Germany is the land of Riesling. With over 23,000 hectares of it growing Germany is the worlds largest producer of it. There is no doubt about the relationship between Germany and Riesling. But there is another grape that needs some attention too. One that is a bit of a hidden gem but has long history in and around Germany. One that takes well to the cool climates of Franconia (or Franken in German), where it is most commonly found and one that hipsters are taking a little more seriously. That grape is Silvaner. Although you may know it as Sylvaner in Alsace France. There it is considered a “noble grape” and grows almost exclusively in the region.
The grape has a history in Germany. At one time Silvaner was the one of the most planted grapes grown there. Now, with just over 5000 hectares, it has fallen far behind behind Riesling, Muller Thurgau and Grauburgunder! In 2009, Silvaner celebrated its 350th birthday, but according to Jancis, Julia and José’s book, Wine Grapes, Silvaner is likely from Austria, and it has been suggested that the grape is a result of a spontaneous crossing that took place over 500 years ago.
Its name suggest that it is in fact from Austria and is related to the Pinot family. With Silva latin for wood, some believe that the vine was selected from the wild vines on the banks of the Danube river.
But lets stay in Germany. Silvaner is most notable in the region of Franconia. Franconia is the only wine region in Bavaria and the wines there come in a flat flask shaped bottled called a Bocksbeutel. There are a few thoughts on how the bottle shape came to be, but I prefer the theory that the bottle was made in such a way to prevent it from rolling around. Genius! As a sommelier however, dealing with them is a pain, as they are difficult to store in any wine cellar and are hard to fit into most ice buckets. However, mom always said, “it’s what’s inside that counts.”
And when well made Silvaner has a tension that is appealing. Often floral and minerally, translating the vineyard with clarity and grace.
Of course there are other regions that grow Silvaner in Germany but Franciona is the most renowned for it. So think outside the bottle and try something different from Germany this weekend.
Jay Whiteley is a sommelier at large, and Wine Director at Peter Pan Bistro, who loves a good story with a wicked soundtrack, and hopes to be pouring wine into a glass near you. Follow Jay at Twitter.com/corkdork.