With more than 80 grape varieties planted in vineyards across British Columbia, there’s a dizzying assortment of wines available for consumers. Vineyard inhabitants in the Okanagan and beyond include internationally celebrated players, such as chardonnay, merlot and pinot noir, as well as lesser-known entities, like ehrenfelser and ortega.
Those A-list grapes – and their Kardashian levels of fame across the globe – don’t need much of an introduction. Tastings, conferences and special celebratory days are routinely staged in their honour. Meanwhile, no one has ever thought of launching a Drink Ehrenfelser Day to bring together enthusiasts and producers. Outside of wine growing areas in British Columbia and Germany, notably the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, there isn’t much around. Current estimates suggest there are less than 500 acres planted worldwide, with acreage declining rather than increasing over time.
The Riesling and silvaner crossing was developed in 1929 to produce a white grape variety that would thrive in cooler climates. Ehrenfelser ripens earlier and can produce a larger crop of grapes than its parents. With temperatures increasing in most wine regions and a concerted effort by many producers to focus on quality over quantity, those attributes aren’t as attractive to wine growers as they once were.
But one sip of the fragrant and fruity examples released by Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards, CedarCreek and other devotees in British Columbia might convince you that well-made ehrenfelser is a cause for celebration. Like wines made from muscat or Gewürztraminer grapes, it’s a white with real personality that strikes me as an essential summer sipper. Fitzpatrick’s newly released Unwinder Ehrenfelser is a great introduction to the grape. It’s recommended this week alongside an array of wines that are well suited to sipping and serving this August.
Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2020 (Canada), $24.90
Fruit and freshness define the appealing character of Blue Mountain’s popular Pinot Blanc. Produced with grapes grown on the Mavety family’s estate vineyard in Okanagan Falls, this offers attractive pear and apricot with zesty citrus notes. A blend of wines fermented in tank and French oak barrels, this dry white is nicely balanced and refreshing. Drink now to 2025. Available direct through bluemountainwinery.com.
Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards The Unwinder Ehrenfelser 2020 (Canada), $19.50
There isn’t much of the ehrenfelser grape planted in the Okanagan, but what is produced, especially by the Fitzpatrick family, is always memorable. The boldly aromatic and flavourful grape creates rich and intense white wines bursting with floral blossom and herbal notes and a core of white peach and citrus fruit. Made in an off-dry (there’s a subtle fruity sweetness), this white is balanced by a clean and refreshing finish. Drink now to 2022. Available direct through fitzwine.com.
Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling (South Africa), $19.95
South Africa is a constant source of well-priced, traditional-method sparkling wine. This one is a blend of pinot noir from different vintages, which underwent secondary fermentation to create the bubbles in the bottle you purchase. It is made in a dry, refreshing style, with an engaging mix of apple, cherry and toasty notes, which makes it an ideal summer sipper. Available in Ontario.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2020 (Canada), $17.95
The warm of the 2020 vintage in Niagara has added more depth and dimension to this fruity pinot noir. Some peppery and floral notes add interest to the core of cherry and berry fruit of this bistro style red that is best enjoyed with a meal. Drink now to 2023. Available at the above price in Ontario and direct through henryofpelham.com, $18.05 in Quebec, $21.98 in Newfoundland.
Manoir de Mercey Au Paradis Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2018 (France), $25.95
This single-vineyard pinot noir comes from a domaine in Cheilly-les-Maranges operated by the Berger family since 1948. There’s impressive concentration of cherry fruit and spicy intensity here, with nice structure and a cranberry edge to the finish that refreshes the palate. An appetizing red Burgundy that promises to mature nicely, drink 2022 to 2028. Available in Ontario.
Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018 (South Africa), $24.95
This distinctive Syrah from Rustenberg’s historic estate in Stellenbosch is named for the buzzards that are often seen circling above the ravine when the vines are planted. Made in a full-bodied and intense style, this red presents a complex mix of ripe dark fruit, floral and oak-derived coffee, spice and chocolate notes. It’s drinking well now, but promises to mature nicely. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario.
Saint-Roch Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Roussillon Grenache Blanc/Roussanne 2019 (France), $17.95
Château Saint-Roch in Corbières is part of the Domaine Lafage operation. This white from the estate is mostly Grenache blanc with 20 per cent roussanne, which makes for a crisp and dry wine with fresh and inviting pear and citrus fruit flavours. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19.99 in Nova Scotia.
Stratus Vineyards Gamay 2019 (Canada), $29
The style of Stratus’s Gamay has evolved from the richer, riper red character of past vintages to this fresh and inviting red with discernible vibrant fruit rounded out by peppery and earthy complexity. Firm tannins add structure to the bright fruit and suggest this lighter style will age gracefully. Drink now to 2025. Available direct through stratuswines.com.
Torbreck Old Vines Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2017 (Australia), $24.95
Made in Torbreck’s concentrated and complex house style, this old vine red from Barossa presents a flavourful mix of rich fruit with smoky, spicy and meaty notes. There’s nice structure and harmony here. The 15 per cent alcohol adds warmth to the finish but is otherwise integrated. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price, $28.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Zonte’s Footstep Lake Doctor Shiraz 2017 (Australia), $19.95
Shiraz from Langhorne Creek like this one can be counted on to be full-bodied, with a satisfying dark fruit flavour and texture thanks to the ripeness of the fruit and judicious aging in oak barrels. The crowd-pleasing nature of this well-knit red benefits from its spicy complexity and smooth, integrated character. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
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