This white grape variety is mainly grown in AlsaceAlsace and Germany. In Alsace this grape is commonly used for the production of simple wines, although in 2006 it was included in the grape varieties which can be used to produce Alsace Grand Cru wine in the Zotzenberg vineyard. In Germany this grape is best known for its use as a component in the production of the semi sweet Liebfraumilch white wine. This grape has a reputation as a bland grape variety, but may be influenced heavily by the terroir it is grown in, and under the right conditions this grape can produce elegant wines.
The major upside to this grape variety is its ability to grow in hostile conditions that are not suitable for the production of white grape varieties such as Riesling. It also ripens early which makes for a more reliable harvest.
Recent DNA tests have revealed that this grape is a cross between the Traminer and Osterreichisch Weiß (meaning Austrian white). Which leads many experts to believe it may have originated in the Austrian Empire.
Sylvaner is thought to have first arrived in Germany soon after the Thirty Year War, with records showing it was planted at the Country of Castell in Franconia on April 5, 1659.
Post world war II there was a large amount of Silvaner planted in Germany and Alsace. During the 1960s and 70s the grape accounted for around 30% of Germany's plantings, and 25% of Alsace total vineyard area. In Germany Sylvaner was mainly blended into Liebfraumilch wines, but overproduction led to a fall in the grapes reputation, with many vines pulled and replaced with different varieties of grape. Silvaner still has a stronghold in the Franconia wine region, where it is used to produce dry white varietal wines that are comparable to the some of the best German Riesling wines.
In Alsace, despite the plantings of Sylvaner dropping from a high of 25% to 10%, the grape is going through a mini revival. Sylvaner varietal wines produced from good vineyard sites, with low yields to ensure full grape flavor, are gaining a reputation, with the Zotzenburg vineyard even gaining Grand Cru status for its Sylvaner wine.
Although Silvaner can be found growing in small amounts in countries such as Australia, Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Croatia and Switzerland, the main plantings of this grape can be found in Germany and France. The plantings of Sylvaner have dropped significantly in both Germany and France, with the grape only accounting for around 10% of the plantings in Alsace, and just 5.9% of the total area under vine in Germany.
Due to it typically being low in alcohol and high in acidity Sylvaner wines can tend to taste a bit thin. Nowadays Silvaner wines are typically bone dry, with flavors of green apples and citrus, such as lemon peel often present. These wines can often take on flavors of the terroir, with mineral, flint flavors present. They tend to have most of their flavor up front, which quickly thins out, although well made examples can have decent length to them. These wines pair well with simple chicken or fish dishes.