When you see the word Gewurztraminer, whether or not you can pronounce it, you probably immediately think Germany. Only the Germans would come up with such a mouthful of a name for their wines right? But it might surprise you to know that while yes, they do grow a good amount of this grape in Germany, it is actually more well known from the Northern French region of Alsace. And in fact is most likely Italian by origin. Here is the story of the wine no one knows how to say.
What we know today as Gewurztraminer most likely originated in Italy where it was known as either Tramin or Termano. At some point it was brought to Germany where the prefix gewurz was added to the front, gewurz meaning spicy in German, and it subsequently became much more popular in Germany than it ever was in Italy. It was more or less forgotten in its homeland and embraced in Germany. And then Alsace comes into the picture. Alsace at the northern tip of France has gone back and forth between French and German control over the years and while today it is by law, and in spirit of the residences there, French, German influence is still profound. Aside from its dual citizenship Alsace is unique in that it is one of just a few wine regions in the world devoted almost exclusively to white wine. Alsace is also one of the first regions in the modern world to label its wines according to the grape variety rather than where the grapes are grown, a practice more common, both then and now, in Germany rather than France. This practice is intrinsically linked to one of the biggest tenants of Alsatian wine making philosophy, namely that the grape is king. Their focus is on the grape it self and the region where the grape is grown, the terroir, so much so that blending is rarely practiced there. Also in accordance with this philosophy the Gewurztraminer grown here is uniquely of its place, with a range of flavors, complexity and delicacy that is rarely found in other examples of the wine. And it is for this reason that Alsatian Gewurztraminer so far outshines any of it German counterparts.
Gewurztraminer is characteristically a very fruity wine. Many times it is made in an off dry style meaning that the fermentation is stopped before all the sugar has converted to alcohol, leaving the wine with a touch of natural sweetness, an enhanced fruit flavor, and a lower level of alcohol. However, many Gewurztraminers, including some of the best Alsace examples are made entirely dry. These wines still retain their massive fruitiness, which can often be mistake for sweetness, but also notes of honeysuckle, mineral and smoke. They have a depth and complexity of flavor that goes beyond the sheer force of the fruit and a rich, full, almost oily texture. It is with in these examples that the namesake spiciness really shines through, the spice being its bold perfumed aromas and loud, almost kinetic flavors more than anything with actual heat.
In fact this notion of spice leads to one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to pairing food with this wine. Many people think that a characteristically spicy wine would be a good match for spiciness in food. Because Gewurztraminer is a relatively late ripening grape all that big fruit also comes with a fairly high alcohol, which would only serve to increase the burn of the spicy food. However, Gewurztraminer can pair well with many different foods, including a range of foods that are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. It goes exceedingly well with smoky, salty or slightly sweet foods and in fact can be pure magic with dishes that incorporate soy sauce. It pairs really well with crab and lobster and other sweet shellfish. It is one of the few wines that can hold its own against strong cheeses. And it can also pair well with quiches or other egg based dishes, something almost no other wine varietal can claim.
Gewurztraminer is undoubtedly a mouthful of a name for a wine, but don’t let that stop you from ordering a glass, or better yet a bottle.