very good people at Wines of South Africa (and they are good, fwiw) tweeted "Finally opinions about Pinotage are changing in a right direction" to which I replied "Ahhh, so SA winemakers finally agree it's not very good? LOL" - this is the problem with Twitter, with 140 characters a short snip can be read both ways. Having said that, while my tweet was somewhat tongue in cheek, there's no doubt that pinotage ain't all it's cracked up to be which is why I'm going to write about semillon instead! South African semillon, that is.

200 years ago 90% of the vines planted in South Africa were semillon - today it's probably less than 1%. Of course, we cannot be sure that it really was semillon (remember that until the mid 1990s we all thought there was a lot of merlot in Chile!) and it was probably meant for distillation or making fortified wines but we know that semillon makes fantastic wines so why has it disappeared? And should it make a comeback?
Honestly, I've no idea why it disappeared but the answer to the second question is YES! And, if necessary, at the expense of pinotage - although as sites for pinotage would not suit semillon why not try grenache, or mourvedre, or carignan, even.
On Tuesday we had the WSET Diploma class on South Africa and one of the wines was a bottle of 2000 Boekenhoutskloof Semillon from my own cellar. Eleven years old and gorgeous - mid yellow-gold, ripe nutty notes on the nose with hints of beeswax, ripe, sound, round and elegant on the palate with a sweet honeyed note. Long, creamy and elegant. Gorgeous, yummy, certainly one of the best wines I've tasted this year.
Marc Kent still has semillon on the farm at Boekenhoutskloof, as far as I know, and still produces the wine at a very fair price. La Bri and Landau du Val, two other Franschhoek wineries also have some, I believe, as does Andre Van Rensberg at Vergelegen. Indeed, during the 2004 MW trip Andre reckoned his semillon would easily age for 10 years or more - and the evidence of Marc's wine would suggest that he's right. BTW, Andre (the greatest winemaker in the world, no less!) also said that he "doesn't rape, pillage, murder or steal - nor make pinotage!" so at least one opinionated person agrees with me!
Why bring back semillon when chardonnay is getting better (it is - there are some pretty good chardonnays finally coming out of the Cape), when chenin is being made into really good wines, when even the Hunter Valley winemakers can't sell their semillons in Australia? Well, because the right winemaker can make some pretty damn fine wine from it - that's why. In a recessionary world we see range shrinkage to a terrible extent - this is a time when accountants start to run wineries to the detriment of the wide and exciting range of wines that could be produced. So, strike a blow for a happier future and start planting more semillon in South Africa and, until such time as the quality wines come on stream, support the Australians a swell.

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