One of the world’s most underrated grapes yet capable of making some of its most delicious dry whites, Sémillon isn’t on the radar for many. So if you get hold of a bottle what should you pair with it?
Although there’s a marked difference between young unoaked Sémillon and those blended with its habitual stablemate Sauvignon Blanc it helps get a fix on it to regard it as similar to but less pungent than Sauvignon. Without that marked green, grassy edge that can make it too much of a good thing with foods that have herbaceous note of their own such as asparagus, peas and mangetout.
If I had to sum up the ideal match in a few words think shellfish, fish and spring vegetables. Here are a few more specific suggestions:
Hunter Valley Sémillon and other lighter styles
The Hunter Valley in Australia is the place to go for Sémillon and has its most distinctive style. Fresh and zippy when it’s young, more complex and oily (in a nice way) as it ages this is the perfect wine for raw and lightly cooked shellfish especially with Asian flavours. (Think the delicious kind of food you get in Sydney.) Remember Hunter Valley wines are light - generally only about 11-12% ABV. Try them with:
Oysters, especially with an Asian dressing - the best match bar none
Spring veg such as asparagus and peas - a pasta primavera would work well with a Hunter Valley Sémillon
Dishes with fennel
Dishes with a touch of citrus
Lightly cooked fish dishes such as seabass and razor clams
Fried soft shell crab - I owe this one to my colleague Victoria Moore
Salt and pepper squid
Young goats’ cheese or salads with goats' cheese
For older vintages try smoked fish such as smoked salmon, smoked trout and - this is surprisingly good - kedgeree
Barossa Valley Sémillon and other richer styles
Fuller and riper, often with a lick of oak, Southern Australian Sémillons can take richer fish and shellfish dishes and light meats like chicken and pork - again with an Asian accent. Try:
Scallops (probably my number one choice)
Grilled lobster, prawns or Moreton Bay bugs
Salmon and salmon trout
Fish or chicken in a creamy sauce such as this kingklip with prawns and a white wine sauce I had in South Africa
Thickly sliced ham off the bone
Pork or chicken satay
Other spicy but not over-hot pork dishes
Grilled and barbecued fish
Found chiefly in the Margaret River region of Western Australia and in the Bordeaux region of France where it's mainly oaked
For Australian sem-sauv I’d go for much the same sort of dishes as I would for a Hunter Valley Sémillon - perhaps a shade richer or with a little more citrus. This dish of pan-fried scallops with orange braised chicory, celeriac remoulade and lotus crisps was a perfect match or you could go for scallops with a pea purée. It would also stand up to a mild Thai green curry.
With oaked white Bordeaux I’d be looking at more classic French or European-style dishes like this light raviolo of prawns, simply cooked fish in butter like a Dover sole, poached salmon or a posh fish pie.
For my pick of inexpensive Sémillons see today's Guardian column
Photo © Jacques PALUT - Fotolia.com