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Unexpected Pleasure
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 4, 2011
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Castell-Castell, Franken (Germany) Silvaner Trocken, 2010 (Valckenberg USA, $18):  I have long admired this surprising wine made from an obscure grape in a minor wine region.  It is one of those wines that’s so much fun to share with friends, because chances are they might not have tasted a wine from the Silvaner grape before, nor a wine from Germany’s Franken (or Franconia) region.  The wine’s quality is solid and its price is very reasonable. The wine is very easy to drink and it has such a moderate alcohol level (11.5 percent alcohol-by-volume) that you can get through a meal without unduly policing your consumption.

Stylistically, this is a dry, crisp, medium-bodied, un-oaked white wine. Its aroma is fresh and penetrating, with suggestions of green apple, stony minerality, a bit of flower and a squirt of lime zest.  (My mouth waters just in smelling the wine!)  The wine’s flavors are only moderately pronounced but distinctive: the tart citrus and green apple of the aroma endure, and a vague note of peach-skin enters the picture.  The texture is viscous -- slightly “oily” -- but cut through with high acidity.  The fruit character shows concentration, and it persists across the whole length of the palate, ending in a long, flavorful finish. 

The Silvaner grape grows mainly in Germany and in the Alsace region of France, where it is called Sylvaner.  This grape came to Germany in 1659 when the Castell estate brought it in from Austria.  Silvaner ripens earlier than Riesling and has less acidity, but it is still high in acid.  Silvaner can produce large crops, and probably for that reason it has historically claimed a major share of Germany’s vineyard acreage, along with the Muller-Thurgau grape. The international popularity of Liebfraumilch in the 1970s and 1980s gave both grape varieties an easy market. Today, post-Liebfraumilch era, Silvaner has dropped in Germany’s acreage ranking but it is gaining in respectability, as family wine estates in the Rheinhessen and Franken regions produce fine Silvaner wines from smaller crops in special vineyard sites. 

The Castell estate, owned by Count Ferdinand Castell, has always been a champion of Silvaner, and today that grape variety covers 38 percent of the estate’s 173 acres of vines in the Franken region. Franken is the easternmost of the eleven wine regions of the former West Germany.  This region can have extremely cold winters and extreme day-night temperature variations, a reality that requires producers to choose their grape variety and sites very carefully, which can in turn be a boon to quality. In this Castell Silvaner, you can taste the concentration of the low yields that resulted from the challenging 2010 growing season, and the freshness and vibrancy of the fairly cool region.

Castell Silvaner is a quintessential warm weather wine, terrific with salads, pasta with pesto sauce, and fresh seafood.  But it has enough weight to accompany chicken breasts, meaty fish, even pork tenderloin.  For maximum fun, serve it to your friends blind.

89 Points