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The Ehrenfelser Grape

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About Ehrenfelser

(Synonyms: Ehrenfels, Geisenheim 9-93)


Ehrenfelser grapes Map showing the Rheinhessen region

Ehrenfelser is a white-wine grape, one of the very few important wine grapes to have arisen from a deliberate modern varietal cross: it is a cross of Riesling with (it is usually said) Silvaner (aka Sylvaner), made in 1929 in Germany. It is still primarily a German grape, though it is now widely planted in British Columbia, owing to its ability to be productive in cold climates (being a quite early-ripening type).

(The identity of Silvaner as one parent, always a bit dubious, is now reported to have been disproved by DNA analysis; what that parent actually was seems to remain unsure—one source said it's Knipperlé, a cross of Pinot & Gouais blanc.)

Ehrenfelser was developed to replace Riesling in areas were that grape cannot thrive owing to the shortness of the growing season. It is useful in that respect, but is not a "replacement" for Riesling, being distinctly lower in acid, so that it lacks Riesling's legendary ability to age, though it normally consistently produces grapes of at least Kabinett level ripeness

Noted wine expert Jancis Robinson, whom we chiefly follow in assigning relative value to grape types, clearly shows (in Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes) Ehrenfelser as making wines running from somewhat below middling quality all the way up to world-class—making them, according to her, one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page). Curiously, though, most other writers have little to say about the grape (or wine), save the endlessly parroted "Riesling substitute, low-acid, shorter growing season" mantra. But if Ehrenfelser is not the exact equal of Riesling in quality, what is? Many wine experts consider Riesling the greatest wine of all; thus, a grape that is similar to but below Riesling could still be an excellent grape.

Is it? It's hard to tell from what is written. Robinson herself seems coy when she states that the crossing's only inherent disadvantages are that the wine is slightly too low in acidity for long-term ageing—and that it cannot be called Riesling. That tag-on reads to us like a cannily worded assertion that Ehrenfelser wines can closely approach Rieslings in quality; others may read it otherwise.

The bottom line is not the grape's potential but the actual wines being made from it. It is hard to say how much Ehrenfelser winemaking goes on in Germany and Austria, because little or no Ehrenfelser from those countries reaches the U.S. We do know, however, that its plantings is declining: in Germany in 1999, 630 acres were in, whereas by 2006, only 280 remained.

There is a fair bit of Ehrenfelser table wine made in British Columbia, but, again (and curiously in this case), little or none reaches the U.S. The B.C. wines seem mainly made in a fruit-forward, off-dry style, which may not maximize the grape's potential but which works commercially for a generally obscure grape.

But what many feel is Ehrenfelser's apotheosis is its use in "ice wines", very sweet dessert wines made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine before vinification, such that the water content freezes, profoundly concentrating the pulp and juice of the grapes (the water ice is left behind in the crushers when the grapes are vinified). Ice wine is typically very expensive, in good part because it is very expensive to produce (for example, the grapes must all be picked within a few hours on short notice).

Factoid: The name "Ehrenfelser" derives from the Burg Ehrenfels ruins, located on the Rhine near Rüdesheim.

Some Descriptions of Ehrenfelser Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The grape tends to ripen earlier and produce higher yields than Riesling but its quality is not on par with that of this, its parent grape. The variety normally consistently produces grapes of at least Kabinett level ripeness and tends to produce well in vineyards where Riesling has difficulties."

  • AppellationAmerica

    "Significant amounts of Ehrenfelser are found in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. This cross of Riesling and Sylvaner has become a highly-valued commodity in the western province. Developed in 1929 at Germany's Geisenheim Research Station, many consider Ehrenfelser, along with Kerner, as the best of the frost-resistant Riesling substitutes. It ripens slightly earlier than Riesling and grows in less ideal vineyard sites. Typically, it also produces more fruit than its noble parent, given the same conditions. Its only real disadvantage, aside from its hard to pronounce name, is its slight lack of acidity. Due to this lack of acid, wines made from Ehrenfelser do not share the same cellaring potential of Riesling."

  • The Pfalz, Neustadt - the portal for the Palatinate [translated]

    "The acreage of honor Felsers are rapidly declining. In 1999 about 255 acres were planted, but there were only about 100 acres in 2007. Of these, some 32 hectares lie in the Palatinate; there is also some in the Middle Rhine, Rheingau, on the Nahe and Rheinhessen. Even in Berlin there are 100 vines of this variety ("Rüdesheim Place") through an existing partnership with the Rheingau. Smaller plantings are also found abroad, in Australia, the U.K., and Canada. With Ehrenfelser was created a grape that comes close to the quality of the world's most noble grape - Riesling. In cultivation, Ehrenfelser is less demanding than Riesling, being but little sensitive to late spring frosts; also, powdery, downy mildew, and gray mold have small effect on it. Competition with Riesling is strong. Ehrenfelser's acid can in some years reach high values, similar to those of Riesling; but it lacks Riesling's quality and character. Thus, it is regarded as suited for otherwise-spare growing areas. Ehrenfelser wines have a racy acidity, are very fruity, and have a decent bouquet, reminiscent of violets. And its flavors—such as apricot, grapefruit, peach and apple--give this wine a special touch and can make great vintages."

  • WineGeeks

    "Extremely frost resistant, the Ehrenfelser was created to provide Riesling quality in colder climates. Success was close, but the Ehrenfelser suffers from very low natural acidity, thus it is best consumed young and has not potential for long-term aging. Found in the German regions of Pfalz and Rheinhessen, though it is most prominent in Canada. Ehrenfelsers have aromas and flavors reminiscent of apples, pears and white flowers."

  • Wine Press NW

    "This white grape was developed in the late 1920s in Germany and is a cross of Riesling and Silvaner. Many consider the grape to be superior in ripening and flavor to Riesling. It is named for the Ehrenfels Castle on the Rhine River. In the [Pacific] Northwest, it's grown primarily in British Columbia, where it results in a tasty dry or off-dry table wine. It really shines as an ice wine, thanks to its fruit-driven flavors and solid acidity."

  • Answers.com

    "A good-quality, white-wine, hybrid grape developed at geisenheim, Germany in the 1920s. Ehrenfelser is a cross of riesling and sylvaner that-except for its lower acid levels-closely resembles Riesling. It has some advantages over Riesling in that Ehrenfelser grows in less desirable locations and ripens earlier, which makes it increasingly popular in some of Germany's northern growing regions."

  • "Dust on the Bottle" blog

    "The resulting grape is not held in as high esteem as Riesling, but can produce very nice wines in the hands of an expert."

  • East These Words

    "Riesling's sturdier brother. An excellent white wine hybrid grape developed in Germany in the 1920s that closely resembles Riesling—it's actually a cross of Riesling and Silvaner. Ehrenfelser has the advantage in colder climes, however, as it's less susceptible to frost. For that reason, the grape is often grown in northern Germany and has been planted recently in British Columbia. Ehrenfelser makes good ice wine because of its high sugar content."

Some Ehrenfelsers to Try

(About this list.)

Frankly, there just aren't any, at least if you're in the U.S.A. If you're in (or travel to) Canada, that's another matter. What we list here seem to be all of Canada's producers of Ehrenfelsers (Granite Creek may or may not ever be back after a disastrous fire, and we omit them); but we cannot find any hint of any of them being imported to, or even sold by the wineries to, the U.S. Pricing shown is in Canadian dollars as quoted by the applicable winery. Note that all but a couple of these wines are "off dry", some markedly so, even though they're all nominally "table wine".

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Kawartha Country Wines Riesling Sec (Ehrenfelser) Dry, $13.00. (One of the only two actually dry specimens.)

    Some quotations and facts:

  • Gehringer Brothers Classic Ehrenfelser, $14.99.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Gehringer Bros. is a big, luscious, wet fruit-kiss, full and rich and delicious. It's the new vintage of one we liked a lot in this corner last year around this time, when we tasted the full Gehringer portfolio. I like it quite a bit with rich desserts; it's deep and hearty, with a most delightful hint of sweetness.

    This pale yellow, medium dry, wine from BC tastes boldly of apricot with a medium finish of lingering honey flavor. There is a subtle tangy acidity that prevents cloying sweetness and makes your mouth salivate. The interesting thing about this wine is that usually white wines don't have noticeable tannins in them but this wine's light tannins provide a surprising depth that prevents this fruity wine from feeling and tasting like juice. . . this is a medium-dry wine.

    ♣ Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition (date unknown): gold

    This fruit-driven wine has vibrant notes of apricot and honey, hints of almond, and a subtle tangy acidity. A touch of sweetness highlights flavours, however uniquie tannins lead to a dry impression. Ideal as an aperitif, or paired with lightly-spiced dishes.

    Aromas of fennel, apricots and peaches give way to delicious flavors of lemon zest, apricots and Asian pears. The acidity is spot-on, and there's a hint of sweetness that rounds out the touch of tartness from notes of lemon. (3,200 cases, 12.8% alc.)

    It was categorized as dry, even though it had 0.5% Residual Sugar (RS). This speaks to the wines impeccable balance, as its razor sharp acidity more than balanced any RS. . . This wine had a delightful core of nectarine fruit with really zippy acidity, and a hint of citrus that kept doing pirouettes on my tongue. Please send me a case of this!

    [T]hink apricots and honey, crisp and fresh.

  • Mount Boucherie Estate Ehrenfelser, $17.00.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Intense aromas and flavours of oranges, lemon and lime. A great, off-dry sipper.

    This is a superb example, with aromas of apples, oranges, honeysuckle and honeydew melons. On the palate, it's a light-bodied wine loaded with fruit flavors such as sweet peaches and apples with underlying mineral notes.

  • Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser, $18.95. ("Residual Sugar: 5.40 g/l", generally considered a "medium-dry wine" level.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    If you love aromatic whites like I do, you need to taste Cedar Creek's Ehrenfelser. It's a wine to die for. Killer tropical fruit bomb nose -- papaya, pineapple, and mango with floral honeysuckle. On the palate, more tropical fruit dominated by tangerine. It's classed as off dry but I don't find it sweet at all. Glorious balance, nice acidity. Heavenly. [Another reviewer] gives this wine an 89. I give it a yum.

    The wine is a pale gold colour, with a very fruity nose. Cedar creek refers to it as "fruit salad in a glass", and I am inclined to agree. The most notable scents are passion-fruit, grapefruit and a little peach. The fruit remains strong into the body, unlike some fragrant whites. The grapefruit is prominent, along with nectarine and hint of spice. The acidity is not overly strong, and is very refreshing. The wine finishes off-dry (look, something other than dry for once). It is also a little short, which is slightly disappointing when all those wonderful flavours disappear too quickly from your tongue. This particular vintage is good, but not up to the level of some of the best previous vintages. This was partly due to the fact that 2009 was not the best summer for white wines in the Okanagan. Regardless, it is still a delicious and refreshing wine that tends to work equally well as a summer sipper and as a complement to most foods. I highly recommend you seek it out if the opportunity presents itself.

    Although served a bit warm, it was a good, rather oily wine with lime and pineapple flavors.

    [It] has become the most popular wine in CedarCreek's tasting room. This is a sensual, seductive wine, so aromatic that it can fill a room with lush tropical and honeysuckle fragrances. On the palate, there are flavours of peaches, apricots, pink grapefruit and pineapples. The finish is juicy and mouth-watering, with zesty acidity nicely balanced with enough natural sugar to leave a hint of sweetness.

    This vintage is just as deliriously aromatic but with a more unctuous mouth-feel! Peaches, honey blossoms, apricot, pink grapefruit and exotic spices. Clean and bright on the palate with a voluptuous texture brimming with ripe orchard fruit flavours followed by sweet star anise on the finish.

    There will certainly be no death threats for this juicy, tropical white with citrus aromas and flavours of pineapple, apricot and pink grapefruit. 89.

    This wine, which some argue may be the best of the world's limited numbers of Ehrenfelser, is dramatic as ever. It is a bowl of fruit, mostly apricots, in the bottle. The acidity is higher – 11.3 grams in the 2010 versus 7.25 grams in the 2009 – but the residual sugar is similar. As a result, the 2010 seems drier on the finish than the 2009. 89.

    From 25 year old vines. This is a fantastic summer wine. If I lived in BC and had ready access to this wine, it would be on hand constantly. Beautifully refreshing and fruity, with loads of great acidity - superb.

    I was charmed by its delightful apricot and peach fruit and impressive complexity. This is the type of wine I love to discover when traveling – something I'm not likely to find anywhere else. It's everything that “regional wine” and “drink local” are all about.

    I think I've found my garden party wine for the summer! A little bit sweet, but with crisp acidity, this is an easy crowd pleaser for summer drinking and entertaining. Packed with grapefruit and peach, there are also nasturtium flowers in the background.

  • Lake Breeze Ehrenfelser, $19.00.

    Some quotations and facts:

    [S]mell: tropical fruit, apricot, lychee; taste: tangy, zesty, acidy, enough sweetness to balance (only slightly perceptible sweetness Theise: +0.5), lively on tongue, some honey taste; reminds of NZ riesling.

    Slightly sweet yet well balanced, it was very fragrant and full of fruit, blending ripe citrus, tropical fruit, and a hint of spice.

    The Lake Breeze is so very pretty-bold aromas of Turkish delight, rose water, honey, orange blossoms and tropical fruit notes. Bright, crisp and clean with sweet fruit cup and anise flavours.

    And this one is a gem – we ended up buying a couple of bottles. Full of fruit, it's a nice, juicy easy drinker.

  • Summerhill Ehrenfelser, $19.95.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2009 has a very appealing fragrance of fruit-cup (apples, pears, lychee and apricots), pink grapefruit, marshmallow, blossoms and sweet spices. The palate is sweet - laden with similar fruit-cup, honey and sweet spice flavours lingering with zesty grapefruit. Quite creamy on the palate with a nice dose of acidity to carve off some of the sweetness.

    It is very light yellow in the glass. The nose is an interesting combination of faint melon and honeysuckle. Flavors are steely with clean minerality, good acidity and just a touch of sweetness. With an ABV of 11.8% this Riesling-cross makes a good summer sipper. It may lack the complex aromatics of Riesling, but the clean flavors have a lot going for them.

    This wine has aromas of apricots and gooseberries and flavours of tropical fruits. 88.

    [T]their Ehrenfelser is definitely one of the best I've ever had.

    This bright and luscious wine opens with aromas of mangoes, peaches and limes, followed by hedonistic flavors of limes, quince and minerality.

    Sweet taste, very smooth.

  • Gray Monk Ehrenfelser, $19.99.

    Some quotations and facts:

    [T]heir Ehrenfelser holds a very, very special place in my heart. You won't believe it UNTIL you try it, but this 12.1% abv wine is chalked full of goodies. Mildly off dry, with high acidity and carrying good body, Gray Monk's 2011 Ehrenfelser is … wait for it … stunning. Fuji apple, citrus (lemon & lime juice), gooseberry, sweet white grapefruit, juicy Bosc pear, floral notes (Rose), and herbaceousness (summer grass) will all make your tastebuds swim. Intensely aromatic and fruit forward.

    This wine has aromas and flavours of peaches and apricots, with a core of sweet fruit and raisins on the middle of the palate and a juicy texture, with a hint of residual sweetness. The finish lingers. 89.

    ♣ 2012 British Columbia Wine Awards: Gold

    ♣ Northwest Wine Summit (date unknown), Gold.

    Gray Monk's Ehrenfelser was left to mature on the vine later than normal to gain maximum intense aromatic flavours. A delicate citrus nose and a pronounced apricot flavour that finishes in a medium sweet yet well balanced wine.

    My personal favourite, and that of many it seemed, was the Ehrenfelser, with an extremely fresh flavour profile and rich fruit salad characteristics. Unfortunately, Gray Monk’s Ehrenfelser vines are still recovering from their earlier use in icewine production, and so it remains a winery exclusive production at present [2013]

    A delicate citrus nose and a pronounced apricot flavour that finishes in a medium sweet yet well balanced wine. Food matches: soft cheeses, fresh fruits, lobster and custard desserts.

    My recommendation, no doubt bout it’ the ehrenfelser.. I typically don’t drink sweet wine anymore but this was amazing. One of my top pick for whites.

    Their Ehrenfelser is excellent and has a great reputation among white wine lovers in the Okanagan Valley.

For a Splurge

If you like dessert wines, pop for some Ehrenfelser eiswein (ice wine). A likely choice, if you have access to Canadian rertailers, would seem to be the Gehringer Brothers "Minus 9" Ehrenfelser Icewine: this little fellow has been a busy award-garnerer: Double Gold, Indy International Wine Competition 2010 (2009 bottling); Dessert Wine of the Year, Indy International Wine Competition 2009 (2008 bottling); Best of Class, Indy International Wine Competition 2009 (2008 bottling); Double Gold, Indy International Wine Competition 2009 (2008 bottling); Platinum, Wine Press NorthWest Platinum Judging 2009 (2008 bottling); and Silver, Canadian Wine Awards 2009 (2008 bottling).

If you can't get Canadian product, there are other choices.

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