Brokenwood is one of the Hunter Valley’s leading exponents of the region’s classic strengths, Semillon and Shiraz. In 2010, the winery celebrated its 40th birthday by showing every wine they’d ever made (and of which they retained museum stock).
You’ll find my report of a vertical (1992-2010) of Brokenwood’s flagship Semillon, ILR Reserve, here. It’s also worth reading for Chief Winemaker Iain Riggs’ comments about his approach to Semillon, vintage notes and the background to his switch from cork to screwcap in 2003, since when he’s not looked back. Rather, he believes Semillon’s golden years are ahead.
This report is focused on a vertical (1982-2010) of the “regular” Semillon, a blend of various vineyards, together with some single vineyard wines which don’t get much past the cellar door. As you’ll see, though the regular Semillon is made in a more forward style than ILR, it’s also possessed of excellent longevity and rewards time in bottle.
I asked co-founder James Halliday about the early wood matured vintages (1982-86). He admitted “in the early days of Semillon we open fermented – we didn’t really know what we were doing and it went into barrel because we didn’t have the space to park it!” Rothbury were then making a wooded style too – the flagship shareholders reserve was aged in around 1/3 used oak and new foudres. Halliday told me he’d “ditched” his stock of wood aged Semillons some time ago.
The “regular” Semillon
Brokenwood Semillon 2010 - a winsome, lemony nose and palate is subtly infused with lemongrass. A mouthwatering finish, slightly saline finish shows a clean pair of heels. Very good, very youthful.
Brokenwood Semillon 2009 – this is already showing waxy lemon and hints of kaffir lime. It’s quite ripe and forward with juicy,zesty acidity. Delicious already!
Brokenwood Semillon 2008 - a tricky year is reflected in a sweet herbal, slightly dusty nose and palate with an undertow of lemon. Puts me in mind of a Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend.
Brokenwood Semillon 2007 - an inviting nose with ripe and waxy lemony fruit, some lemon curd showing too, all which follow through in the mouth. Rounder, stony acidity makes for excellent, still primary drinking now. Very good with powerful and pure fruit.
Brokenwood Semillon 2006 – into the next stage of development with ripe lemon curd and lemon butter on nose and palate. It’s less structured with seemingly lower acidity than the others – would be terrific with a nice piece of fish, with lemon butter sauce!
Brokenwood Semillon 2005 - a brighter, zestier, lemony nose - plenty of vim and vigor in this top year. Waxy and round in the mouth with lemon/lime cordial, hints of lanolin and a lovely lick of acidity which makes for a long, lingering and animated finish. Very good indeed. Lovely balance.
Brokenwood Semillon 2003 – (the first of the screwcapped vintages) tight and pithy with lemon pip freshness and bite to the nose. In the mouth, it’s surprisingly rich and waxy with a honeyed mouthfeel, ripe citrus, lemon and lime curd as well as lanolin and white porcini on the finish. Lovely complexity and balance. Long and lingering.
Brokenwood Semillon 2001 – cork taint.
Brokenwood Semillon 2000 – much more developed than I expected after the 2003, its nose and palate putting me in mind of a Coteaux du Layon from the Loire with its camomile, dried herbs, honey and lemon. It seems quite round, low on acidity and a little short in the mouth in comparison with others, though the flavour spectrum is complex and, at a recent tasting in London, this worked really well with a Dover Sole dish at Hakkasan. Enjoyable but not one to keep.
Brokenwood Semillon 1999 – what a contrast, this has oodles in reserve. A very fine, lemony nose subtly shows its age with hints of honey and spicy orange. Waxy, but with a tight citiric spine, in the mouth, it just keeps building and building. Terrific drive, with a super-long, reverberating finish. Outstanding.
Brokenwood Semillon 1997 - its deep yellow hue signifies another gear change. Significantly more developed than the 99, with beeswax and earthy dried porcini notes on the nose. In the mouth, it just seems to have lost its mojo, showing little drive behind its lemon lozenge/lanolin flavours.
Brokenwood Semillon 1995 – deep gold and rich and round on the palate with beeswax, honeyed lemon, tinned peaches even. Still present acidity. It just lacks harmony/balance.
Brokenwood Semillon 1994 – a quietly impressive wine with a subtle herbal/lemongrass edge to its still fine boned lemony nose and palate. Lanolin notes remind you of its vintage but it shows lovely delicacy, purity and youth to its long finish. Excellent.
Brokenwood Semillon 1987 – deep gold, with a slightly earthy note, toast, pot pourri and honey. It’s a teeny bit “stretched” but there’s lots of interest here and still decent vigor.
Brokenwood Semillon Wood Matured 1986 - antique gold with a concentrated nose and palate well endowed with hot buttered toast, ripe, honeyed lemon, lemon lozenge, lime shred and hints of dried herbs, buttermint/menthol. Still potent with great generosity of flavour.
Brokenwood Semillon 1985 - red/gold with a lovely nose dripping with honey, lemon and beeswax. There’s a backdrop of toast to the nose which is more pronounced on the palate; spicy orange too. So round and honeyed is it in the mouth it feels almost thick enough to spread on toast! Long and lingering and not just on account of its texture, thanks to a sustained hum of acidity. Impressive.
Brokenwood Semillon Wood Matured 1985 - less charming on the nose though it’s much better on the palate with dried herbs, beeswax and lemon butter flavours which slowly build and linger on a long, well concentrated finish with good balnacing acidity still.
Brokenwood Semillon Wood Matured 1984 – deep gold/red with a developed pot pourri nose and palate with honeyed lemon/lemon butter, spicy orange and toast. A lingering finish majors on the lemon butter; just a little lacking in purity.
Brokenwood Semillon Wood Matured 1983 magnum – golden with a toasty, spicy, pithy nose. It’s very herbeacous on the palate. Gone.
Brokenwood Semillon Wood Matured 1983 (75cl) – deep gold, with ripe lemon edged with fenugreek on the nose. Fading on the palate with a slightly attenuated finish.
Brokenwood Semillon Wood Matured 1982 – a very toasty nose and palate, with pot pourri and sweet lemon shred. It still retains some drive to its honey, lemon and toast palate. Not long for this world but holding surprisingly well.
[Rothbury Estate Brokenback Semillon 1978 – I've included this wine simply because it was shown the same day, though I also tasted it the previous week at the Landmark Tutorial (see my notes here). This wine showed a little more mid-palate presence. Golden yellow with lemon butter/marmalade on toast on nose and palate, also earthy porcini and moldy orange. Still in the game but teetering on the edge of the plateau.]
Single vineyard Semillons
Brokenwood has produced several single vineyard Semillons (see here), though they’re not regular releases.
Brokenwood Semillon Sunshine 2010 – aromatic in an estery, peary as well as lemony way. In the mouth it chisels down to a fine long, lemongrassy finish.
Brokenwood Semillon OC III 2010 – broader, waxy lemon fruit edged with lemongrass – a later pick, oxidatively handled.
Brokenwood Semillon Sunshine OC I 2010 – this early picked wine shows bright and zesty citrus fruit on nose and palate. Crisp but fruity acidity informs the structure – it has lovely line and shows hints of talc and lemon curd on a long finish.
Brokenwood Semillon Army 2010 – so-called because the vineyard abuts land owned by Singleton Infantry Base. This is the first time Brokenwood has released a current vintage Single Vineyard Semillon. It shows ripe lemon zest, powder puff and talc and, though well structured is quite fleshy through the mid-palate. Broachable now but lots of potential – like the talc!
Brokenwood Maxwell Semillon 2006 – this vineyard was planted in the early 70s on the red soil spurs running off the Brokenback Range (most Semillon is planted on leaner sandy alluvial soils). An expressive nose and palate is all lemon and lanolin. Structurally, it shows good line if a little skinny, with talc to the textured finish.
Brokenwood Maxwell Semillon 2005 – surprisingly more forward than the 2006, with white porcini, talc and lemon butter.
Brokenwood Oakey Creek Semillon 2004 – a leaner style, with lemon zest, wax and pith on the nose, segueing into fresh squeezed lemon/lemon pips on the palate, which neon bright citrus acidity pushes out a long, tight finish, with hints of lemongrass and lanolin.
Brokenwood Semillon Belford Block 8 2006 – Block 8 Vineyard is planted on sandy loam soil. This wine is in fine fettle right now – finesseful and balanced. It shows bright lemon/lemongrass on the nose and palate, with rolling, stony acidity and sweet preserved lemons and talc on a long finish. Just lovely.
The Wine Detective
(Wines tasted 2 October 2011)