The misunderstood variety: Gewürztraminer

Green grapes on a vine

What goes with spicy food? If it is very hot, try a fire extinguisher, with more moderate fare, try a gewürztraminer.

In my native eastern French region of Alsace where fortified medieval villages, old hill-top castles and German names abound reflecting centuries of disputed territorial ownership, the grape variety gewürztraminer has been a specialty.

Indeed, its distinctive wines have a long and rich history though its name is based on two words – the German gewürz meaning spicy and traminer, taken from the grape variety – may well be a barrier to the uncertain consumer, even based on its spelling.

This pink-skinned variety is ‘very fussy’ whose yields can fluctuate significantly.

However, the long ripening season in the best-protected sites in the foothills of the mountain range Vosges ensures wines of distinction.

But gewürztraminer can be confronting – you either love the wines or hate them, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

They can be very heady, heavily perfumed oily, and exotic with Turkish delight-like characters. The leading styles will have richness of fruit and spicy characters and are ideal with Asian dishes because they can complement the spice and absorb a bit of heat.

If you want the optimum experience just refer back to Alsace and the individual vineyard sites that are classified Grand Cru with producers such as Zind-Humbrecht or Paul Blanck.

Gewürztraminer was adopted in Alsace as the official name in 1973. But its production history goes back to the Middle Ages – its spread encouraged from rich wines produced in Germany’s Pfalz. However, the story really starts with the ancient Traminer variety that takes its name from the village of Tramin or Termeno in what is now the Italian Tyroll. Gewürztraminer is a much later mutation.

For many regions in the new world, the challenge is that they are slightly too warm to produce wines from the variety with enough acidity unless the grapes are picked very early. Then they may have little varietal character. The bigger challenge is, of course, its lack of popularity and exposure on wine lists. So, for your next mildly spiced Thai or Vietnamese fare – think Gewurztraminer!

Written by Christian Maier
July 21, 2017