Fun To Say, Fun To Drink: Gewürztraminer

The Battle of Turckheim, Alsace, 1675. Only the beginning of the fighting in this revered territory that produces some of the most exquisite wines in the world. Image credit:  Wikipedia

The Battle of Turckheim, Alsace, 1675. Only the beginning of the fighting in this revered territory that produces some of the most exquisite wines in the world. Image credit: Wikipedia

Sometimes, you need an excuse to step outside of your comfort zone. Internally, you might recognize that you need to branch out and be more adventurous in your drinking. However, it can be difficult to choose a direction, particularly if you are not familiar with some of the grape varieties available to you.

So today, I unveil the "Fun To Say, Fun To Drink" feature for you. Need a run-down of a wine grape that you might have seen on a shelf, but you were hesitant to spend the money on it? I have you covered, and the debut involves the distinct and unusual grape called Gewürztraminer.

Umm...how do you say that, and what is it?

Gewürztraminer (guh-VERTZ-trah-meen-er) is an aromatic white grape variety which, despite having a German name, has its roots in Alsace, France. If you read your history books, you will remember that this eastern section of France was fought over for many centuries, changing hands from French to German rule a number of times until the end of World War II. It's cool, yet sunny climate lets Gewürztraminer and other aromatic varieties thrive. Despite being considered a white grape, Gewürztraminer has a pink/red color to its skins. Because of that, the wines end up having a coppery hue to them.

Gewürztraminer ripening in a German vineyard. This bunch is packed with wild aromas and rich flavors.

Gewürztraminer ripening in a German vineyard. This bunch is packed with wild aromas and rich flavors.

So what does Gewürztraminer smell and taste like?

Gewürztraminer is loaded with tropical and exotic fruit, perfume, flowers, and spices; these wild flavors and aromas make sense when we find out that "Gewürztraminer" translates to "spiced traminer", where "traminer" is an ancient family of aromatic varieties that made its home in northeastern Italy's Tyrol region (near the Austrian border). When I went to school at the International Wine Center and studied the Alsace region, our instructor for the session claimed Gewürztraminer to be a "banker" grape; it's aromas are so distinct that if I encountered it on an exam, I could easily identify it and "take it to the bank" that I would be right. Guess what? So can you.

Is all Gewürztraminer the same?

Not at all. Gewürztraminer has the tendency to get high in alcohol and low in acidity, so it can have a flabby, oily texture if the grapes ripen too quickly. Underripe Gewürztraminer can be very light in flavor; I would describe that sensation of drinking rosewater or green tea. There is a wide range of expressions in between those extremes, and vineyard site selection is critical in getting the most out of this grape. Aside from Alsace, you can find Gewürztraminer from northeastern Italy, Germany, Oregon, Washington State's Columbia Valley, the Finger Lakes of New York, and even South Africa. Examples can also finish fruity (with a pleasant bitter edge), dry, or sweet (in the case of "Late Harvest" examples that turn to raisins on the vine).

So what do you have for me and what am I eating with them?

I am glad you asked! By the way, due to Gewürztraminer's fussiness and difficulty to deal with in the vineyards and winery, it is not a cheap wine. That being said, I have some reasonably-priced examples that you should be able to find at your local wine shop or beverage depot.

Montinore Estate Willamette Valley Gewürztraminer ($18)

Floral, citrusy, and gingery, this zesty example from Oregon's Montinore Estate will work great with a range of Thai or Indian dishes. A great way to get yourself familiar with Gewürztraminer for under $20.

Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige Gewürztraminer ($25)

Fermented in stainless steel tanks, this Italian example is very lively and aromatic, but lush on the palate. It's full-bodied texture makes this great with a plate of sausages or a pasta with ground sausage, cream, and basil. The honeyed mango flavors would make this work with duck, too.

Pierre Sparr Alsace Gewürztraminer ($25)

Pierre Sparr traces its history back to the year 1680. Anise, apricots, and dried peaches show in this wine, along with a touch of residual sweetness. If you are familiar with the lychee fruit, you might detect that here, too. I would go with bacon-wrapped scallop with this one.

Pierre Sparr Alsace Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Mambourg ($40)

Pierre Sparr's Mambourg vineyard is dominated by Gewürztraminer vines, which have an average age of 40 years, leading to intense, concentrated wines. This wine is rich and full-bodied with a spectrum of dried tropical fruits, honey, and spice. If you are living it up this would be a great match with foie gras.