It’s a given that not every food and wine pairing is a match made in heaven. In fact, some are downright devilish. We certainly know the handful of truly good ones: Port and Stilton, Sauternes and foie gras, Muscadet and oysters, Riesling and pork, etc. On the flipside, we’re also wary of the more difficult pairings for wines. Yep, I’m talking about you, asparagus!
I frequently reference Sauvignon Blanc in my wine classes as the world’s most versatile food pairing wine. Its bright acidity, pronounced citrus and pleasing herbaceous notes play well with green vegetables (like asparagus) and tomatoes (bruschetta, salsa or gazpacho anyone?). But Sauvignon Blanc is not the only varietal in the wine universe that aptly pairs with the hard-to-match veggie set.
There’s an obscure little Central European variety named Silvaner that will also fit the bill.
Silvaner (a.k.a. Sylvaner) is a white grape with ties to the old Austrian Empire. It’s an ancient variety that’s existed in pockets throughout the central continent, primarily in parts of Transylvania (hence the name “Sylvaner”). In its ancestral home however, Silvaner has become a bit of a forgotten grape with just a smattering of vineyards remaining.
Silvaner is significant in the Alto Adige of Italy and France’s Alsace where it achieves Grand Cru status in in the village of Mittelbergheim. It’s important in Bavarian Germany too, especially in the region of Franconia where the first plantings there stretch back to 1659. The event is actually documented: On April 6 of 1659, 25 Silvaner vines were planted in Franconia by order of the Count of Castell.
Since the 11th century, the Counts and Princes of Castell have been influential in Bavaria. Among their many contributions includes the establishment of Bavaria’s oldest bank. Viticulture is also a longtime family pursuit with vineyards established in 1266. Ferdinand Erbgraf zu Castell-Castell represents the 26th generation and oversees the family’s historic wine estate in Franconia. That estate, Fürstlich Castell’sches Domänenamt, proudly promotes itself as “The Silvaner Winery.” Not surprisingly, the majority of the vines at the 70-hectare estate are dedicated to it.
The Silvaner wines produced at Fürstlich Castell’sches Domänenamt are a reflection of their terroir. The vines are rooted in Franconia’s Keuper soils, a marlstone comprised of sandy clay with high gypsum content. This gives the finished wines a lovely pronounced minerality. Castell-Castell Silvaner Trocken ($14) is crisp, balanced and bright with fresh apple and citrus on the nose and juicy mango, pear and green herbs on the palate. The wine culminates in a long, minerally finish.
Silvaner is a terrific match for light cuisine: leafy green salads, baked chicken or fowl, grilled fish and soft white cheese should complement it nicely. Did I mention that it’s a great match for asparagus? It definitely is!
Keep in mind, it’s also versatile enough to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Jim Greeley, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager, SW Florida
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