Sipping Through Alsace – The Seven Noble Grapes Featuring Riesling and Sylvaner Grapes
September 28, 2018
Chef J. Joho is an authority on the wines of Alsace and boasts a grand collection at Everest Restaurant in Chicago. Allow us to walk you through his masterfully curated wine cellar and discuss the Seven Grapes of Alsace, their importance to Chef Joho and to the wine world. Over the next few months, we will be featuring all seven of these remarkable grapes. We will first highlight is Riesling and Sylvaner.
Riesling is usually known as a varietal wine, prized for its ability to express terroir- the soil, climate and topography the grape was grown in. With its wide range of aromas and flavors, Riesling can express itself in a spectrum of ways from sweet to spicy and smoky to sharp. Riesling is one of the most intriguing white wines in the world. It’s grown in almost every country, but thrives in Alsace’s one of a kind environment.
Riesling is the most important wine grape variety in terms of both quantity and (arguably) quality. Alsace Riesling has its own individual style, richer and more generous than those made in Germany, and definitely drier. This is made possible by the region’s very unique mesoclimate of elongated sunny days and dry weather as well as the natural shelter provided by the Vosges Mountains.
Riesling can be produced in a variety of ways from a bone-dry style in Alsace to Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles or known as dessert wines. Vendange Tardive, VT, means that the grapes are kept on the vine until late harvest which allows the fruit to dehydrate and collect more sugars. Sélection de Grains Nobles, SGN, is an even sweeter wine category recognized only in Alsace; where the grapes form Botrytis, also known as the Noble Rot, a specific type of mold that naturally occurs in the region. The mold dehydrates the grapes to a raisinated state, causing the sugars and flavors to concentrate. VT and SGN wines are some of the most sought after in the world, due to the elevated sugar content and dessert style. These wines have the ability to stand the test of time and age for decades.
In Alsace, Sylvaner wines have a distinctively full-bodied style with an aroma of earth and smoke on the nose highlighted at the expense of the scant fruit flavors the variety manages to collect. Some of the finest examples come from Alsace’s Grand Cru sites. To qualify for Grand Cru status, the wine must first meet the AOC Alsace-rules and then other strict requirements. Only one Alsace Grand Cru vineyard – Zotzenberg – is officially permitted to use Sylvaner in its wines. Here at Everest, we are proud to say that we are the only restaurant to pour a Grand Cru Sylvaner by the glass in Chicago, and probably the country!
Silvaner is a crossing of Traminer with a little-known variety called Osterreichisch Weiss. The crossing is thought to have occurred somewhere in eastern Austria, although today very little Silvaner is found anywhere in Austria. The variety made its way to Germany in the 17th Century and from there to Alsace, where it became particularly popular after World War II. The variety has a couple of color mutations known as Roter Silvaner (a red berry variety) and Blauer Silvaner (light shade of grey to deep purple).
The major difference between these two Noble Grapes is that Sylvaner wines tend to have a brighter, lighter, more acidic taste and presence to them, where Rieslings are more full bodied, rich, sweet and heavier on the pallet. Both highlight the best flavors of the Alsace region and are most recognizable. At Everest Restaurant in Chicago, we sell these wines by the glass or bottle. Allow our expert sommelier to select the perfect Riesling or Sylvaner to savor with your meal. Sip through Alsace with us!