Christmas has come early at the Wine Rambler. No, we haven't changed the calendar and yes I know it is almost Christmas anyway, so this line is less effective than it might have been in July. However, the wines I had recently have been so good there can be no doubt that 'tis the season to be jolly. Exciting sparkling Riesling followed by aged Nectar harmony Muscat and now what may very well have been the most accomplished dry white wine I have had this year.
A first rate Silvaner, the exciting and under-rated German grape variety we have been shouting about for a few years now - and it even comes in the traditional Franconian "Bocksbeutel" bottle.
For those of you who haven't come across it yet: Silvaner recently celebrated its 350th anniversary in Germany (it may have been around longer but that's what is documented) and it used to be one of the most popular German grape varieties. Over the last century however its popularity declined to only about a 5% share of vineyard land in Germany - and its reputation as a mostly bland wine for blending does not exactly make it stand out either. However, as a guest-rambling winemaker reminded us, Silvaner will only be bland if you make it that way. If done right it is a lovely wine with slightly lower acidity that also pairs very well with food such as asparagus and fish.
The unofficial god of Silvaner may be based in Rheinhessen but the spiritual home of the variety is in Franken (Franconia), Bavaria's wine region north of Munich. This is where the Ruck winery is located - founded in 1839 with a cellar dating back to the 12th century. Owning part of some of the best vineyards in the area Ruck have a great reputation and also a few high profile customers, including the current Pope and, allegedly, also Fidel Castro. I have some difficulty picturing the two of them sitting on a Franconian hill drinking Silvaner, but there is something comforting in this picture.
Even more comfort is in Ruck's grand cru (GG) Silvaner from the Julius-Echter-Berg vineyard. The colour is pretty (clean lemon) but more on the lighter side, so it gives no sign of the depth that awaits. What also awaits is a bouquet of cool precision: herbal tea, grassy hay, a hint of paint, peachy nectarine and yeasty apple - all very clear, precise and sprinkled with mineral.
Drinking the Ruck Silvaner was a very interesting experience; it evolved so much in the glass I sincerely regret not having used the decanter (or waited a year or two more). At first it was very clear and crisp, dominated by a dry apple bitterness - with character no doubt but also a little reserved. Over time the fresh, almost sharp bitter touch softened to reveal a lean yet complex, precise wine with herbal (aniseed), fruit (apple) and vegetable notes, citrus freshness, a distinct earthiness and a prominent mineral finish.
What I loved in particular was how distinct it felt: a self-assured wine that was not mimicking anything else, secure in the knowledge that it can party with the best dry white wines out there. This is the class of wine I would expect to be served with a tasting menu in a first rate restaurant; and yet many a good Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or perhaps even Riesling I have enjoyed in such a setting would have to think long and hard about how to develop a similar feeling of being distinct. Who needs Christmas or all those so called "noble grapes" when you have a wine this good?