Gewurz/traminer – Puzzling Whichever Way You Slice It


When was the last time you had a glass of Gewurztraminer? Exactly! That’s why you have me, to suffer through all that wine tasting for you. 🙂

But if you decide to try it for yourself, for the first time or one more time, here are some things you may like to know. Starting with the, you may call it confusing, name. Is it Gewurztraminer or Gewürztraminer? And what heck is Traminer?

Gewurztraminer, one of the (say 12) classic wine varietals we associate with France, finds its benchmark expression in the Alsace region in the north of the country, bordering with Germany. Alsace’s, let’s mildly call it dynamic, history witnessed the area change hands between France and Germany several times.

Because of that we see both influences in the spelling: Gewurztraminer (French) and Gewürztraminer (German). In fact German is responsible for adding the Gewürz part to the name, which in German means ‘spice’. And spicy the wine is, but we’ll get to that in just a second.

While being shortened to Gewurz on the American side of the Atlantic, the original Traminer part of the name, like the grape itself, hails from Tramin (also called Termeno, as if all that wasn’t confusing enough), a place in northern Italy. That name is still used for the grape and the wine in Italy and several other European countries.

Now that the unusual name origin is cleared, we slightly change gears to the aromas and tastes profile. And that is where the next perplexing detail comes from.

If I asked you about any given grape variety and its corresponding wine in general, whether its old-world (Europe) or new-world (e.g. Americas, Australia, and South Africa) version has more intense aromas and tastes, what would you say? Likely, you’d say new-world’s. You’ll probably think of subtler Sauvignon Blancs from France and their bolder, more pungent counterparts from New Zealand (as I touched on in Of Gooseberries, Cats and Sauvignon Blanc).

Not so with Gewurztraminer! In its Alsace incarnation it is the most aromatic, in-your-face, knock-you-off-your-feet roses and lychee fruit and all kinds of spices on the nose. In contrast, subtler but certainly well-rounded and interesting aromas are coming from several new-world countries, including some excellent versions from Canada. But, more about that another day.

So here you have it: Gewurztraminer explained. And you may love it or hate it, the Alsace version, but you’ll agree with me that it is something truly different. I happen to love it. Which inspired me to write this post when I recently tasted it again after a while.

Pierre Sparr, a renowned Alsace producer, brings us 2014 Gewurztraminer Réserve. The unpretentious medium straw-yellow coloured liquid deceivingly gives way to the powerful scents of roses dominating, with jasmine weaving its way through, and a hefty helping of aromas of citrusy cardamom. Oily mouthfeel, balanced with acidity and fruit flavours, yields to tastes of lemon and grapefruit, with the latter lingering on the finish. It would go well with slightly spicy Asian dishes, as it did with the Thai-spice rubbed barbecued chicken, below.




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