Gewurztraminer wine is an often misunderstood wine. First of all it is a grape variety that often creates a "love it or hate it" response by those that taste even the best of them. Part of the reason for this is its distinct, flamboyant personality which is quite different from most other common grape varieties. Wines made from grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc can seem quite tame in comparison.
Gewurztraminer (pronounced roughly "geh-vurtz-traminer") is a cousin of Traminer. "Gewurz" means spice or spicy.
The grape is also misunderstood because the name sounds German, yet the most famous versions are not German or Austrian. Likewise, most people have come across Californian versions of Gewurztraminer wine which are generally not great representations of what the wine is about. These tend to be a bit sweet and lacking in balance, putting off many first time tasters.
Yet, the truly great wines from this grape variety can be stunning, in various styles from dry to very sweet. Read below for more info on the gewurztraminer grape variety.
Where Is Gewurztraminer Wine Made?
While Gewurztraminer is rather widespread, with plantings of this grape variety and other related grapes in parts of Italy, France, Germany and other countries, the wines that generally get the most respect and which are most widely seen are those from Alsace in France. Alsace is a region along the eastern edge of France, just over the border from Germany. In fact, this area has alternatively been part of Germany and France throughout history. While it is now part of France and the locals speak French, much of the culture is very Germanic in influence. If you visit, the medieval towns and houses look very German. Must of the local food is very German (check out a good Choucroute if you ever visit!). Even the tall pointy wine bottle shape is like those of their German and Austrian cousins.
In Alsace, many different grape varieties are grown and usually bottled separately, including Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Riesling and others. Each has their own unique character. Most of the best and most sought-after Gewurztraminer wines originate from this area.
While Gewurztraminer is grown in parts of Germany, it is not one of the most prominent wines there. Riesling is much more common as are several other crosses of Riesling like Schreurebe and others.
A fair amount of Gewurz is planted in California. The warm climate there is probably not ideal for the grape however. There are some nice examples produced but in general don't reach the heights that the best Alsatians do.
What Styles of Wine Does Gewurztraminer Produce and What Do They Taste Like?
Most Alsatian Gewurztraminer wine is a dry or just off-dry white wine. However, some late harvest wines can be quite sweet. Vendange Tardive
(VT) are late harvested wines that generally have greater ripeness and some sweetness. However, the sweetest wines in Alsace are those labeled Selection de Grains Nobles
(SGN) which come just from hand-picked botrytis
affected grapes, picked grape by grape! These are very concentrated, sweet dessert-style wines.
Gewurztraminer can have a flamboyant personality which people either love or are put off by. First of all, it tends to be very aromatic with dramatic aromas of rose petals and lychee fruit jumping from the glass. The flavors tend to be bold, full-bodied and often have a spicy accent to them. They can seem almost waxy or oily because of their full body and relatively low acid. Yet, despite the lower acid and rounder, fatter texture, the best Alsatian wines stay in excellent balance. They do not have the thrust and verve of a Riesling and almost represent a polar opposite in terms of personality.
Most Gewurz is excellent young but some can age well too. While they do not have the longevity of Riesling, they can improve in bottle for many years. In particular, the late harvest wines can age almost indefinitely, particularly the SGNs.
Some Famous Examples:
Top Wines (particularly single-vineyard wines from Grand Cru vineyards) from producers such as Zind-Humbrecht, Trimbach, Hugel, Leon Beyer, Kuentz-Bas, Weinbach, Albert Mann and others.
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