Could Germany’s Silvaner renaissance spread to UK?

Premium online wine retailer Honest Grapes is looking to capitalise on a “renaissance” in German Silvaner by importing some of the best examples of the variety to the UK.

VDP winery Am Stein in Franken produces highly regarded GG Silvaner (Photo: Weingut Am Stein)

VDP winery Am Stein in Franken, owned by Ludwig and Sandra Knoll, produces highly regarded GG Silvaner (Photo: Weingut Am Stein)

Honest Grapes took the decision to crowdfund a pallet of Franken Silvaner from Grosses Gewächs producer Weingut Am Stein in Würzburg after the company’s chairman, Nathan Hill – a German wine enthusiast who has lived in Franken – noticed a dearth of the variety in this country.

“In UK market there is virtually none,” he commented. “I’m passionate about supporting [this winery], so our crowdfunding approach is a real attempt to make these wines available in the UK as never before.”

Silvaner is a crossing of Savignin and Österreichisch Weiss, and is Germany’s fifth most-planted white variety. For many years the grape has been associated with wines of only the most basic quality. However in recent years there has been a resurgence in quality, with many wineries producing dry styles of premium silvaner wine.

The grape is also grown in Austria, where it is known as Sylvaner and is generally used for sweet wines and cuvées (generic blends).

Hill explained that it was now an exciting time for the variety and that he wished to communicate that to customers in the UK.

“When I used to live in Germany, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau, Riesling etc, from that area, you’d really look down on, but there’s been a real renaissance in Silvaner,” he said.

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“I would say that Silvaner is to Riesling in Franken as Grüner Veltliner is to Riesling in Austria. It’s a real renaissance, [producing] stunning quality, amazing wines.

“I researched all of the 28 VDP producers and found that not a single one of the producers in the Würzburg area of Franken is being imported into the UK regularly. So I went and tasted all of them and chose Am Stein to present to our members.”

Hill stressed the similarities between Silvaner and Grüner Veltliner, highlighting that their relatively low prices reflected how unknown Franken wine is in the UK. While German wine specialist The Wine Barn imports a small amount of Silvaner, it is generally rarely seen on these shores.

“I couldn’t find any wines from the Würzburg area – and in particular the Würzburger Stein or Stettener Stein – being offered by any UK importers,” he said. “The value is great too, with Erste Lage wines at well under £20 per bottle and the Grosses Gewächs £32. So will be crowdfunding our first 300-bottle order over the next couple of months with the lovely Ludwig and Sandra Knoll [from Am Stein].”

Am Stein

Concrete eggs and amphorae used in the production of Silvaner at Weingut Am Stein in Franken (Photo: Weingut Am Stein)

Biodynamic winery Am Stein produces some of the most sought-after Silvaner in Germany from the muschelkalk and marl soils of Würzburger Stein.

Combining a traditional and an innovative approach, it produces a range of Silvaner wines in traditional Franken bocksboetels. The winery also experimenting with ageing its wines in concrete eggs and amphorae. 

According to the German Wine Institute, from the early part of the 20th century to the 1970s Silvaner was the most important grape in Germany. Today it accounts for around 7% of the country’s plantings and makes a medium to full-bodied wine with mild acidity. It is traditionally grown in Franken, Rheinhessen and Saale-Unstrut, though there are also extensive plantings in the Pfalz and some in the Kaiserstuhl district of Baden.

“Silvaner used to be the major grape variety in Germany,” said Steffen Schindler, marketing director of the German Wine Institute. “It fell out of fashion due to the fact that it doesn’t have that much acidity, and when it’s done in the sweet style it gives you wines which are not that interesting.

“Today the style has changed completely. Silvaner is done almost exclusively now in a dry style, and due to the fact that it’s quite mild in acidity and that it’s not too opulent, it really goes well with modern cuisines.

“Silvaner is certainly a grape variety that has a great future with modern cuisine and that’s why we see now that the trend in Germany is reversing and plantings are actually increasing again.”

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