Sylvaner wine has deep history at home and abroad 

click to enlarge Sylvaner is usually a dry and crisp wine with minerality that has citrus and green apple. - ARNO BALZARINI/2003 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Arno Balzarini/2003 AP file photo
  • Sylvaner is usually a dry and crisp wine with minerality that has citrus and green apple.

In the Alsace region of France and Germany sylvaner (silvaner) may play second fiddle to riesling, but its history is just as important. A cross between traminer and Österreichisch weiß, which literally translates to "Austrian white," sylvaner originated in Austria and has been planted throughout central Europe for centuries.

After World War II, it became a preferred blending grape and its production shot up. Sylvaner had always been a favorite in region of Franken in Germany, where it was first identified in 1659. The region has a relatively mild climate and fossil-enriched limestone that lends personality to the wines. Often bottled in bocksbeutels, a wide, flat green-glass vessel, it is taken quite seriously by the locals. Even though more Müller-Thurgau is planted in the area, sylvaner makes wines with greater complexity. While there are some semi-sweet versions, it is usually dry, crisp and has minerality with citrus and green apple notes.

Sylvaner is sort of getting its due in Alsace. Wine from one vineyard, Zotzenberg, which contains or is made entirely from sylvaner, can be called Zotzenberg Grand Cru. Compared to the wines from Franken, Alsatian sylvaner is fuller and often has spice and more fruit.

Sylvaner additionally has a bit of history in the United States. Emil Dresel, a German architect who was working with Gundlach-Bundschu founder Jacob Gundlach, planted a little bit of the wine in Sonoma in 1858. But up until 2007, when Scribe Winery planted sylvaner on the original site used by Dresel, Rancho Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County was the lone California producer to grow this grape.

Similar to riesling, sylvaner is a high-acid varietal. It has more body but less inherent flavor. However, as the grape acts as a sponge for its soil, it can pick up a range of minerals. A great way to become familiar with the wine is to try a few from different spots. Here is an ideal flight to get you started:

Boeckel Sylvaner, 2012 (Alsace, France): Boeckel makes a Zotzenberg Grand Cru from sylvaner and it is marvelous. It's a basic wine composed of 50-year-old vines that's fantastic for its price. Full-bodied with spicy apple notes and strong mineral undercurrents, it offers as much complexity and enjoyment as many Alsatian rieslings that are more expensive. Suggested retail: $20

Weingut Hans Wirsching Silvaner Dry, 2012 (Franken, Germany): The Wirsching family has been making wine in Franken for 14 generations and is known for their racy wines from the Julius Echter Berg vineyard in the city of Iphöfen. Simple, yet balanced and flavorful with subtle mineral notes and a hint of pear, this is about as classic a Franken sylvaner as you will find. Suggested retail: $24

Scribe Sylvaner, 2013 (Sonoma, California): Scribe is a collaborative venture started by Andrew Mariani, Kristof Anderson and Andrew Avellar, who came together from different fields to revive the old Dresel estate. While Scribe works with a number of grapes, its sylvaner seems to have the most buzz, perhaps because it so unique. At $38 it is not a wine most would drink on a nightly basis, but it is a very good example of sylvaner with blazing acidity, traces of citrus and a long, mineral-laden finish. Suggested retail: $38

Some of these wines might be available at Bay Grape, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Ruby Wines and Solano Cellars.

Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics.

About The Author

Pamela S. Busch

Bio:
Pamela Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com.
Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of...

More by Pamela S. Busch

Latest in Food & Drink

Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018

Videos

Most Popular Stories

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation