Frankenwein: The creed of silvaner and passion for pinot noir

In March of 2017 the Deutsches Weininstitut invited me to ProWein, the international wine congress in Düsseldorf, Germany. My hosts included the ProWein press department, Messe Düsseldorf and Wines of Germany. A few months ago I commented that Prowein is “of such immense proportion that words, description and explanation just fail to do it justice. If you are an agent your goals are simple; meet with your incumbent suppliers and taste with enough new ones to fill the holes in your portfolio. But what if you are a journalist like me? What do you concentrate on? Were do you start?”

“Das Glaubensbekenntnis! Silvaner”

On day one I made a beeline for the Germany pavilion, epicentre to the ProWein universe. Gravity would naturally pull you to the Mosel and yet I was in search of an alternative experience. With travels to the Ahr Valley and the Rheinhessen looming I gravitated (naturally) to Franken and more specifically to an intensive workshop with silvaner and spätburgunder. The Bavarian wine region is located east of Frankfurt (and 65 km/40 miles east of the Rhine) on south-facing slopes lining the Main River and its tributaries. The centre of Franconia is the town of Würzburg, home of the famed vineyard Stein, which gave rise to the generic term Steinwein, formerly used to denote all of the region’s wines. It would be an understatement to call Franken a cool-climate growing region. Even in a world gripped by climate change it can still be too cold for riesling. This is where silvaner thrives, in spite of cold winters, high annual rainfall and very cool autumn conditions. Müller-Thurgau is the most planted grade variety and silvaner is second.

Franken Silvaner

The most prized Franken wines were (and to some extent still are) traditionally bottled in a Bocksbeutel, a squat green or brown flagon with a round body. A loyalty to history contends that considerable recognition value is added to the region’s wines but the days of the old flattened ellipsoid, field bottle silvaner packaged in traditional Franconian Bocksbeutel are receding behind us. We are seeing a diurnal shift as they are increasingly replaced by modern, clean and pure examples that match up with the great mineral fresh whites around the planet. The silvaner slogan “Das Glaubensbekenntnis! Silvaner” led me to discover the great white history and future of this most important Franken grape.

Passion für Pinot Noir!

Passion für Pinot Noir! is the avant-garde Deutscher Qualitäswein Franken slogan for spätburgunder. The idea behind pinot noir in Bavaria is just about as outsider a concept as making wine instead of beer or habituating Protestants in a world of Catholics, but micro-climates are a wondrous thing. The avant-garde Franconia winemaking is one of the great overlooked stories in wine today and nowhere else is this evident than in the work being put in with pinot noir on the Franconian fringe of varietal possibility.

The producers have entered into an era of defining cru vineyards, like Sulzfelder Maustal with soil rich in shell limestone, Sommeracher’s Katzenkopf and Centgrafenberg, in Bürgstadt. The styles on display at Prowein duly noted in a flight of 12 were varied, sometimes mimicking other German regions, California and Burgundy. More often than not they are purely and expressly Franken, of dusty red cherry, mineral, bright energy, citrus and with oak working for bites and spice. A heed and a warning: Once you taste Franken pinot noir you may never go back.

Related – Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen

Records indicate the last Ontario VINTAGES German silvaner release was on May 10, 2014. The two before that were on July 6, 2013 and February 2, 2013 . You would have to look back almost another full calendar year, to May 12, 2012, for the one previous to that. Since nothing has come through again, allowing so many years to pass without offering a single bottle of Franken silvaner to the Ontario wine consumer amounts to a crime against Frankenwein. With respect to spätburgunder I can find no history of VINTAGES releases in Ontario. In fact there are currently only two German pinot noir available here at home, one from Pfalz and the other, Baden. Franken isn’t even on the radar. There are no Franken wines anywhere to be found.

I was very impressed with the quality of both the silvaner and the spätburgunder in my two sit-downs at the Prowein Franken booth so hopefully I can shed some light on what everyone is missing. Once again it is important to recognize the people responsible for allowing me to take part in this German wine experience; Stefan Egge, Christiane Schorn, Brigitte Küppers, Michael Mandel and Carola Keller. Until ProWein 2018, here are 22 notes on Franken silvaner and spätburgunder.

“Das Glaubensbekenntnis! Silvaner”

Weingut Brennfleck Silvaner Trocken Mönchshöflein, Großes Gewächs, Sulzfelder Maustal 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

A warming, humid and rich 14 per cent dry silvaner, unctuous and viscous. The aromas peel ripe yellow-fleshed peach and scrape concrete while the texture comes leesy and exceptionally tart. A very mature, adult, dry silvaner for rich fish and seafood. Scallops would adore this, but pork belly would also cut a rug with its agile stepping ability. Also carries the most subtle effervescent tingle. So very interesting and part of the developing story. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017     #Brennfleck  Weingut Brennfleck  @frankenwein   #frankenwein  Frankenwein Fränkische Weinkönigin  @weininstitut  @WinesofGermany  @germanwineca  germanwine_ca  wines_of_germany  @germanwinecanada

Selsam + Schneider Silvaner Trocken, Escherndorfer Fürstenberg 2012, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Silvaner of herbology and spirit, dry but with aromatic faux botrytis, white peach and white flowers. Tastes like there is some barrel ferment on the fruit because it shows that sauvignon blanc sweet note, but also some grapefruit and lime. Quite spirited though I’d wish the acidity were more demanding and that the finish would linger longer. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Rudolf May Silvaner Retzstadter Langenberg Der Schäfer 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

May’s Der Schäfer silvaner comes from the Retztadter Langenberg, a slope of muschelkalk (predominantly from the lower muschelkalk, or wellenkalk) that characterizes the soil. Looking east the location is protected by the Retzstadt deciduous forest and the warm air of the Maintales flows from the west. This specialized and extra-special silvaner is balanced in its aromatic ability meets proper and right-willing alcohol (13.5), with great quality acidity. True salinity and caper brine put my mind’s senses into concepts where this shares a kinship with assytrtiko. It’s brilliant, stony-gemstone able, savoury, no actually sapid, and exceptionally mouth salivating. Just a touch of texture driven lees builds character and great persistence. Bitters before the end are finely distilled and character building. Fresh to drink now and with more ability than most to age. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017    #rudolfmay @Weingut.Rudolf.May  

Rainer Sauer Ab Ovo Silvaner Vom Ei Ursprünglich Von Anfang An 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Faux sweet leesy, of a lactic nose but dry, this is made in that Stellenbosch chenin blanc style; tart, taut and high in white citrus acidity. Really tart palate but beautifully so, nicely rendered salinity in a simple package. Not the most complex but the easy drinking silvaner. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted March 2017    #rainersauer  Daniel Sauer

Weingut Otmar Zang Silvaner J40 Alte Reben Sommerach 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

The amphora silver shines, bringing a concrete meets waxy richness, and you can smell the bees and the wet aggregate mix. Herbs and salt are generous but suppressed or at least stirred in, like lees and in a way, like a dry into wet baking mix. Thicker and unctuous on the palate with a touch of residual sweetness, this runs the gamut from savoury to just slightly confected so ultimately the goal here is the time-accumulated eventuality of honey. Tastes a bit like young figs or dates and so the interest level is high in terms of silvaner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2017  @WeingutOtmarZang

Baldauf Clees Silvaner Spätlese Trocken, Ramsthal, Pfarrwengert 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

This is the platinum, metallurgical, alloy mineral silvaner, the inside of the pipe and the soil tart, old school expression but also pure, clean and dry. Still an air-dry silvaner, rich on the palate and very varietal obvious. This kind of tart is so specific to the history and perpetual tang of such locale-driven silvaner. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  @Weingut.Baldauf

Franken Riemenschneider Silvaner 1er Traube Spätlese Trocken, Asthheimer Karthäuser 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Perhaps the most old school of the lot and the acumen so confident in delivering the most convincing need for traditional style. What Spätlese is to Franken silvaner it is not to anywhere else with the late harvest style. This is saline, balsamic briny, yellow plum acidity laced and of an almond blossom sweetness that just simply melts in. Power in commitment and longevity are a given, R.E.M. melodic, even in later career composition. “If this is what you’re offering,” of great persistence, “I’ll take the rain.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  #Riemenschneider

Weingut Weigand Der Held Silvaner Trocken, Iphofen 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Done in Amphora from hold, stall and grant beginnings, there acts by hue and from aroma a bit of skin contact. Carries a lees and beeswax note, along with wet rock salt and the humidity inside of a concrete tank. Both agreeable and complex, the palate elevates this wine, never relaxes and defaults into simple viscosity, but continuously refreshes. This is the first to carry a true lemon and lime tune, the most reigned in richness and a sense of cure. Modern and serious but more about how much it knows its capabilities of taking hold of tradition and moving it forward. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2017  weingut_weigand_franken    @WeingutGaestehausWeigand

Weingut Horst Sauer Silvaner Sehnsucht Trocken, Escherndorfer 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Back to the faux sweet, very leesy silvaner, this is about texture and mouthfeel after the citrus and mineral sweet aromas. Again this reminds of South African chenin blanc, tart and taut, very dry and of a typicality that modern silvaner will do in a risk aversion way. A proper introduction into what modern silvaner has to be with very good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  #weinguthorstsauer     @weinguthorstsauer  Sandra Sauer

Juliusspital Silvaner Trocken, Würzburger 2016, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Also from amphora, the mineral bronzing in hue and on the palate is again old-school, what it was and has been. Waxy on the nose and palate and this combines the old school amphora with the new way chenin style, but this has some palate sweetness mixed with a very tangy-tart taste. Quite intense though the mid-palate thins while the acidity shines and then it’s very long. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  #juliusspital  #Juliusspital  Juliusspital Weinstuben Würzburg

The world also needs more #frankenweine #spätburgunder #prowein2017 #pinotnoir

Passion für Pinot Noir!

Weingut Josef Walter Spätburgunder Hundsrück “J” Trocken 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Very pretty, perfectly evolved, all strawberry but some of it in dried and dusty garnish form. Certainly spirited, high-toned, elevating, rising still. Beautifully tart, seemingly calcareous, easy to drink, with soft but sweet tannins and most excellent. For every day though with some light heat on the finish. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Divino Pinot Noir Trocken Gg, Grobes Greväches, 1m Barrique Gereift 2012, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

A very ripe, high octane (14.5 per cent alcohol) grand cru spätburgunder, still rustic and leathery, some dried fruit and though high-toned, quite evolved. The oak is very noticeable, as are the tannins and finishing bitters. Much happening and this really reminds of a warm New Zealand, ripe and extracted pinot. North Island stuff in the Franken. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted March 2017  #divinonordheim  @divino_nordheim  @divino.nordheim

Zehnthof Luckert Wein&Gut Sulzfelder Maustal Spätburgunder Gg, Vdp. Grosse Lage 2012, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

This is the completely other grand cru, go tell it to the world pinot noir, pencil and graphite laden, lead and dusty cherry. Great mouthful and brightness with vitality and energy despite its age. Pure, red-spoken citrus and spice. The oak here works for bites and crisp baking moments, not smoulder or finished cake accent. Love this energy. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  zehnthof_luckert    @VDP_Estates  @zehnthofluckert  Philipp Luckert

Weingut Roth Spätburgunder Gg Trocken Biowein, Wiesenbronner Heller Berg, Vdp Erste Lage 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Organic and warming (at 14 per cent abv) but this seems to be the median norm for phenolic ripeness and with or without the oak treatment of choice. This certainly treads on the darker cherry fruit plain though that pinot noir Franken/Ahr/Baden/Alsace tonality is present, accounted for and wholly acceptable within the parameters of omniscient typicity. The only one with a reductive note so far so air and more time will help inflate and then deflate the vacuum. Very tart and a bit of Chinese five-spice, sweet and sour with chunks of pineapple worked in. This unique specimen is possessive of a savoury-sweet commingling. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  #weingutroth  @Weingut_Roth  @Weingut.Roth

Weingut Then Authentisch Spätburgunder Trocken Sommeracher Katzenkopf, Authentisch Kommt Von Then 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

The most volatile and reductive of the lot, this is funky-dirty, full of dark red fruit and so taut. Most of the aromas are dominated by the suffocation spume and then this turns so tart and sour. It has character and potential to be sure but the fruit is having trouble speaking out. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2017  #weingutthen  Weingut Then

Dürr Münch Then Zehner Krämer Russ Wolter Familie Gewächs Spätburgunder Trocken 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

So young and bright, beautifully fresh, wild berry and cherry pinot noir. Exactly what you want from a warm and forgiving vintage, but this has sneaky underlying structure and great natural acidity. The deliverer is nothing if not a pure, totally natural and honest example of Franken spåtburgunder. Answers both questions with yes and yes. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017

Höfling Spätburgunder Trocken Kalbenstein Gambach, Großes Gewächs 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

This strikes as the great ambassador, middle of the road, best of both or even all worlds GG and (there is enough complexity in Franken pinot noir to make this declaration). Bright and pure, phenolically ripe and from the strawberry vintage, with the ridge crested between the fresh and the edge of drying fruit. This is like really honest, never over-wooded Chianti Classico and/or CCR Riserva from a similarly farmed vintage. It’s almost sangiovese like in its rusticity, tradition and honest to goodness cherry, leather and red citrus acidity. Seminal stuff. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017  @weinguthoefling

May Spätburgunder Recis Retzbacher Benediktusberg 2013, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

From Rudolf May, another stinky and reductive pinot noir but with a mess of bright red fruit so chalk this limestone-nosing one up to structure and be patient. There is something pure about this risk-taking one, like (Ontario reference alert) Norm Hardie of impossible litheness and in fact at 13.0 per cent this is very low and slow for the locale. Wow, this is so distant cousin to the County! I would guess this ferment was sluggish and tardy so be wary of the reduction and give it air or hopefully two more years time. It’s atypical for 2013, somewhat of a rogue and clearly destined to be a future star when pinot noir becomes this producer’s primary focus of intent. It already seems to be. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2017    #rudolfmay @Weingut.Rudolf.May

Franken Riemenschneider Spätburgunder Trocken Mainstockheimer Hofstück 1er Traube 2015, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

A step up in quality and cru for 2015, from a block that most certainly has been identified for its pinot noir plant and gift ability. The premier cru for varietal Franken, of a deeper mineral push and what must be exposure and aspect with excellent solar receptive capability. It shows in the darker fruit, licking Sonoma and with its firm grip perhaps a nod to Russian River Valley. This carries exceptional fruit in its character pocket, really fine round acidity and even finer tannin. It will age without much evolution for three to five years and linger for an equal amount of time more. Not the brightest and lightest get to know me example but clearly one to seek out in the pinot noir diaspora. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted March 2017  #Riemenschneider

Weingut Richard Östreicher Spätburgunder No. 1 Sommeracher Katzenkopf 2013, Franken, Germany (WineryWineAlign)

No. 1 takes not only the estate’s best pinot noir pick but Franken spätburgunder and paradigmatic pinot noir to an entirely new level. The Katzenkopf (“cat’s head”) is Sommeracher’s best vineyard and it is Weingut Richard Östreicher that demands great respect. As I am about to pour myself a taste a ProWein Franken booth associate swoops in and slips me a Burgundy glass, so this must be different. Certainly an elegance and a refinement not seen yet. I’m thinking only on its perfume from the get go but this Franken sensibility is more important, a soil component that just acts of its own accord in the magic it brings to pinot noir. The compatibility of fruit and acidity with the finest grains of sweet and refined tannin is a revelation. The vintage is an important one to be sure and the firm but still amenably sweet finish mixed with a dash of tonic tells me about the longevity this No. 1 is capable to execute. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted March 2017  #richardöstreicher  Richard Östreicher

Fürst Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg Gg, Bürgstadt 2008, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

Here is the only older pinot noir on the table and a terrific example of the age ability of Franken. Though the fruit is waning the brightness has not yet left the building. The lightness, airy and earthy enough to remind you that Burgundy feeling is the entry point and the history lesson. The lactic acid is fading but there is life yet. A bit chewy and it can be imagined how fleshy this once was. No mushroom or anything of that ilk has come through so this will fade nicely into the pinot noir sunset over the proceeding three plus years. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017    Weingut Rudolf Fürst

Weingut Schenk Spätburgunder Handverlesen Trocken 2014, Franken, Germany (WineAlign)

One of the magically lithe and unassuming pinot noirs of the lot, the berries are rubbed with light sandy earth with that granite current running beneath. The shading is a bit darker considering the light personality so the lactic edge is reduced and this will evolve a bit quicker than some others. A great duck accompaniment and very Beaune in a modernist’s way. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted March 2017  weingutschenk  @weingutschenk

So much to say about #silvaner and #spätburgunder #pinotnoir

Good to go!

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