Winter White (Part 2): Gewürztraminer
Stephen Asprinio shows why it's OK to drink the sweet white wine in the winter.
When speaking of big, bad, in your face white wines that scream with character, as well as being the perfect accompaniments to the bone-chilling winter air, Gewürztraminer might be the poster child. Gewürztraminer is one of those wines that goes both ways though. Whether it’s a hot summer evening, or a frosty February night, this varietal does not fail to please. The reason being is that Gewürztraminer lacks a particularly high level of acidity, as opposed to some of those beautifully crisp white wines that we tend to gravitate to during warmer times, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Grüner Veltliner. So, just as Gewürtztraminer can role-play as the aromatic white for a cold, refreshing poolside wine, due to these lower acidity levels, the wine when served a few degrees warmer, falls right back into its place as a rich, full-bodied white to be served alongside winter fare. And in some cases, when Gewürztraminer doesn’t show so well, the acidity issue is usually the culprit, consequently yielding an unbalanced, “flabby” wine. This pink-skinned grape is a difficult one to grow, but under the right conditions, Gewürztraminer can be ridiculously amazing.
Stylistically, Gewürztraminer takes many of its cues from Riesling. However, when it comes to Gewürztraminer’s individual characteristics, there is no confusing this explosive varietal. The heady perfume on the nose, the deep colored hue and the exotic layers of flavor on the palate make this wine truly unique. The taste can be described as almost tropical, with a strong presence of freshly crushed rose petals, spices and lychees. The only caveat to these wondrous traits of what I find to be one of the coolest wines around is that sometimes it can all be a bit much. The whole production of what’s happening on the palate can lead to a state of overkill if one seeks to overindulge. Like any rich extravagance, too much can make you sick (think truffles, chocolate, foie gras, etc.) A glass or two on its own is great, but at that point it’s good to introduce some food to offset (in a good way) the power of Gewürztraminer. And that’s when it gets really exciting.
Try a Gewürztraminer with a simple roasted chicken, potatoes and braised greens. It completely changes the dynamic of the minimalist approach to the dish, while at the same time keeping all the flavors intact. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, try the wine with the cuisine of India, Thailand or Morocco, and taste as the flavors of both the food and wine align with one another like two pieces of a puzzle. Very cool!
Interestingly enough, though it’s not talked about as a popular varietal, Gewürztraminer is planted all over the place, from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and even Italy. But the best examples come from where Gewürztraminer has been grown since the Middle Ages in Alsace, France. I’ve also had some killer examples from New Zealand, Washington and New York. Gewürztraminer’s one of those wines that when it’s on, it’s spot on. Unfortunately, when it’s not, it’s pretty gross (as most poorly made wines tend to be). Not to worry though, as long as you stick to reputable producers of this spicy grape (gewürtz actually translates to “spiced” in German) such as the ones noted below, you will be in for quite a treat:
Domaine Léon Beyer, Alsace, France 2005 - $20
Zind-Humbrecht ‘Gueberschwihr’, Alsace, France 2006 - $33
Kim Crawford, Gisborne, New Zealand 2005 - $14
Hogue, Columbia Valley, Washington 2005 - $10
Hermann J. Wiemer, Finger Lakes, New York 2007 - $19
J. Hofstatter ‘Kolbenhof’, Alto Adige, Italy 2007 - $30