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Sylvaner: A blank slate grape to showcase old vines and a great vineyard site?

Sylvaner is a white wine grape variety that is grown primarily in Alsace and Germany. In Germany it is a blend component in Liebfraumilch, although the expansion of Liebfraumilch (Blue Nun) production in the 1970s contributed to increasingly reduced quality. Generally, the Franconia region of Germany is best respected for Sylvaner. In Alsace, Sylvaner is really a lesser, lower-quality wine. And this varietal has almost entirely disappeared from California, where it was once grown fairly extensively (as Sylvaner Riesling, Franken Riesling, Monterey Riesling, and Sonoma Riesling).

What’s interesting about Sylvaner: The vine is vigorous and the grape has a rather neutral aroma and flavor. OK, that’s not so interesting under most circumstances. But it can be interesting when the vine is older and grown on favorable sites. Then the wine, skilfully made, can provide a fine expression of terroir.

This is the case with a couple of Sylvaner (or Silvaner … you’ll see) wines tasted by wine writer Lettie Teague for the Wall Street Journal. Read what she has to say about old vine wines HERE

And here’s an excerpt: “I’ve had plenty of old-vine wines that are clearly superior to their younger-vine siblings. The most recent example came with a couple of Silvaners I tasted with friends. They came from the Franken region of Germany (and yes, the grape is spelled Silvaner, not Sylvaner, in German) and were made by Ludwig and Sandra Knoll. The Knolls of Wurzburg produce two very good wines from the otherwise-forgettable Silvaner grape: The 2008 Ludwig Knoll Silvaner K, at $20 a bottle, is a well-priced and attractive dry, unoaked white but the 2008 VINZ Spatlese Alte Reben ($46) is something else altogether. Produced from 50-something-year-old vines in a special parcel of the Stettener Stein vineyard, it has beautiful density and richness, with a penetrating mineral finish.”

Old vine whites are particularly interesting to me. First, they are rarer. And second, since white wines are so “transparent” (they just have less stuff in them than do reds) they often provide a clearer, cleaner experience … of site, vine, and grape. Particularly when they are made from a tabula rasa grape like Sylvaner, and raised without oak, as were the Franconia Sylvaner wines reviewed by Ms. Teague.

DAH is David Anthony Hance at SteampunkWines.com and ZinSite.com

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