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The Ehrenfelser Grape

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About Ehrenfelser

(Synonyms: Ehrenfels, Geisenheim 9-93)


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 where 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 dropodown menu lists above). 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 are 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, little or none reaches the U.S. (NAFTA seems irrelevant to Demon Rum, and shipoments of alcoholic beverages even within Canada, and the U.S., are ridiculously over-regulated; cross-border shipment is for all practical pusposes impossible). 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

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. (Of course, if you want to bring any back with you, you encounter the insane customs laws of both countries, and good luck with that.)

Critics tend to rate this varietal high, but that (presumably) is because of the importance of the icewines to those who fancy extravagantly sweet, rich dessert wines. Chacun a son goüt.





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This page was last modified on Friday, 6 December 2019, at 9:32 pm Pacific Time.