Gewürztraminer is one of the great European white grapes. Gewürztraminer wines are known for their aromatic bouquet, high levels of alcohol, and slightly sweet taste due to high sugar levels. The grape’s skin is actually red, as opposed to green, but the wines it makes have a typical white wine color. Its spicy flavors and low acidity make for a wine that is almost completely opposite to Riesling. The wines are usually light, sometimes rich, and always aromatically perfumed with exotic flavors.
Given Gewürztraminer’s confusing history and similarity to other vines, the origin of the grape has proven hard to determine. Experts have pinpointed the location somewhere in Alsace. The grape also has a long history in Italy. Adding to the confusion are a number of crosses; none of them have ever been very successful, but together they populate a large part of Europe.
Gewürztraminer is a finicky grape, often to the point of being extremely unreliable. Prone to all kinds of diseases, it also requires winemakers to be exacting about the picking time, and can often produce truly poor wines. Even if all steps are followed correctly, the climate is a great determining factor in whether or not Gewürztraminer wines will be good. Generally, the grape does better in cold climates, and in hot climates the sugar overwhelms the acidity and makes for a bad-tasting sugar bomb. This is changing as producers work harder to cultivate Gewürztraminer and satisfy its stringent requisites.
Alsace provides the best growing conditions for Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer plantings have risen to second in Alsace, behind only Riesling, and international attention has been directed much more on the former lately. Gewürztraminer is always aromatic, but from Alsace it perhaps reaches its peak of expression. These wines are usually dry, and very pure. They are rarely oaked, and usually acidity is kept as low as reasonable to allow the grape’s flavors to overtake the wine. Notable examples of Alsatian Gewurztraminer (which is spelled without the umlaut there), include both sweet and dry wines, and encompass hundreds of excellent producers. Critics have been pleased with the region’s wines of late.
Styria, Austria, has just about the right climate for producing Gewürztraminer, and quality is on the up and up. The same is true of Germany, although German wine tends to be acidic and Gewürztraminer is the opposite of that. Gewürztraminer may have originated in Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, and production there is often good. Australia and the US, due to their warmer climates, are rarely able to come up with good offerings, but New York and Canada are showing promise. South Africa and Israel are now making Gewürztraminer wines worthy of mention.
At its best, Gewürztraminer offers a high quantity of diverse, delicious flavors that are available for a reasonable price.