I have decided not to participate in 2021, so will be retreating into the wine cellar until the world has returned to normal. While digging through some dusty and forgotten corners, I spied a bottle of Ehrenfelser that would pair perfectly with the salmon I was grilling for dinner.
For those that do not recognize the name, Ehrenfelser is a wine grape of German origin, developed in 1929 by crossing Riesling with an Alsatian grape known as Knipperlé. Interestingly, the grape has diminished in popularity in its native Germany, with most of the worldwide plantings of Ehrenfelser now in the Okanagan Valley of BC.
Ehrenfelser is a fairly low-yield grape that does well in cooler wine regions like Germany and Canada, and has been a very reliable and consistent grape in the terroir of the Okanagan Valley. This grape varietal was originally developed to be a hardy substitute for Riesling, which prefers a slightly warmer climate.
Unsurprisingly, one of the earliest plantings of Ehrenfelser vines in Canada was at the Gray Monk Estate Winery, owned and operated by the Heiss family for nearly 50 years, after emigrating from their native Austria in the 1970s.
As one of the oldest wineries in the Okanagan Valley, I have visited Gray Monk countless times over the years, and plan to again as soon as this accursed pandemic is finally behind us.
There are a dozen or so wineries in the Okanagan Valley producing Ehrefelser wines, with about half of those available here in Alberta at your friendly neighbourhood bottle shop. Fortunately, two of my top three are available locally, so that will have to tide me over until I am once again able to make my annual pilgrimage to Okanagan wine country for fun-filled weekends of winery tours and general debauchery.
Since Riesling is one of the parents of Ehrenfelser, it should not be surprising that they share some flavour characteristics, both being fruit-forward, with Ehrenfelser being slightly more subdued than its more famous parent.
Ehrenfelser wines typically have notes of honey and apricot, with hints of almond and white pear on the finish. The relatively high tannins and acidity make this wine feel a bit more dry than expected, making it easy to pair with seafood or spicy Asian dishes.
While I confess that my introduction to the Ehrenfelser grape was at the Gray Monk Estate Winery nigh on two decades ago, and it still holds a special place in my heart, my current favourite comes from the Gehringer Brothers Winery a bit further south in the Okanagan Valley.
At a surprisingly inexpensive $15, the Gehringer Brothers Ehrenfelser took home platinum, gold, and silver medals at the usual rounds of the industry awards in 2019, events that were sorely missed in 2020 due to the pandemic, and will likely be skipped for 2021 as well.
With an intense bouquet on the nose, followed by the typical fresh notes of apricot and honey on the palate, this Ehrenfelser is more fruit-forward than many others, likely due to Gehringer Brothers prized location in the so-called Golden Mile Bench of Okanagan Wine Country, a unique microclimate that averages 6-8˚C warmer than the surrounding area, and is the home to several of my favourite wineries.
Just a quick jaunt north along the lake is the aptly named Lake Breeze winery, which produces another award-winning Ehrefelser, and has a beautiful sun-baked patio restaurant that I make time for every time I visit the Okanagan Valley. My last visit was in the carefree pre-pandemic autumn of 2019, where I enjoyed a leisurely two-hour wine tasting paired with a sumptuous feast in the winery restaurant, with an attentive sommelier delivering fresh sample glasses with each course.
The Lake Breeze Ehrenfelser is unique in the region, less crisp and fruit-forward, favouring notes of baked peach and apple with a richer bouquet and hints of minerality on the finish. While most Ehrenfelser wines pair best with seafood, this example was a perfect match for the porkbelly course I enjoyed in the winery restaurant. At only $19, it is still priced like a daily drinker, and widely available here in Alberta.
Whatever your pleasure, there is an Ehrenfelser wine for you, and it likely comes from a BC winery. Support your domestic wine industry in these trying times by picking one up today!