What is Gewürztraminer?

For all of the years that I have taught wine, I always love to show the grape variety called Gewürztraminer.  Why?  It has some incredibly unique properties that make it a very enjoyable grape variety to drink.  You may not see a lot of it in the market, but I always purchase it when I see it on menus or in shops.

First of all, let me describe what the grape is and a bit of history.  Typically you would find Gewürztraminer in the Alsace region in France where it shines.  The French, with heavy German influence have been able to really showcase the grape’s qualities.  On a blind tasting, I will look for unique properties in the grape’s profile to help tell it apart from other varieties.  Gewürztraminer is known for having the following interesting characteristics:

  1. It’s Distinctive Mouthfeel.

Normally when you drink a wine, it will have a mouthfeel similar to the weight of whole milk.  Not really heavy or light.  Gewürztraminer’s mouthfeel is thicker, very similar to half and half.  Please note that we are referring both to its texture and weight.  It does not taste like milk or cream.  I have read in numerous publications that it has an oily texture.  Think of a teaspoon of olive oil in your mouth with nothing else.  It’s heavy and also coats your entire mouth from the fat clinging.  Gewürztraminer varies from region to region and some will coat like oil and some will be like half and half.

2) Aroma of Tea Roses and Black Pepper

For me, this is a very distinct anchor on a blind tasting.  Tea roses are smaller roses (with many varieties of hybrids) that are known for having the distinct aroma of fresh tea leaves from a newly opened tea package.  All aromas have a distinctive power on us, even when we cannot remember exactly what the aroma is.  One of the most important aspects of understanding aroma is to associate it with a memory.  If I’m stuck trying to figure out what a particular aroma is, I go back to the memory associated with it. Tea roses and Gewürztraminer instantly take me back to my childhood and my mom’s bedroom.  She had a tea rose scented powder so every time I smell a wine that has this grape in it, I can tell.

As for the black pepper, I find that different Gewürztraminers have different intensities of black pepper.  Sometimes it seems milder like white pepper and sometimes, I do not detect it as an aroma but in the flavor profile.  However, every Gewürztraminer that I have tried has it somewhere in its profile.

The Dreaded Lychee

Growing up in a food family, I was exposed to lychee on Asian buffets.  It was always something that I would see in the dessert section.  It’s the strange looking off-white kind of transparent balls floating in syrup.  Normally, I was too full eating my way through a buffet to even go near this ‘interesting’ food.  I just remember asking what it was one day and then trying it.  Ladies and gentleman let me see if I can describe a lychee fruit.  I can’t.  If you have never had it before, it’s like nothing you have ever tried.  Depending on the syrup it has been placed in, it can be cloying sweet.  In light syrup, you can actually taste the fruit.  I have never been able to explain what it tastes like.  The closest I’ve been able to put it into words is tangerine segments floating in rose water.  You really don’t taste it but more inhale it and experience that way.  Do not get me wrong, I love them and think they are amazing and refreshing fresh or in very light syrup.  If you have never tried them, give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Now I hope you have a better understanding of why this would be an interesting wine to explore (at least in my eyes).  You can understand why I tend to gravitate to this grape variety.  Imagine the joy on my face and taste buds when a few weeks ago I went to Traverse City and was able to find Gewurztraminer at Bower Harbor Vineyards (https://www.bowersharbor.com/).  I was able to try two of them that were very different due to the terroir.

Bower Harbor Wind Whistle Gewurztraminer 2018

Aromas / Flavors

The wine has subtle notes of fresh apple slices and crushed pineapple followed by the distinctive aroma of tea roses.  It also shows some hints of baking spices of clove and ginger finished by wet gravel. 

The flavors of slight citrus, moving to canned lychee and a light dusting of black pepper finishes with a hint of vanilla at the end.

Mouthfeel

Its medium body coats the mouth (with a table cream sensation), while giving a silky feel over the palate. 

Sweetness

It’s an off dry wine that is pleasant on the palate.  It shows a just a hint of sweetness.

Tannins

There is very little grape tannin

Acid levels

The medium acids run over the length of the wine and help to rinse the palate at the end.

Body

It’s a medium body wine that helps to showcase the flavors and not mask them.

Finish / Length

The wine has a great finish with lots of complexity and depth. It’s not a long finish but still very good.

This is a great wine that the winemaker let the quality of the grape and the terroir be evident.  Now here is the big question….what to serve with this?

Typically, Gewürztraminer can be served with spicy foods.  Since Thanksgiving is over and I was stuck with plenty of turkey, I decided to look at options.  Turkey is one of those foods that will take flavors very well.  So to pair with this wine, I used some leftover turkey breast and made a turkey verde stew.  From my garden, I used some hot peppers along with homemade verde sauce (with tomatillos), added some butter beans and Slap Ya Mama seasoning (cajun seasoning). Roasted diced turkey was added at the very end since it was already cooked.  This was served over a bed of cheese grits.  A simple meal but worked exceptionally well paired with the above wine. 

Summary

I’m a big fan of Michigan wines and their quality.  However, I’m a bigger fan of winemakers who take lesser known grapes and produce an amazing wine. Gewürztraminer is one of those grapes that you need to try if the opportunity arises.  Alsacian wines are pricey ($40 to start) but you can find other great opportunities in Michigan, Canada in the Niagara region and a few in Oregon and Washington.  As always, let me know what you think and I hope you had a great holiday last week over Thanksgiving.

@artofthepair