Sylvaner, Alsace's unsung hero

ostertag sylvaner

Last week, in Germany, I tasted a couple of Sylvaners. And there was something distinctive about them, to the point that yesterday when I was poured one blind, I recognised it immediately. Last night, Andre Ostertag brought along his Sylvaner, and it was lovely. So I quizzed him about this grape variety, which he says 20 years ago formed a quarter of Alsace’s vineyard area, but since then has shrunk to just 8%.

‘I love Sylvaner,’ says Ostertag. ‘For me, it is a very important grape. It is one of the keys of Alsatian cuisine, which is a pure white wine cuisine.The first wine I tasted in my life was a Sylvaner. It was on my parents’ table. It has the same freshness as a Riesling, it has an aromatic profile, and it has the ability to age well if it is made well.’ He points out that most people don’t take care of it and allow it to over-crop, but things are looking up. ‘There is a real renaissance of Sylvaner in the last five years. I would not be surprised if it makes a comeback in the next couple of years.’ In terms of sites, he reckons it needs nutrients and a fairly fertile soil, such as at the foot of a hill.

hugel sylvaner

Jean Frédéric Hugel suggests that one of the reasons people are interested in Sylvaner is because of vine age. ‘No one has planted Sylvaner for the last 50 years. So that’s why there’s maybe a revival. There are very old vines. It is still a high-yielding grape variety, and I’m not sure if we planted it now the wines will be as interesting,’

Here are some notes on Sylvaner wines that I’ve tried over the last few days. This is an interesting variety, making wines that taste less of fruit and more of wet rocks and stones.

Ostertag Sylvaner 2014 Alsace
Lively, pure and fresh with lovely purity and precision. Notes of grapefruits and lemons, and also a core of minerals and stones with some interesting herby notes. Love;y. 93/100

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Zinck Sylvaner Terroir 2013 Alsace
Stony, mineral, fresh and direct. Lemony and precise with lovely purity and direct apply, lemony fruit. Very stony, with lovely precision. 93/100

Hugel Sylvaner Classic 2014 Alsace
Lively, stony and pure with focused lemony fruit with lovely precision and freshness. Pure, stony and long. 90/100

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2013 AlsaceFrom limestone soils. Very lively and stony with pithy, nutty citrus fruits and some herby intensity. Complex and a little cheesy with lovely detail. 91/100

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Sipp Mack Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2014 Alsace
Very lively, stony and bright. Lemony and focused with nice freshness and some pithiness. Really linear. 89/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

2 comments to Sylvaner, Alsace’s unsung hero

  • Jörg Killat

    I agree!
    Just the other week I wondered what happened to Silvaner?
    In the 80s it was everywhere, I think it goes very well with cheese and a lot of the Baden or Alsace cuisine.
    Looking forward to a revival!

  • Jörg Killat

    I should have mentioned that I am from the Baden area in Germany just across the Rhine from the Alsace. But live now in Bristol.

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