What’s the difference between an SBS and an SSB? – UMAMU Estate Margaret River

UMAMU Estate Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon SBS white wine

SBS and SSB are acronyms that refer to white wine blends of the prized Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grape varieties. Whether a wine is SBS (Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon) or SSB (Sémillon– Sauvignon Blanc) depends on the prominent ingredient in the blend, with an SSB having more Sémillon than Sauvignon Blanc, and vice versa. To view our Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010, please click here.

The infamous blends of SBS and SSB hail from the famous growing region of Bordeaux, in southern France, where they are called a white Bordeaux. Margaret River in Western Australia has a marked Mediterranean climate – fairly parallel, in fact, to that of Bordeaux – which is why these blends have been around since the infancy of discovery of the Margaret River wine region. The region was identified with having optimum growing conditions by Western Australian agronomist Dr John Gladstones in his 1965 report, which influenced the establishment of the region.

UMAMU Estate has created both Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (Margaret River SBS) and Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (Margaret River SSB) wine blend. Though they are similar, there are also vast differences – just like siblings! Each has their own character.

In a nutshell, whether a white wine is an SBS or SSB depends on the blend percentage – with the most prominent ingredient named first. For us, however, we base our distinction on the vineyard, on what the grapes look like that year, and on which blend will make the best white wine. It’s a balancing act between crafting the best expression of that vintage with practical experience on what makes the most economical sense, too.

UMAMU estate Margaret River Western Australia SBS SSB white wine

(Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (SBS) wines boast a simliar climate to that of Bordeaux in France.)

April Showers – The Making of UMAMU’s first Margaret River SBS (2005) white wine

The year of 2005 was my very first vintage. I continue to learn more each and every day about the wine industry – but boy was I learning learning learning back then! One of the first rules of winemaking is that nobody harvests in rain. Well, actually, let me explain: nobody plans to harvest in rain. And why not? Well, the fruit can get diluted, essentially. 

I mean, I knew that bit – I tried my best not to harvest on a day of rain! We ended up deciding to harvest the Sauvignon Blanc on 8th March, 2005, followed by the Sémillon on the 29th March. And guess what happened on the 29th? Not only did it rain, it poured.  We had no choice but to pause picking and resume on 1st April – yes, did I feel like an April fool! 

UMAMU Estate Sauvignon Blanca white wine grapes Margaret River

(Harvesting Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc white wine grapes at night)

My philosophy was to harvest each of the vines separately, and make the wine separately, so we could learn about each parcel of Margaret River earth. Well, we ended up having to learn twice about the Sémillon parcels, and as it turned out you could taste the complexity of two picks in the wine; it added more character. It’s a more expensive wine to produce, as each harvest has its challenges and costs. But that SBS 05 is one of my all time favourite Margaret River SBS / SSB white wines, with bags of character. 

Being our first wine bottled, I paired that SBS 05 with all kinds of food and found it to be such a versatile wine. It went with Western cuisine; with grilled or seared fish, light sauces or no sauce; with Japanese Sushi; Thai milder dishes; Bruschetta; and the list goes on. The only thing it didn’t pair well with was Shanghainese eel, deep-fried. The fishy fried-ness overwhelmed the wine. 

Speaking of rain, I had the opportunity to be at Chateau Pichon during vendange (vintage) 2002 when Aunty May (then proprietor and goddess of the wine world) invited me to stay. Well, one fine morning in September, you guessed it – it was raining. Chateau Pichon had all their grapes harvested, but alas Chateau Latour (could see their neighbouring parcels from the terrace at Pichon) were out picking! We winemakers all do try our utmost to anticipate ripening and picking dates, it’s a science and an art, but sometimes even the best of the best are still learning.

Semillon white wine grapes SSB SBS Margaret River UMAMU Estate

(Margaret River Semillon white wine grapes under cover at the UMAMU Estate)

Vertical Tasting – Try Six UMAMU Estate Vintages!

I am a real gunner when it comes to trying different vintages of the same wine (first exposed in France to this) so if you fancy doing that, we have put together a vertical six pack of SSB and SBS over a tasting with my old lecturer.

We have a keen philosophy to release wines when they are ready and also to produce wines that can develop and age – thanks to an upbringing with French wines, particularly Bordeaux, and their philosophy of making wines that age.

So I am really very proud to share that our Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010 is featured in the current issue of Gourmet Traveller Wine Apr/May 2021 and has just been recently reviewed by Huon Hooke of the Real Review, scoring 91 points with a drink till 2025, and by @the3winesmen: “the results of releasing wine when ready to drink as habit should just be the norm.” 

I submitted our museum 2005 SSB to a tasting by Winestate so let's see how the wine does - it received five stars out of five!


Charmaine of UMAMU