Alsatian Sylvaner

First conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st-century BCE, Alsace was a prized tract for agriculture in the Roman province of Prima Germania for 600 years—before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496 CE. After an extended period as a buffering borderland in the Holy Roman Empire, it was annexed by French troops in the late 17th-century as a territorial spoil of the 30 Years War. For the next 350 years, the strip traded Germanic and Franco occupation before settling as a hybridized people and culture within modern-day France–and so it also is with their fashioning of wine.

The Alsace AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées) was established in 1962, and its relatively stringent winemaking guidelines reflect the pride and ambition by Alsatians to codify their vinicultural expertise. Anchoring the northeast corner of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the region’s vintners. Their output of varietal whites such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and this week’s DéClassé featured Sylvaner, are widely regarded as more fulsome versions of the sometimes, too-lightweight counterparts produced elsewhere. In prudently embracing high AOC standards, particularly the preference for quality over quantity, Alsatian vintners are guarding the regional character that’s taken centuries to forge. Arguably, they remain in a leadership role for the cultivation and refinement of cool climate wines; just ahead of the burgeoning competition, across the border in Germany!

10 generations into their dual inheritance of winemaking traditions, the Allimant and Laugner families have long-lived roots around the village of Orschwiller—set against the picturesque foothills of the Vosges mountains. Since the early 18th-century, the combined estate of 20 hectares has been producing many of the varietal wines listed above. Sylvaner, though, largely remains a mystery to many North American consumers due to its limited production volumes and export—making for an unusual opportunity to get acquainted with the subtle and beguiling charm of Domaine Allimant-Laugner Sylvaner, 2015. If your white wine tastes fall somewhere in the midst of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Soave and Pecorino, then this offering will assume a satisfying place as an alternate choice.

DOMAINE ALLIMANT-LAUGNER SYLVANER 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #538413 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Domaine Allimant-Laugner
Release Date: May 12, 2018

Tasting Note
Though offering little in the way of aromas, the citrus, pear and delicately herbed character of its flavours more than make up for the deficit. Dry, crisp and cooling, this ranks highly as an easy-drinking, warm-weather wine that will add sophistication to patio fare such as arugula salad with grilled chicken, vegetable pastries, poached trout, shellfish, and Pasta Primavera.

Sylvaner Alert

Firmly part of territorial France in the 21st century, Alsace has been enriched by
its dual Frankish and Germanic cultural history, but has also experienced some
geopolitical upheaval due to the competing aspirations of its 2 parent nations:
Colonized by 1st century BC. Romans; then allied with the Medieval Holy Roman
Empire a millennium or so later; occupied by ambitious 16th century French Kings;
annexed by Germans in the late 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War;
ceded back to France in the terms of armistice following the First World War
and finally, after many areas were entirely destroyed in the second world war
bombing campaign by Allied forces – reaffirmed as French again. Throughout
all of this tumult, steadfast Alsatians have rebuilt and found many ways to keep producing fine grapes and a highly distinctive quality of wines.

Geographically bookended by the banks of the Rhine River to the east and the
Vosges Mountains westward, an undulating, fairytale-like landscape of verdant
vineyards is punctuated by castles on hilltops and half-timbered, half-plastered,
colourfully painted villages and towns such as ancient Sigolsheim. This is home
to this week’s DéClassé recommended, varietal bottling of a Sylvaner: Alsace’s
lesser-known, golden-yellow grape. As is often the case with once-popular styles,
in cycles, careless overproduction of a high-yielding grape to satisfy the market, can 
result in the making of unremarkable wine; thereby depressing demand or
eroding a producer’s reputation. Arguably, this is somewhat more Sylvaner’s
legacy across the border in Germany rather than in northern France. Here, the
AOC standards established in the1960’s, better ensure a judicious practise of pruning to tailor yields and traditional, hands-on harvesting to boost quality.

Bernard Sparr is the current vintner heading Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs,
following in the lineage of 9 family generations that date to 1680 and the reign
of Louis X1V. Proud Alsatians, the House of Sparr has been tending to their 37
hectares of vineyard in the Haut-Rhin (upper Rhine) for a very long time. In the
modern age, they’ve expanded collaborations with a select group of regional
growers, drawing fruit from an additional 150h. With this increased output the
brand has evolved into one of the region’s more renowned and identifiable.

Sylvaner is a delicate and charming summer white, whose release onto shelves
here should be on your calendar of time-limited selections to be on the lookout
for; this time of year. Stock up and serve this dry wine chilled, though not cold,
or you’ll miss some of its subtle layering of citrus, apple and pear flavours.

Sylvaner

PIERRE SPARR RESERVE SYLVANER 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #408179 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Alsace, France
By: Cvb Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs
Release Date: May 16, 2015

Tasting Note
Try serving this beguiling, light, white flower and lime-scented refresher with
salad and onion tarts, choucroute, smoked ham hock and sausages, all sorts
of freshwater fish dishes or as apéritif with pickled herring.

Sylvaner Alert

Lying comfortably between the maritime zone to the west and the protective
shadow of the Vosges Mountains eastward, Alsace is the driest wine region in
France. This translates into vineyards where the grapes enjoy a long growing
period toward maturation – resulting in more complex, layered flavors. Since the
Middle Ages, within this zone, the terroirs of Riquewihr have been renowned
as producing some of the most distinctive and interesting white wine varieties
in the entire country including Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and this
week’s DéClassé selected, varietal bottling of a 100% Sylvaner.

Surprisingly, these noteworthy wine-producing tracts were almost wiped out
early in the 20th century by a combination of the earlier Franco-Prussian wars
and then the scourge of various pests and horticultural disease! Nonetheless,
the Sylvaner variety, considered a noble grape, has battled its way in and out of
favour for most the ensuing period. Recently it has again declined from 27% in
the early 1980’s to only 11% of the vineyards currently planted. Gradually, this
grape has waned due to increased consumer demand for Riesling. But Sylvaner
appears to be the come-back kid of Alsace. From the 2005 vintage onward, it
qualifies for the distinction as ‘Alsace Grand Cru’, which should help the variety
to regain part of its former, elevated status.

Also, though grown all over the Europe, it has not caught on significantly in the
New World wine regions. So Alsatian versions, derived from very mature vines,
should continue to revive the deserved re-appreciation and interest in dry, crisp
whites that display none of the overly “grassy” or “herbaceous” notes that seem
to be the current norm for these wine styles from warmer climates.

This bottling is ripe and ready to be enjoyed now, but this strong 2012 vintage
will hold well in the cellar for at least a couple more years – so buy several!

Hugel Sylvaner

HUGEL SYLVANER ALSACE
LCBO – Product #361543 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.25
11.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Alsace, France
By: Hugel & Fils S.A.

Tasting Note
This has an attractive fruit-driven and refreshing, springtime character that’s
typically a much drier wine style than its Riesling cousins. Savour with mildly
spiced roast pork, sweet-and-sour chicken, baked hams and cabbage recipes.