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The Gewürztraminer Grape


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About Gewürztraminer

(Synonyms: see the “Background” discussion below.)

Background

Map showing Alsace

Jancis Robinson, in her monumental book Wine Grapes, asserts definitely that Gewüztraminer is the same grape as (among others) Traminer, Heida, Païen, and Savagnin (which is the heading under which she lists them all). That assertion is based on substantial DNA-profile evidence, so we must accept it. Mind, those various types, at present still accepted as distinct wines, can represent “clonal variations”, but that doesn’t make them separate grape types.

The “Ur-Savagin” apperars to have arisen in a region encompassing the northeast of France and ranging into the southwest of Germany. The Savagnin grape has been parent to a number of other grape types, the more notable of which would seem to include Chenin Blanc, Trousseau, Sauvignon (and thus to Cabernet Sauvignon), Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Silvaner, Grüner Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Neuberger, and even Verdelho. Now that is an impressive set of descendants.

The approach we have taken here is to discuss what seem the more important of the “synonym” grapes—Gewürtztraminer, Savignan, and Traminer—on separate pages, because the wines they make are vinified and marketed by those names, and in many cases by vinification methods specific to the grape name (as with, for just one example, the Vin Jaune made from Savignan). So, here goes Gewürtztraminer—which is nowadays widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world.


An extremely common but erroneous remark one finds about the wine is that the prefix “Gewürz” means “spicy”, and from that evolve remarks about the wine’s “spicy” flavors; in truth, a much better translation would be “perfumed”, and that shows in some of the other names for the grape (Traminer Aromatique, Traminer Musqué, Traminer Parfumé). While the wines typically have strong and somewhat exotic flavors, few if any of them actually correspond to the aromas or tastes of any actual spices.

As you will see below, descriptions of the nose and taste of Gewurz tend to be remarkably similar. The most frequently repeated simile is “lychee” (aka “lichi”), not necessarily an aroma many will be intimate with. One also reads of tropical fruits, floral notes, and that elusive “spiciness”. In fact, there is no good way to put the wine’s quality into words; but one’s first two or three samples will leave an indelible impression.

(Something to note: Gewurz is too often associated with a distinctly sweet quality, because that’s how many winemakers, especially in America, have mostly made it; a good dry Gewurz can be “caviar to the masses”, so mind reviews that talk about a slightly bitter finish or an astringency. A dry Gewurz, the style most fanciers prefer in their table wines, is rich but certainly not sweet. Alsace in particular makes many fine dry Gewürtztraminers.)

Gewurz is a grape quite difficult to grow well; it is very sensitive to soil type and climate, and—though a vigorous grower—prone to diseases. As relates to the wine produced, the important aspects of viticulture are that, because the grape has naturally high sugars but rather low acids, in warm climates it tends toward flabby wine lacking sufficient acid to balance the sweetness, whereas if picked early to retain some acid, it may well not have developed enough of its famous characteristic flavor elements. In general, then, getting Gewurz with the full flavor balanced by sufficient acids is very tricky, and so a lot of mediocre Gewurz gets made. Only the top hands can reliably produce good product on a long-term basis.

It is received wisdom, and (for once) probably correct, that the best manifestations of Gewurz are and for some time have been the Alsatian wines (that is also true of such similar wines as Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and a few others). There are some makers in California who are said to have achieved satisfactory results, but by and large the wine world still turns to Alsace for its Gewurz.

(A longer, and excellent if older, article on Gewürztraminer by Jancis Robinson can be found on her site [link is to archived version].)

Factoid: Despite common lore, it seems highly likely that the name of the grape is not derived from that of the town of Tramin.

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Some Descriptions of Gewürztraminer Wines

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Some Gewürztraminers to Try

(About this list.)

Beware sweetness levels: supposedly “table wine” Gewurz can range from bone-dry to quite a ways “off dry”; none are accordingly “better” or “worse”, but your appreciation will depend mightily on your preference for dryness in non-dessert wines.


Union Sacré “Belle de Nuit” Gewürztraminer
(Central Coast, USA.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of tHengst his wine listed by 1000 Corks.



Foris Dry Gewürztraminer
(Rogue Valley, USA.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.



Brandborg Gewürztraminer
(Umpqua Valley, USA.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
    CellarTracker has three separate listings for this wine:
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.



Tramin Gewürztraminer
(Trentino - Alto Adige, Italy. Take care: they bottle a huge number of different Gewürzes.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.



Willm Gewürztraminer Clos Gaensbroennel “Kirchberg de Barr”
(Clos Gaensbroennel, France.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is from the famed the famed Gewürztraminer house Zind-Humbrecht: it is their “Hengst” Gewürztraminer, which retails for from about $59 to $150. It comes from—surprise, surprise—Hengst, France. It is not a bone-dry wine, but from descriptions seems as if it has enough balancing acids to be a satisfactory table wine.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.

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