15 Feb 2012

A silvaner lining (Franken, Germany - Day Two)

The Franken region doesn’t export very much, at most about 20%. The wines that are exported tend to go predominantly to Scandinavia and BeNeLux, with very little leaving Northern Europe. I’m not sure why this is, as the Franken produces more wine than the more famous Rheingau and Mosel regions. It may be the very traditional nature of the region, particularly the Franken bocksbeutel they use, which although unique is harder to store in cellars and stock in retailers. It also looks a bit old-fashioned. Another reason may be that the general quality of wines in the region aren’t outstanding, and don’t have a history of being so, different to the Mosel and Rheingau. This may be something to do with the choice of varieties, but may also be the nature of the climate. In my humble opinion there is huge potential in the region, as there is great diversity of sites and soils, but they have to modernise and focus on certain varieties in certain areas.

Weingut Hans Wirsching

The owner of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt in the Mosel was nice enough to put me in contact with a number of producers in the Pfalz and Franken regions, and this included Andrea Ebert the co-owner of Weingut Hans Wirsching, in the Steigerwald village of Iphofen. Whilst here I had one of the nicest visits I have had in Germany so far. The wine business has been in the family for many generations, growing grapes and selling wine since 1877. The family had great struggles in the early 20th Century thanks to phylloxera, and the region has never got back to the volume it had before then. Like many in the Franken region, a number of varieties are produced in different qualities and styles, but there are a few interesting wines in the mix. Use of traditional barrels is important, but not as important as good fruit from ideal sites.

The first barrel purchased at Weingut Wirsching
Silvaner is a key variety, and they were the best I tried in the Franken. The Silvaner Kabinett Trocken 2011 was the highlight, even though it isn’t one of the top wines. It represents exceptional value and shows the quality of the fruit and the skill of the winemaker in achieving such balance in the blend. It has a slight reductive dusty spice due to its youth, but then opens with lovely kiwi and green papaya with hints of green onion. The Spatlese Trocken 2010 was richer in volume and weight thanks to the ripeness of the fruit at harvest, but the powerful acids were well integrated with a nice finish. The Iphofer Juius-Echter-Berg GG Silvaner 2010 had an even richer honeyed lemongrass nose, showing some dried tropical mango, pineapple and guava on the palate. One of the unique wines they produce is a cuvee consisting of white burgundy grapes, including chardonnay, weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and grauburgunder (pinot gris). Tasting the 2008 I was surprised to see quite pronounced malolactic oaky notes of lanolin, butter and almond oil, and on the palate it was overworked and flabby. The delicate nature of the acids lends itself to less barrel and malolactic handling, and in my opinion should use a finer-grain light toast older barrel, with almost no malolactic fermentation.

Bocksbeutel wines in the library at Weingut Wirsching
After a tasting Andrea was kind enough to take me to lunch at a nearby traditional German restaurant, where I enjoyed a silvaner wine soup (which was creamy and delicious), followed by slow-cooked beef cheek with knudel and red cabbage. Over lunch we had a lovely discussion about the wine business and the future of German and Franken wines in the global market, and I was happy to share my experiences gained from my trip. After lunch we headed up to the vineyards above Iphofen where I was able to better understand the unique terroir they have, and the best sites being south-facing steeper slopes with a fossilised blue-grey alluvial character. As you can see from the photos it had snowed overnight so was lovely, and it was nice to look down on the village.

Iphofen soil composition
For those of us who still use pencils, or remember back to their primary school days, you may be familiar with the name Faber-Castell. The Castell family have been counts in Germany for almost 1,000 years, and when a member of the family married with a Faber, they decided to combine the names and were declared a new line of counts. The village of Castell not far from Iphofen was where I had one of the more memorable visits in Germany was not far away, at the Castell winery. The counts of Castell have been making wine for centuries, and their archives trace back the exact time and place that the silvaner grape was introduced into the region. The parentage of the variety is traminer and osterreichisch-weiss (Austrian white), and in 2009 they celebrated the 350th anniversary of the variety in the Franken region. They are quite large by German standards, owning over 70 hectares of vineyards and purchasing fruit for their basic wines. The vineyards are varied between soil-type, steepness and direction towards the sun, and produce a large amount of varieties.

Documentation of the purchase and planting of the first silvaner vines

Schlossberg vineyard
Much like their colleagues at Weingut am Stein, the wines are all very good but not fantastic. The muller thurgau wines are fresh and light but have no personality. The silvaner wines are certainly a big step up, but aren’t as good as the Wirsching wines. There is occasionally an interesting flinty chalk minerality in these wines, which adds an extra layer of complexity. One pleasant wine is the Trautberg Silvaner Traminer 2010 blend, which has some lovely musky floral aromas, nice viscosity and texture, and a nice balanced level of ripeness. The top silvaner wines have a slight green herbaceous edge, combining nicely with green tropical notes. I didn’t think much of the weisburgunder wines, as the variety doesn’t really offer much. The spatburgunder wines similarly were very thin and looked sour. The wines aren’t really what I’ll remember about this amazing estate and village.

Very old cellars under the Castell castle
Click here to see more photos from Day Two in the Franken, Germany.

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