2009 is the year of the Silvaner grape variety in Germany - the country celebrates 350 years of growing Silvaner. Never heard of Silvaner? Quite likely, especially if you are not German. However, chances are that you have tasted it at some point as Silvaner is often mixed with other grape varieties, for instance in the infamous Liebfraumilch blends, because of its more neutral flavour. Does that mean it is a boring grape? Not necessarily - a good winemaker can use Silvaner to really let the characteristics of a particular vineyard shine, the famous French concept of terroir. To honour the Silvaner, the Wine Rambler will dedicate itself to opening the odd bottle of Silvaner this year to see what this grape has to offer.
Silvaner, or Grüner (=green) Silvaner, is a fairly old grape variety, with ancestor grapes being documented under the Romans. Silvaner appears to be related to Sauvignon Blanc. Genetic research has shown that the grape is a cross between Traminer and the variety Österreichisch-Weiß (meaning "Austrian White"). It may have come to Germany from the Donau region and is first document in the year 1659, when it was planted in Castell in Franconia (a part of today's state of Bavaria in the south of Germany). It remains very popular in Franken/Franconia, but is also grown in other areas such as Rheinhessen.
Silvaner used to be a very popular grape variety. In the 20th century, however, Müller-Thurgau and Riesling replaced it as the most popular white wine grapes, with Silvaner now only accounting for about 5% of grapes grown in Germany. It is, however, still the quintessential Franconian variety.
Currently, Silvaner is not necessarily a variety that has a high reputation. This is partly because it has been used in the infamous blends of Liebfrau(en)milch and the like. Also, Silvaner can produce wines that are very neutral in taste, almost bland. However, if handled well Silvaner can become an excellent interpreter of the soil it is grown on, exactly because it is not too flavour intense in itself. In an excellent location Silvaner can produce excellent wines - watch out for Silvaner from Rheinhessen, as it has a particularly good reputation. Franken, of course, is also worth exploring.
Silvaner has less acid than Riesling and is more on the mild side. With lighter colour, typical Silvaner aroma can have elements of elderflower, herbs, freshly mown grass, hay, pear and earthy tones.
A few links, all in German though, with the exception of Wikipedia: