Sylvaner was once the leading grape in Alsace as well as in Germany (where it is known as Silvaner). In the early 20th century it was the most popular grape in Germany, where it is now a distant fifth (and third most planted white, behind Riesling and Müller Thurgau). Some 1,000 hectares currently grow in Alsace, where it is now the tenth most planted vine, but was nevertheless included in Alsace Grand Cru (although only in the Zotzenberg vineyard) in 2006.
Sylvaner is naturally vigorous, and when grown in high yields often produces rather bland wine. However, when yields are controlled it can produce wines that are crisp, with a flinty minerality. Care has to be taken when grown, because it is susceptible to spring frosts, budding and ripening before grapes like Riesling, for example. It is also an excellent grape with which to express terroir, and has the potential to be aged considerably.
The grape probably has a central European origin, and DNA research has uncovered that it is a cross between Savagnin and the now obscure Österreich Weiss.