Australia’s other white grape

Our mini bus bounced hard on the dirt road propelling everyone seated in the back into the air. Peering out my small smudged window I could just make out our destination. The old tin shack at the top of the hill appeared to be on the verge of collapse but I guessed it had been this way for decades. Our bus strained up the final crest and spat us out on what many consider the holy ground of the Hunter Valley the old Tyrrell winery.

The quiet beauty of the place struck me instantly. Meandering streams crossed the gentle green hills interrupted only by the occasional vineyard. Unlike many of the world’s famous wine regions this was neither cramped nor busy and seemed to embrace its vines comfortably into its landscape.

The Hunter Valley is where Shiraz first came to Australia and the vines are well into their second century of life. While many come here to taste wines crafted from these ancient vines I was here to explore a less heralded grape but one I believe to be Australia’s most unique and misunderstood: Sémillon. And if you want to understand Sémillon there is really only one place to visit and one man to tell you the story.

Waiting to greet me was the energetic and amiable Bruce Tyrrell a fourth generation winemaker I knew only by reputation. He met me with a strong handshake and a smile the pride he felt for the land evident in his expression.

After a walk through the vines we moved to the cellar where six glasses of white wine sat before us each colour telling its own story. The first and youngest was a distinct Granny Smith apple green that smelled of fresh-cut limes and lemongrass. The last was aged more than 15 years with deep honey gold that reminded me of resin lanolin bees wax and wool. In between was just about every colour and fragrance imaginable. It was hard to believe all these wines were from a single grape grown in just one place.

Although there is more Chardonnay planted here it is the Sémillon that speaks most eloquently of the land and these six glasses of Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Sémillon said it all. Sémillon has found a well-suited home in this sub-tropic climate. The intense heat of the sun ripens it quickly allowing it to be picked early enough to maintain its freshness and provide only modest alcohol. This unusual combination makes a wine that is abrasive while young but rewards patience with a masterpiece of aroma texture and complexity.

In a world awash in generic white wines Sémillon is an oasis for those seeking authenticity. It puzzles me that this original absolutely delicious and ridiculously affordable wine is known to so few but perhaps we should just learn to enjoy those precious things in life that remain unspoiled.

Other great Semillons to try

• Brokenwood Sémillon Hunter Valley ($22) — Bright lime leaf aromas and notes of bees wax are followed by wonderful fresh wildflower notes. Perfect for anything you can pull out of the water and eat.

• Burge Family Sémillon Barossa Valley ($37) — A kaleidoscope of flavours marked by marmalade and resin. A complex wine that needs a serious meal such as seafood stew cooked with saffron.