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Once upon a time, sitting at the dinner table with Klaus Peter Keller, drinking Silvaner, I raised my head from the glass in awe and said something like: "Silvaner is just like Chardonnay - like Chablis - but it has less fruit and flesh; there is more soil, more structure."
He looked at me, perhaps semi-amused, but said nothing.
So I pushed it a little bit. "What do you think KP?"
His response was classic: "I think Chardonnay is Chardonnay and Silvaner is Silvaner."
Here's your opportunity to decide for yourself, to taste for yourself.
While in my bizarre world the opportunity just to taste the top expressions of these two grapes, from the same grower, region and vintage, would be a no-brainer, there is added intrigue here. None other than Keller, when interviewed by Antonio Galloni of Vinous and pushed to pick a German estate to watch, named Giegerich. The Giegerich brothers, Killian and Philipp, are energy, ambition and intelligence incarnate. They will be a force to reckon with.
The question maybe isn't so much if they will become a force, it's when.
And there is very good reason to think it could happen very soon; the 2021 vintage - aside from being a simply riveting, electric vintage - is an important one for the Giegerich estate. This is the first vintage the brothers are officially running the estate. Expect fireworks.
The 2021 Schalk is simply a masterpiece in Silvaner; it is dense with push and momentum, yet it has an electric edge to it. While I think the 2021 is the finest Schalk I've ever tasted, I've blinded various vintages of this wine as Keller's Silvaner "Feuervogl." There is a similar overall architecture for sure, one that combines power and depth with energy and an uncommon finesse.
Taste this next to the Chardonnay "R" - a reserve bottling made from what might be the oldest parcel of Chardonnay vines in all of Franconia - and the differences between the two grapes come to the forefront. While this bottle is something of a revelation in cold-climate Chardonnay (feel free to introduce your favorite Chablis into this side-by-side tasting), for me the comparison to the Silvaner is just wild. The two wines seem to have the same amplitude, the same energy, yet the forms are so different. More on both of the wines below.
This is not a competition, this is not a matter of finding either virtues or faults, it is a matter of articulating and understanding the differences, the beautiful and amazing differences.
Here is some free-association for ya: Chardonnay is flesh, Silvaner is bone - Chardonnay is fruit, Silvaner is mineral - Chardonnay is suave, Silvaner is honest - Chardonnay is cool, Silvaner is cerebral - Chardonnay is a glider, Silvaner is a rocket - Chardonnay is a symphony, Silvaner is a piano trio - Chardonnay is classical architecture, Silvaner is modernism. None of these capture anything exactly right, but they set perhaps a tone or can inspire your own Chardonnay + Silvaner free-association study.
Tasting with Philipp last spring, I barrel-sampled both these wines - embryonic forces - and was simply stopped in my tracks.
For those who are intrigued but want a less expensive seat at the table, the game gets flipped on its head with the estate bottling "Bunt. Sand. Stein," a powerhouse bottle of wine. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Silvaner; the idea here is pick out the influences of the Chardonnay and the influences of Silvaner. Or you could just enjoy the damn bottle.
The Giegerich brothers' 2018 Silvaner "Schalk" was one of our most-talked-about wines from the first "Golden Generation" email. We offered the 2020 Giegerich Chardonnay "R" in our most recent "Golden Generation" offering and had numerous requests for the 2021ers. So here we are.
2021 Giegerich Silvaner "Schalk"
This is the Giegerich's top Silvaner, Grand Cru in every sense. The Schalk vineyard is tucked far away from the Mainz river, surrounded by forests in the village of Rück. The soils here are predominantly colored sandstone (Buntsandstein) and the vines are quite old at 45 years. Only one 700-liter "Halbstück" barrel, made from Franconian oak, was produced. The wine was bottled after 12 months on the lees.
2021 Giegerich Chardonnay "R"
This is the Giegerich's top Chardonnay, also Grand Cru in every sense. This wine comes from the Lützeltaler Berg in Grosswallstadt, further downstream on the Mainz and closer to the river, when compared to the Schalk site. These may be among the oldest Chardonnay vines in Franconia, planted well over 30 years ago. The soil is similar to the Schalk, predominantly colored sandstone (Buntsandstein).The wine was fermented and aged in 228 liter French barriques and bottled after 12 months on the lees.
2021 Giegerich Bunt. Sand. Stein.
This is the "little brother" to both the wines above; it is roughly 50% Silvaner and 50% Chardonnay. The Silvaner comes from younger vines in the same Schalk vineyard as the Grand Cru Schalk above; the Chardonnay comes from another small site in Grosswallstadt. Both sites are largely sandstone. This wine sees some French barrique and some stainless steel.
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