I’ve mentioned before that Silvaner is underrated. Almost non-existent outside of Germany and Alsace, the varietal struggles on the domestic market too. Entry-level wines often lack complexity and don’t contain the same aromatic impressions of cheaper Rieslings and aren’t as universally easy-drinking as perhaps a Pinot Gris (Grauer Burgunder). You can read my blog entry about Silvaner here – I am a huge fan of the grape and, given the right terroir, it can produce phenomenal wines – without wanting to exaggerate, it sometimes has the same quality level as Riesling and, particularly when we only consider dry wines, often excels above Riesling in certain vineyards.
Every now and again comes along a wine that proves this and even rarer than that, every now and again comes along a wine that leaves you speechless: I love Silvaner, but even I didn’t know it could be this good.
I’m talking about the 2015 Maustal GG from Zehnthof Luckert – probably the best Silvaner I’ve ever been lucky enough to taste. I’ve tried many of the winery’s products in the past and have always liked their style – creamier, yeastier and fuller and yet remaining featherlight – not many pull this off so well: often creamier wines are left feeling too bold in the glass and this doesn’t always age well when there is a profound lack of acidity – Luckert have done a wonderful job here.
With lemon zest touch and a dash of orange peel, the wine is immediately present in the glass with an almost Burgundian promise on the nose. There is lemongrass, lemon balm, oven-warm brioche and cheesecake on the nose as well as caramel-infused pop-corn. On the palate the wine plays a wonderful game with the drinker: it feels bold for a few seconds: yeasty, creamy, like clotted cream and yet this vanishes into clarity and drive giving the wine an almost ghost-like presence in the glass: the structure is phenomenal and perhaps the only thing more awe-inspiring than the taste. The build-up is spot-on, the body is, and I’m sorry for the superlative here, utterly perfect with buttery complexion and yet this isn’t overdone – there are no slippery, clumsy notes but total composure. The finish is long, smooth and resorts back to its slender self, a touch of cream is left on the tongue and the wine plays out an almost floral, almost zesty swansong before it eventually disappears.
If ever you’ve doubted Silvaner, check this out. The wine is both typical of the Franconian style and yet somehow vastly different as well – bold and yet balanced, chalky and yet refined. Astonishingly good.
In the world of German white wine, there really is only one other contender alongside Riesling. Many will tell you that it's Pinot Gris or even Pinot Blanc. It isn’t though – Silvaner is the only proper alternative to Riesling.
Not all Silvaner mind you – only two regions produce wines worth mentioning: Rheinhessen (although most from here are rubbish as well) and, of course, Franconia.
Alongside the gimmicky bottle, the characteristics of the wine are hard to miss. Alongside a relatively high level of acid, Silvaner from Franken is rather fruity and the best stuff finishes on a mineral level that only a handful of other tiny regions outside of Franken manage to achieve.
Juliusspital is, alongside Hans Wirsching and Bürgerspital, one of Franconia’s most famous wineries. Its base in Würzburg is also home to its most famous product and flagship: dry Silvaner from the Würzburger Stein vineyard. This Erste Lage wine is sought from that very vineyard, is probably a tad too young to drink now and yet is still offering fantastic drinking.
Lemon Juice and peel, a hint of grapefruit and lots of very ripe orchard fruits: particularly pears and quince. There is a metallic, mineral aroma in there as well but it is partially hidden behind the floral note depicting the wine’s youth.
Rather sharp on the attack and with hints of floral elements, there are profound and rather exquisite notes of fine lemon juice. This quickly moves onto a body of green apples, gooseberry and ripe pears with a hint of quince. The finish is heavy on the chalk but also white pepper-laden making it rather spicy – hot almost.
The wine has a way to go. When the floral youthful notes vanish, the fruit will display more character. The mineral finish is about as Franconian as it gets and it is ultimately the defining factor of the wine, the vineyard and the region as a whole. This is what single-vineyard wine is about: this one might not be as fine as the GG from the same site but it is vineyard-specific: there is no better example of the concept of Franconian terroir than a wine like this.
Silvaner is to Franken what Riesling is to the Mosel and Rheingau: the spiritual home of the varietal and the place it is best expressed. Whereas the varietal is best known as being thin and rather dull elsewhere, thanks to the limestone soils and micro-climates of the Franconia region, it has a completely different character here: big and bold rather than feeble and forgettable.
Juliusspital is one of the region’s best-known produers and, whilst its speciality wines are grown in and around the city of Würzburg, this wine is made solely from grapes grown in one of the region’s other important viticulture communes: Iphofen.
Brilliant white gold.
The wine immediately reminds of yellow fruit: stone fruit in the way of nectarine and apricot but also pear, lemon and gooseberry.
The attack is big and sharp: alongside a tart note of gooseberries, the stone fruit comes through on a lesser level than expected. Yellow pears and native apples are in the mix as are tropical elements of banana and pineapple. The body is remarkably elegant and full of juicy fruit and the finish long and creamy thanks to a unique chalky feel.
A remarkably elegant wine based on a varietal so commonly labelled as being dull. Seldom are simple Gutsweine so well made. This wine combines everything that is good about the varietal and Franken as a region. Drink it with sushi or fish-based curry or spicy seafood dishes: you’ll be astounded as to how well the wine pulls this off.
Immediately distinguishable due to their telltale bottles, Franconia wines are widely available all over Germany, if not a little expensive outside of the production region itself. Of course, the traditional Franconia white grape is Silvaner – the grape’s adopted home and the vineyards of northern Bavaria (geographically, certainly not politically) are undoubtedly the best in the world for producing it.
Zur Schwane is a VDP winery in the German wine production region of Franken, accountable for a large number of first-class white wines and even a few Grand Crus (Großes Gewächs). Recently however, the winery has taken on a fresh look and a new direction – they bottle fantastic everyday wines, not in the traditional Bocksbeutel (the bottle shape pictured above) but in standard clear Bordeaux-shaped bottles with snazzy labels aimed at a younger generation than would traditionally drink Franconia wine.
This Silvaner was one of the old bunch though, a real meaty, thick Kabinett from the vineyards surrounding Volkach, one of Franconia’s most important wine communities.
Bright green gold.
With an attack of lime, gooseberry and crisp green apple, the eventual aroma is one of yellow fruit: apple, apricot, peach and pear. There is a faint sense of pepper on the nose and a slightly salty feel too.
Although the strong sour attack was dictated by lime and waxed green apple, the mineral notes were the most important factor behind this wine. With a sandy feel, a slight taste of chalk and a sprinkling of green pepper, the wine also contained herbal notes of thistle and sage together with the fruit cocktail of sour citrus and green and yellow orchard fruits.
A very young and fresh wine big on the attack but altogether rather mild – I particularly enjoyed the way the minerals stole the show half way through and how the strong citrus was almost immediately put out by the sandy, salty soil which brought the vegetative and herbal notes with it. I found this to be the perfect wine for sushi (as you can also see above) – powerful enough to be present but never too strong – a better pairing than Riesling which can sometimes be a bit too hefty.
Sourced from the first quality vineyard of Iphöfer Kalb in the tiny Franconian town of Iphofen, this Silvaner sold in the traditional Bocksbeutel of Franken is one of the classic wines of the region. Often dull and over-vegetative in some parts, Silvaner/Sylvaner is experiencing a drop in popularity amongst German consumers. However the wines of Franken tell a different story: nowhere else in the country (and probably world) does Silvaner grow quite so well and with so much character.
The Kabinett wine in dry variant is a classic example of just how good Silvaner can be in a German wine industry dominated by Riesling and the Burgundy varietals. The family-run winery of Brennfleck has been producing local wine in and around the towns of Iphofen and Sulzfeld for more than 400 years. This one retails for around 8€ and was sourced from a local supermarket.
Bright straw yellow, nice and thick with a certain amount of Weinstein.
With the familiar vegetative and herbal feel of silvaner, some lovely thick citrus was detectable and really quite pleasant. I was left imagining something a lot more full of acid than I’m used to from Silvaner and the final helping of peachy fruit and some really mineral-laden notes were especially welcome.
A very thick wine from start to finish: there was an acidic attack livened up by some fresh lime and the tannic bite of grapefruit too. Peach came through on the palate but was subdued and the hit of sugar was both in place and complimented the fruit perfectly. There was some rather gritty granite on the spice front and the wine ended nice and smooth with a long but clearly-defined finish.
This wasn’t just good Silvaner, this was good white wine altogether. With the uniquely charismatic and regional features typical of Franken alongside the traditional feel of Silvaner, this is a great wine to enjoy with any meal or simply on its own. Priced at under a tenner, it also represents great value too. A recommendation, I’m looking forward to trying some of the wineries other wines in the near future!
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry