Natalie MacLean, editor of the award-winning wine newsletter at NatalieMacLean.com and author of Red, White and Drunk All Over helped AskMen.com learn about the extraordinary white wine Gewürztraminer.
Gewürztraminer has historically been unfairly treated and ignored. This dry white wine calls Alsace home and despite its distinctive character, its more popular big brother Riesling largely overshadows it — “partly because Gewürztraminer is hard to say in a restaurant or liquor store,” says MacLean. Once you taste Gewürztraminer, however, you’ll either love it or hate it. Either way, there’s no way you can ignore this versatile wine or its lychee and rose aromas any longer.
Gewürztraminer is an honest and straightforward wine. According to Natalie MacLean, many oenophiles write off this incredible wine because “it has unusual aromas that are an acquired taste (or smell).”
Gewürztraminer is one of the few wines that has adopted the name of the grape from which it is produced. The grape itself has a pink to red colored skin and the etymology of its name offers an interesting story: The “traminer” part of its name is derived from a region in the Italian Alps known as Trentino-Alto Adige, while the “Gewürz” portion is distinctly German and means “spicy.” Adding to the international scope of this story is the fact that the Gewürztraminer varietal has had the most success in France.
Gewürztraminer isn’t an easy wine to produce, owing in large part to the early spring budding and is, therefore, susceptible to frost damage. The vine is reluctant to fight off viral infections and the grape clusters are typically small in the best of conditions. As a result, many producers fail to give it the care or time it deserves.
Where to find Gewürztraminer
If you were so inclined to take a wine tour to explore the regions from which Gewürztraminer hails, you’d be well-advised to pack a wool sweater, a warm hat and a pair of long pants. That’s because this grape thrives in cooler climates and though it does best in the Alsace region of France, its producers there still struggle with it. The vine must be closely monitored and an exacting harvest time is essential to producing a wine that maintains the proper acid and pH balance. If it’s picked too early, you’ll end up with an acidic wine and, conversely, if it’s picked too late, you’ll miss out on Gewürztraminer’s distinctive qualities because it gets too ripe.
Your Gewürztraminer wine tour might also bring you to Canada, the U.S., Australia, Italy, Germany, and Israel. The good news is, however, that after years of static production acreage, Gewürztraminer is expanding, most notably in New Zealand and in Oregon and Washington states.
One of the main problems with Gewürztraminer producers is that they are not able to dedicate enough land to the grape; usually they give it five acres, but “some do more” according to MacLean. As a result, much of Gewürztraminer’s reputation is derived from the shipper and not the vineyard.
How to pair Gewürztraminer
Many consider Gewürztraminer a perfect wine to be paired with spicy Asian cuisine, such as Indian or Thai. It is true, but there are so many other possibilities owing to its bold flavors and aromas. Natalie MacLean says that Gewürztraminer is one of the most versatile wines to match with food because it’s full-bodied and flavorful, so it stands up to heartier meat dishes than most whites. Its spicy and floral aromatics also means that it can handle curries and tangy sauces.”
“In fact, in the interactive wine-and-food matching tool on my website, I pair Gewürztraminer with beef bourguignonne, black pepper crusted cheeses, duck a l’orange, rack of lamb with rosemary seasoning, charcuterie, and onion tarts,” says MacLean. She also points out that this delicious white wine isn’t always limited to being paired with main-course dishes or with hors d’oeuvres: “When Gewürztraminer is made in an off-dry or dessert style, it marries beautifully with fruit-based desserts, such as flans and cobblers, as well as various pastries.”
Try playing matchmaker with some of these suggestions:
• Sauerkraut and sausage
• Munster cheese
• Curry-based plates
• Chinese and Mexican
• Fresh fruit
• Fatty and oily game
• Smoked salmon
Given the inherent difficulties with the production of Gewürztraminer, it is a relatively affordable wine. “As more and more wine lovers discover Gewürztraminer ‘s versatility and terrific taste, the market for it will grow. In the meantime, those of us who have discovered it now can drink this undiscovered gem at very reasonable prices in the range of $7 to $15,” says MacLean.
Gewürztraminer can also extend into three-digit territory, but unless you’re trying to impress someone (and let’s face it, no one likes a wine snob) it’s a waste of your money. If, however, you’re looking for a bottle to bring to a dinner party or to give as a gift, excellent bottles of Gewürztraminer can be had for anywhere between $18 and $40.
If you’re a neophyte, you’ll be pleased with a mid-priced bottle of Gewürztraminer. A bottle in this range will contain all the typical Gewürztraminer characteristics you need to learn and develop your tasting skills. Also note that as more producers emerge in the United States, you won’t necessarily have to spend more than $20 for a quality bottle.
2001 Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive
AC Alsace, France
This Gewürztraminer is a low-acidity wine with rich layers of sweet pears, lychee and spice. Pair it with pork and glazed ham with cloves.
Natalie MacLean’s score: 91/100
2005 Darting Gewürztraminer Kabinett, Qmp, Dürkheimer Nonnengarten
Germany, Pfalz Region
Stunning! A white wine with exotic layers of rose petals, lychee and nuts. Closed with a screwcap.
Natalie MacLean’s score: 90/100
2005 Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives
The producer states that this bottle is made from late-harvest grapes, which creates a wine with subdued Gewürztraminer characteristics. Despite its subtleties, it’s still an intense glass with complexity and length in the mouth. The bottle should be served as an aperitif or with light desserts.
Gewürztraminer takeaway tips
• Gewürztraminer can be drunk as an aperitif or with nearly any meal.
• Gewürztraminer is often considered a dessert wine.
• Its color is typically straw yellow.
• A glass of Gewürztraminer will often have spritz.