Reconsidering an Unsung Varietal
One of the world's lesser-appreciated varietals, Gewürztraminer is a wine that deserves more respect. True, it's a tongue-twisting mouthful to pronounce, it's difficult to grow and vinify, and its lack of acidity can make it seem cloyingly sweet and “flabby.”
Even so, this pungently aromatic, honeyed, even flamboyant grape has been gaining popularity in recent years and it's well worth investigating.
Gewürztraminer's genetic origin is a bit complicated. The German word Gewürz translates to “spice” and “Traminer” refers to an ancient European green-skinned grape varietal that appeared in the 11th century in the Alpine town of Tramin in the Alto Aldige region of northern Italy. As the grape traveled south its skin color morphed to a pinkish-brown, arriving first in the Pfalz area of southwest Germany and then, by the end of the Middle Ages, in Alsace on the northeastern French-German border where it thrives today.
Although it is a is a cool climate grape, Gewürztraminer has surprisingly low acidity, and its high levels of residual sugar signal the potential for significant levels of alcohol. The grape grows well in cooler regions of the New World, and excellent Gewürztraminers derive from Austria, Germany, and the Trentino-Alto Aldige wine region. But the grape finds its best expression in the alluvial clay-and-limestone soils of Alsace, where the wines are rose-gold in the glass, usually medium-bodied, dry or off-dry — at times with more pronounced acidity depending on the terroir —and like all Gewürztraminers, powerfully redolent of the rose petal scents of fresh lychee nuts. Heady aromas of gardenias, peaches, apricots, mangoes, oranges and grapefruit also predominate. Spices are present, too — allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. The mouthfeel is fat and unctuous — sometimes described as “oily”— with full-bodied, spice-laden flavors of grapefruit, pineapple, peach, apricot, orange,and cantaloupe. Alsatian Gewürztraminers can be vinified in a wide spectrum of styles from dry to off-dry to sweet, and produce excellent late-harvest dessert wines like Vendages Tardives as well.
Gewürztraminer pairs especially well with spicier dishes like Thai, Chinese, or Indian, egg-based fare, dried fruits and piquant cheeses like Muenster.
Oenology 101: The Basics of All Things Wine
Although Gewürztraminer is regarded as a sweet wine, it can be crafted in dry and off-dry styles as well.
These terms all refer to the wine's levels of residual sugar (the sugar left over after fermentation): “dry” wines have no residual sugar; “off-dry” or “semi-dry” wines contain mild amounts; and “sweet” wines have higher sugar levels.
Low in acidity, Gewürztraminer wines impart a crispness or tartness in the mouth. This allows the wine to pair well with food. It's acidity derives from the natural acids occurring in grapes — generally speaking, grapes grown in cooler northern climates are more acidic and spicy, while those from southern regions have lower acidity and more fruit on the palate.
Usually white wines such as Gewürztraminer are vinified from green (or yellowish) grapes, but they can be made from red grapes as well. When grapes are crushed, the resulting juice is clear. To produce red wines the skins are left in contact with the juice during the fermentation process. In white wine production the skins are removed.Edit Module