Alsace. It’s one of my favorite wine regions. Someday I will take a trip to this dry and sunny region. Did you know that Colmar, a major city of Alsace, is one of the sunniest places in all of France!
So you may be thinking, what’s up with this Gewurz-thing? Gewürztraminer. Pronounced more like Giv-oortz-tra-mean-er, but altogether and really fast. Don’t try to say all the letters, just let it flow like a German would.
German? Yes, German. I know Alsace is in France. But in case you didn’t know, Alsace is on the border of France and Germany. (See map above, curtesy of WSET) In case you also didn’t know – there’s been a lot of conflict between the two in the past few centuries. There was the 100 Years War, World War I, and World War II. (You should really take a history lesson if you’re just finding out about these events now…).
So this small region on the border, it’s been the rope in a tug-of-war game many times. So what does that mean on a gastronomic and viticultural level? Alsace is a fabulous scene for food and wine. The food has a lot of German influence, you’ll see sausages, cured meats and other classically German foods, with a french take. The wines are a mix of German and French Varietals, but have a lot more fruit flavor due to the sunnier and slightly warmer climate.
So what does it taste like? Gewürztraminer is a grape like no other. It’s an aromatic grape varietal (meaning that the aromatics jump out of the glass and you can smell them before you even touch your lips to the rim). There are notes of roses, spices, and tropical fruit.
Jancis Robinson writes her encyclopedia, Wine Grapes that Gewürztraminer is “one of the most headily and distinctively aromatic varietals of all with strong lychee flavours and high alcohol levels”.
Gewürz is German for spice. So this is known as the spicy grape. And you want to know a fun fact? It’s pink! It’s a pink grape. It’s not white or back. There are only a few pink grape varietals out there and this is one of them. This is where the copper-gold hue of the wine comes from.
The best of these wines are full of tropical fruits, rose petals, and have a full body (partially due to the high alcohol typically around 14%, but also because of the slight oil-like texture of the wine) with a bracing acidity that prevents the wine from becoming flabby. These wines can be dry (no residual sugar) to off-dry (some residual sugar) but remember, the off-dry wines won’t taste like the cheap sweet wines you’re thinking of. The acidity will balance this residual sugar, especially with a good producer.
So that means that growers have to be careful with this grape – when it’s too hot, the acidity levels won’t be able to carry the wine and it will be like when you get a fatty piece of meat and can’t chew through it (ew). That means for you, as a consumer, that you don’t want to cut corners with this varietal, so get a good one! Spend $18-$22+ and you’ll be thrilled. Get one for $13 and it will likely not be thrilling.
Some producers to look for when selecting French Gewürztraminers are: Hugel, Willm, Trimbach, Weinbach, Gustave Lorentz, Marcel Deiss, and Zind-Humbrecht, Schlumberger. The last two will really wow you with grand cru sites, the first three are perhaps the simplest and most widely produced, but still quality!
The final thing you need to know is what Vendage Tardives mean. Vendage Tardives is French for Late Harvest. You might see it on the label of some Gewürztraminers. That means that the grapes are picked late (typically after normal harvest times). Why does that matter? Sugar. Late harvest wines can be fermented dry (or just nearly there), so it doesn’t always mean the wine is sweet. So if you see it, expect the wine will have even more flavors of honeyed melon, apricot and ripe stone fruits. Alsace is working on a system to show the sweetness level of the wine on the back label, so check it out if needed. If it says off-dry, or lightly sweet, don’t expect a full-on sweet wine. The acidity and minerality will work to tone down that sweetness a lot!
So here’s the WSET 3 Level Style Review:
Appearance: clear and medium gold.
Nose: This wine is youthful with complex notes of ripe peach and pear, fresh and dried roses, and spices. There are also notes of tropical fruits such as lychee and quince.
Palate: This wine has notes of ripe peach, pear and quince, as well as notes of allspice on the palate. This wine has medium acidity, high alcohol, and medium + body.
Conclusion: This wine is very good, the acidity, alcohol, and body are all in balance as well as the fruit and spice characteristics. This is a complex wine, with primary and secondary aromas and notes. This wine is good to drink now, but also capable of further aging.
What do you think? Will you check out Willm Gewürztraminer on your next trip to the store?