Friday, 9 December 2011

More Semillon please, we're British

I recently had a most enjoyable lunch at The Soho Hotel with Neil McGuigan, of McGuigan wines, the day after he had been voted Winemaker of the Year by the IWSC. We were treated to a vertical tasting of his Semillon Bin 9000 wines going back to 1997, and what treats they were.

Light in body and alcohol (most just 10.5 or 11% alcohol), with floral-tinged citrus flavours which mature into toasty, honied and marmelade notes over the years, Hunter Valley Semillons are a unique and delicious Australian wine style. They are lovely, expressive wines which age beautifully.

The 1997 Bin 9000 is still has plenty of life and length, with the characteristic mature Semillon aromas and flavours of toast, beeswax and lanolin. This is great to sip on its own, so that you can give proper attention to the ever-evolving flavours in the glass.

More enjoyable with food is the 2003, which manages to combine the lightness and linearity that you expect from Semillon with plenty of weight and presence (don't ask me how). The spritzy palate has plenty of zippy lime fruit which persists on the long finish. Neil McGuigan thinks this slowly-evolving wine is outstanding and it certainly still feels like a relative baby.

The current vintage, 2011, is full of youthful floral aromatics, with fine, juicy acidity that lingers long in the mouth – another one to watch.

Prior to this lunch, my only experience of McGuigan wines was looking at their serried ranks on supermarket shelves and a taste of one of the basic reds which managed to combine overripe and confected fruit flavours with excess alcohol and high residual sugar.

And yet, as Neil McGuigan demonstrated at this lunch, he also has the ability to cook up much more compellingly drinkable wines at the bargain end of the scale: The Semillon Blanc 2011 (£5.79 at Tesco) is a straightforward wine with fresh fruit aromatics and a little more ripe fruit (and yes, a little more residual sugar) than Hunter Valley Semillons, being from warmer vineyard areas. But it's clean, fresh, fruity and somehow honest, which is what appeals to me.

Calling it Semillon Blanc gives you a clue that this wine style is something of a riposte to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and so what if many consumers pick it up thinking that's what it is? The quality of what's in the bottle is what will drive its continued success. 

So well done, Neil, on your winemaking accolade. And more Semillon please, we're British.

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