The instant you nose a glass of The Gathering 2014, the producer’s fastidious attention to detail is obvious. All the grapes have been hand-picked, a laborious and expensive undertaking, but one that ensures rigorous sorting and selection of only the ripest, healthiest grapes. The grapes are gently pressed in the winery, and only the free-run juice is used – this is the clearest, purest juice that runs freely from the mass of just pressed grapes. The two different grape varieties (72% Sauvignon Blanc and 28% Semillon) are vinified separately, then expertly blended. Fresh lemon, lime and white peach flavours from Sauvignon Blanc are complemented by the smokines the Semillon has already begun to develop. There is a fullness, a creaminess and a complexity to this wine. It lingers in your mouth and makes a great match for asparagus and smoked seafood in particular. When I find wines like this, I try to buy a case. Half will be drunk within the next year, and the rest I will patiently leave in my cellar (read damp, dilapidated basement) to age for 5-10 years. When Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blends are left to age, their flavours evolve from being lemony citrus focused to expressing a more savoury, almost smoky side.
Dry white wines made from or blended with the Semillon grape variety are unknown territory to the average wine drinker, even though they’re widely available in the UK and the US. Those on the inside appreciate that Semillon makes up the large majority of the blend in the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, which are some of the world’s finest and longest lived wines. Not only can they last, but they have a tendency to transform and develop exciting new flavours as they rest in the bottle, with correct cellaring. Style wise, and to use a reference point most drinkers will know, they are the opposite end of the flavour spectrum to the aromatic Sauvignon Blancs which hail from the Marlborough region in New Zealand. Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs have justifiably reached iconic status due to their inimitable flavours of the ripest passionfruit in particular, which is distinctive to Sauvignon Blancs made from grapes grown in that location. As is the case with most single varietal Sauvignon Blancs, the wine is usually made without going near an oak barrel, keeping the flavours intensely fragrant and fruity. However, with the addition of Semillon and subtle changes to the wine making process, a completely different wine is born. Dry white blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are some of the world’s most underrated white wines.
Bordeaux is the birth place of dry Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blends, although they only make up around 10% of annual Bordeaux production and live in the shadow not only of the famous red wines but also the rich, sweet wines of Sauternes. These blends are generally comprised of varying proportions of Sauvignon Blanc (usually over 50%) to Semillon which mellows the sherbety flavours of Sauvignon Blanc. More import than the flavour profile is the texture and weightiness which Semillon brings to the blend. It imparts richness, a distinctive smokiness and a complexity that would not be achievable with straight Sauvignon Blanc. The difference in wine-making technique versus single varietal Sauvignon Blanc is majorly that the wine is not only aged but often fermented in large, old oak barrels. The chemical reactions that are understood to take place during barrel fermentation, as opposed to in stainless steel tanks, are in large part responsible for the difference in flavour profile.