Is Semillon set to be a USP for Chilean wine?

Drinks: Wines
Location: Chile, South America

Top sommeliers joined a panel of winemakers, importers, wine writers and MWs to debate the future of Semillon in Chile, at an event entitled: The Semillon Sessions [A New Chile].

The inaugural event was organised in London by an association of Chilean wineries including Aresti, Viña Carmen, Bouchon Family Wines and JA Jofré, which are all working with a particular focus on the variety.

‘What are the prospects for Semillon in Chile?’ asked Richard Hemming MW, posing the question ahead of a blind tasting which included examples not only from Chile, but also from Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Bordeaux. The tasting proved that while Australia’s Hunter Valley is seen by many as a benchmark style for Semillon, Chile is producing distinctive versions of the grape.

Currently there are 950ha (hectares) of Semillon planted in Chile, out of a total vineyard area of 120,00ha, including a significant amount of old-vine plantings. Winemakers are experimenting with both different sites and different winemaking techniques in search of a uniquely Chilean expression of the grape.

‘It’s a learning process. The idea is that we play with the styles, we can experiment,’ said Julio Bouchon, head of cellar at Bouchon Family Wines. ‘We want to understand how Semillon can develop in our terroir.’

‘This is our starting point,’ added Emily Faulconer, winemaker at Viña Carmen. ‘We don’t know what the potential of Semillon is in Chile. We don’t know where will be the exact place that will be producing the great Chilean Semillons in 50 years’ time.’

Sommeliers on the panel were positive about the potential of Chilean Semillon. ‘It’s really exciting to be looking at Chilean wines that are different,’ commented Christine Parkinson, head of wine for the Hakkasan Group. ‘Actually I love the thought that there’s something which isn’t the popular view of what Chile is. These wines have appeal in the glass; they have a story to tell.’

Consultant Martin Lam agreed, singling out the JA Jofré Blanco 2016 made by Juan Alejandro Jofré ­– a field blend of 85% Semillon with 15% Sauvignon Blanc – as an example of a wine that would work  well for restaurants. ‘This is absolutely a gastronomic wine; you could pour this in a restaurant tonight with complex food. And that’s definitely something different from Chile,’ he added.

‘I’d like to see these wines appearing in specialist wine bars, where someone can hand-sell. It’s better in the beginning to hand-sell them. [Listings in] specialist wine bars can also help to change the image of Chile and show that we’re not just about supermarket wines,’ said Bouchon.


Aresti Trisquel Series Semillon 2016, Curicó Valley, Chile

Interesting floral and spice notes on the nose, followed by a fresh, herbal palate with a metallic tang. JS

c.£13, Copestick Murray, 01672 519390

Carmen DO Quijada #1 Semillon 2016, Colchagua Valley, Chile

Fruit-bomb with tropical aromas of banana, peach and citrus, and a nice creaminess to the palate. JS

£30, Walker Wodehouse, 07813 626491

 J Bouchon Granito Semillon 2016, Maule Valley, Chile

Grassy, gooseberry aromas lead to a textured palate with lots of zesty lime acidity. JS

£23, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5440

JA Jofré Blanco 2016, Romeral Alto, Curicó Valley, Chile

Sweetly aromatic and peachy on the nose, followed by a bone-dry palate with clean citrus and herbal notes. JS

£20, seeking UK distributor

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