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Silvaner in the Pfalz - a guest ramble by Lukas Krauß

Posted by Julian 10 Feb 2010

We have enjoyed his wines. We adore his website. We follow his tweets. And we are now proud to present palatine wine grower, hat fashion model and Silvaner advocate Lukas Krauß as a very special Wine Rambler guest blogger. Without further ado, enjoy what he has to say on a grape close to his, and our, heart. Enjoy, and learn.

„Neutral and bland“? Think again!, by Lukas Krauß

"neutral in taste...", "bland and ungraceful" - this is what, I'm sorry to report, the German "Pocket book of wine varieties", 2001 edition, has to say about wines from the Silvaner grape. Which could be just one opinion among others, were this not a standard textbook still widely used in German winemaking colleges. It goes on to state, nonetheless, that the variety has „a secure standing among the German standard varieties“. When I first started to look for good dry Silvaner, and started looking in my home region, I found that this standing was much diminished, in fact largely a thing of the past. Not so much in Rheinhessen and in Franken, where top quality Silvaner is still being made, but in my native Pfalz, sadly so.

Why should that be so, and where and how does "bland and ungraceful" come into it anyway?

First of all, Silvaner's potential for high yields come to mind. In the 1970s, when Silvaner peaked as the most planted variety in Germany, this was seen as a blessing and the way forward. Wine growers then saw themselves as agricultural producers of grapes, mostly, as some still do, to be sold by the kilo, the more the better. But here's the problem: Riesling, and that is one of its glories, can still deliver fruity, aromatic wines at high yields (15 tons per hectare or more). Silvaner can't. Push it too far, and what you get will be bland, ungraceful and characterless indeed. There are two more reasons that have to do with growing and vineyard management: Silvaner's resistance against unwanted botrytis infection is only medium. In wet weather, the berries can swell up and burst very quickly. The vines have a very bushy foliage, and managing that to current standards of growth management takes a good deal of work and care. Then there's marketing, and that is increasingly abysmal as far as the Pfalz is concerned: Silvaner is predominantly bottled in litres and with plentiful residual sugar, which in turn reinforces its lacklustre reputation as bland and frankly boring, which then ensures that it will be bottled only in litres.

How, then, should classy and characteristic Silvaner be made? Here's the challenge: Cut down hard on fertilizers, manage the foliage accurately, don't pick before the grapes are ripe and nice and golden, and you can make a wonderful wine. Even if your vines grow on deep, fertile loam, rather than on hillsides of limestone. You'll get wonderfully harmonic wines, with yellow fruit like pear, papaya or banana on the nose, and deep earthy and herbal aromatics on the palate. Their gentle acidity makes them easy to match with many kinds of food. Annoyingly for us producers, Silvaners are not nearly commanding the same prices as Rieslings.

Here are some good palatine Silvaners I found worthwhile (other than my own, of course):

Weingut Eymann, Silvaner Kabinett trocken
Weingut Rebholz, Silvaner Kabinett trocken
Weingut Pfeffingen, Silvaner Kabinett trocken
[Wine Rambler editorial note: homework for us!]

All are in the Kabinett range. I searched in vain for dry Spätlesen.

Here's to variety in German vineyards, and here's to Silvaner!

Photos of Lukas' Silvaner vineyard by Andreas Durst (1,2) and by the author (3).

SIlvaner

For a long time, Silvaner was to me like the average neighbour in a big block of flats. While you realise they are there, you do not really take much notice. A polite greeting, perhaps some friendly small talk or a chat in the staircase.

2009 changes all of that and really put Silvaner on the map for me. I realised what gifted and dedicated winemakers can do with this variety, which makes some background information even more interesting.

I guess falling in love with creamy risotto with caramelised apples, sage and walnut did also contribute to winning me over to Silvaner...