While I’m officially on vacation, it wouldn’t be much of a holiday without wine, and having wine without writing it up feels a bit like cheating. Since I hate cheating, here is some more light writing in the form of the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011.
This was actually the first Canadian wine of this trip, but since it was both a new variety and a new region, I’m writing about this second, because with the JoieFarm Chardonnay I was able to focus a little more on the region as Chardonnay is a familiar (and beloved) grape. The corollary is that I have more time here to talk about this grape than I would otherwise.
And what a grape it is. Auxerrois means different things to different people, literally. In Cahors it refers to their main red grape, which is better known in the rest of the world as Malbec. In the French Moeslle it is the name for Chardonnay. Less commonly there are also Auxerrois Gris (Pinot Gris) and Gros Auxerrois (Valdiguié). In Alsace, and most of the rest of the world, including Canada is seems, Auxerrois (blanc) refers to a grape that is descended from Pinot and Gouais Blanc (much like Aligoté, Chardonnay and a dozen other grapes).
A white grape, there are plantings of Auxerrois in French Moselle (where it is known as Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy to differentiate it from Chardonnay), Luxembourg, and Germany, though it is best known as an important grape of Alsace. When I say “best known” it must be taken with a grain of salt, for although it is widely planted in Alsace and often found in bottles labelled Pinot Blanc, its name is rarely found on labels. In fact, it is possible to bottle a 100% Auxerrois and label it as Pinot Blanc, so it’s no wonder the grape remains unfamiliar to even fans of Alsace. Adding to the identity crisis, some of the earliest plantings of what were thought to be Chardonnay in South Africa turned out to be Auxerrois. In the rest of the New World, there are obviously plantings in Canada, and a few in the USA though none that I could find in Australia.
The grape itself is prized in cool to cold climates for its ability to maintain low levels of acidity. (I did have something of a laugh when I first read that, coming at things from an Australian perspective where low acidity is more often a problem than a feature.) As such, it is used to add texture and body to Alsatian blends, and when yields are kept under control can produce wines that can age gracefully.
Gehringer Brothers dates back to the 1980s (which is not so long after modern viticulture started in the Okanagan Valley) though the story begins roughly a decade before that with the two brothers in question both spending time in (West) Germany studying winemaking, while their father and his brother conducted an extensive microterroir survey of the valley. A site was purchased in 1981 and the first vintage was produced in 1985. The business has grown over the subsequent decades and 22 wines are produced across seven different ranges, which include entry level varietals and blends, wines of a desert terroir, reserves, late harvest and ice wines. In addition to Alsatian varieties, the company produces wines of Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and an Ehrenfelser – a white German grape which is completely new to me.
Another quick note on the Okanagan Valley, because even though I’m not going to be able to visit it, I’m learning a bit more about it each day. As I mentioned previously, it’s a young region, and it’s interesting to see how it’s being approached in terms of varieties planted. While I won’t get to try them all, I’ve seen examples of cold climate grapes that I’ve only previously encountered in theory – Baco Noir, Vidal, and Maréchal Foch. Then there have been the Alsatian and German grapes mentioned, as well as Burgundians. Beyond that though, there are people working with Bordeaux varieties, and even Rhône grapes such as Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. (I should be able to write up an example of a Syrah and a V/R/M blend if my notes can be deciphered). In total there are at least 75 different varieties being cultivated, split roughly between red and white.
If I compare that to New World regions closer to home, that’s not so strange. I expect I could find that many in the Barossa Valley or in McLaren Vale. I think what I find most interesting though is the range of grapes in terms of their ideal climates. Vidal, often associated with Canadian ice wine, being grown in the same region as Syrah, which I associate with the warmth of the Rhône or Barossa, is very exciting (at least to me). I put it down to three main factors. First, it’s Canada and varieties that thrive in the cold were an obvious first choice (and probably the most readily available). Second, the region is young, so there’s a great deal of experimentation as people figure out what works and what doesn’t. And finally, it’s a large region with a fair amount of geographic and climactic variation, so it’s to be expected that different subregions would works better with some varieties than others.
As to this particular wine, in the glass it is clear and bright with a pale, lemon green colour and slow, thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium intensity and notes of apple – both green and red – a little grapefruit, and some minerality. On the palate it’s off-dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium flavour intensity, and medium plus length. The palate matches the nose with apples and grapefruit, but doesn’t bring much else to the experience other than a somewhat sour grapefruit finish.
This is a good wine – it has a certain heft, in that it could stand up to significantly spicy or weighty foods. It has a somewhat rare combination in a white of medium plus acidity and medium plus body, and given that the residual sugar wasn’t obvious, is generally well balanced. What it lacks though is complexity – it has fruit but not much more and it’s young enough that there aren’t any developed characters. So as an introduction to a new grape, it ticks a box, but I look forward to trying another for more perspective.
Pin in the map is approximate as I’m getting similar to identical addresses for Gehringer Brothers Winery and what I’m assuming is the neighbouring or co-located Hester Creek Estate Winery.