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A somewhat ignored grape, perhaps thanks to its difficult name, gewürztraminer nonetheless offers a complex and rewarding white wine experience. A native of France’s Alsace region, a recent resurgence is being driven by an unlikely source – Australian vintners.
''In many ways gewürztraminer can be thought of as a moscato for the experienced; it is a similarly sweet and aromatic white, but is higher in alcohol and lower in acidity, and offers far more complexity.''
What’s in a name? For gewürztraminer, a grape that finds itself forever at the periphery of the wine world, it could be argued quite a bit.
There’s something decidedly sensual and melodic about the French language. This fact sees grapes that are native to France enjoying a level of appellation appeal – albeit one that’s notoriously difficult to quantify. With names like pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, French grapes bring a level of desirability, sophistication and legitimacy to their namesake wines.
And then there’s German.
A somewhat more abrasive language – to put it politely – German doesn’t quite offer the same level of marketability as French. And it could be for this reason that gewürztraminer (pronounced gur-vertz-tra-meaner) has never been given quite the attention it deserves, despite being one of the 18 noble grapes.
But thanks to a very Australian rebrand, the fortunes of this sweet and aromatic white could be about to change.
When is a German not a German?
When it’s gewürztraminer, as it turns out. This grape might have an overtly German name, but it actually originates from the Alsace region of France, an area that just happens to have a heavy Germanic influence.
The grape is a mutated version of the savagnin blanc variety, known as “traminer” in Northern Italy. Indeed, the Italian town of Tramin – itself heavily German-influenced – is the starting point of the gewürztraminer journey. The original grape is known to have been heavily cultivated in Tramin as early as 1000 AD, and over the course of the next millennium it slowly made its way along the Rhine, mutating all the while, before making it to Alsace and being prefixed with “gewürz” – meaning “spiced” – by 1870.
In truth the grape is all but non-existent in Germany, with as little as 10 square kilometres grown in total. France and Italy still produce the most gewürztraminer in Europe, although New World vintners, particularly those in the US, Canada, and right here in Australia, are doing their best to put the variety’s coarse name up in lights.
An Aussie-driven resurgence
Realising that gewürztraminer was a bit of a mouthful, Australian vintners began to make a habit of dropping the “gewürz” from the name, reverting to the original term “traminer” (despite the fact that by the letter of the law, traminer referred to the original unmutated grape).
The greater accessibility for anglicised tongues, along with the greater marketing opportunities afforded by a shorter name, has seen gewürztraminer slowly gain a committed local following. While labelling uniformity remains a major hurdle – along with gewürztraminer and traminer, the wine can be labelled any one of savagnin, traminer musque, blanc brun, clevner or gentil rose aromatique – an ever more educated audience is beginning to understand and better identify the wine.
Moscato with added maturity
Gewürztraminer is a deeply aromatic white, and a bouquet of lychee, rose petals and spice (as per that “gewürz” prefix) dominate the nose. Lighter variations will offer grapefruit notes, while fruit that is allowed to ripen will offer a distinct pineapple fragrance, and can even turn smoky. While sweet, these heightened fruit aromatics can tend to make gewürztraminer taste sweeter than it actually is.
In many ways gewürztraminer can be thought of as a moscato for the experienced; it is a similarly sweet and aromatic white, but is higher in alcohol and lower in acidity, and offers far more complexity.
When pairing gewürztraminer with food, keep the flavour profile of the wine itself in mind – complex, aromatic and spicy. Perfect with Indian, Mexican or Thai, aim to position it next to seafood, poultry, or sweet vegetables like capsicum and carrot. Delicate cheeses, unsalted nuts and dried fruit also partner perfectly.
The best of the gewürz
Harking from the foothills of the Alps, gewürztraminer is a cool-climate grape that can cope admirably with frosty mornings. As such the Clare, Eden, Yarra, and Hunter valleys are all excellent proponents of gewürztraminer, as are many parts of Tasmania. Try Symphony Hill, Flowstone, S.C. Pannell and Pooley for excellent local examples of the wine.
The gewürztraminers of other New World countries are also worth a look, with New Zealand, Chile, Canada and the US all offering up very distinct takes on the wine. The dryness of the Kiwi offering – far removed from most Old World gewürztraminers – is of particular note.
But for a true gewürztraminer experience, look no further than the slopes of France’s Alsace region. Allow the likes of Dopff au Moulin, Hugel and Domaine Josmeyer to show you how Alsatians have been making gewürztraminer for centuries.
- You’ll notice that many gewürztraminers have a pinkish tinge in the glass. That’s because unlike most white grapes, gewürztraminer actually has a rose-pink skin.
- Gewürztraminer made its way from Tramin to Alsace via the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it’s thanks to this fact that Hungary remains one of the world’s largest producers to this day.
- Gewürztraminer is one of the rarest of the noble grapes, with only 20,000 acres devoted to it worldwide.