Though it sounds like the expression used after someone sneezes, the Gewürztraminer grape is
one of the truly underappreciated grapes and wines in the vast world of food and wine. Whether
this stems from its propagation difficulties and hence limited availability, its lower retail cost
and perceived “cheapness” or it may be that 5 syllable words simply turn people off. Whatever
the reason, you’ll see that Gewürztraminer should be a part of your own personal wine cellar.
Not Even German
Though the word itself sounds German, Gewürztraminer itself has its roots in Northern Italy,
specifically in the Alto Adige region near the village of Termino (Tramin in Germany). This
musky perfumed grape started life as the Traminer grape which wasn’t as perfumed as its
progeny. Like several other grape varietals, the Traminer tends to mutate to various clones and
one of these produced darker grapes that made wines with distinct spicy aromas and flavors that
the Italians, German and French called Traminer-this and Traminer-that. When this spicy clone
of Traminer found a home in Alsace in North Eastern France, it was coined Gewurz-Traminer
(its still debated whether this translates to spicy Traminer or perfumed Traminer). In any case,
this is the name that it now goes by wherever it’s propagated.
Who Grows Gewürztraminer?
The region with the most success and notoriety with Gewürztraminer is Alsace. The Alsatian
variety is a veritable spice cabinet – ginger, rose petal, litchi, stone fruit – but is fermented dry.
Therefore, you may want to try domestic Gewürztraminer before venturing to Northern France,
especially if you prefer your Gewürztraminer with a touch of sweetness. And while you can
purchase Alsatian Gewürztraminer from Trimbach in the $25 range, the best version from Zind
Humbrecht will run up to three figures ($50-100). Another reason to start with domestic
Because Gewürztraminer needs a long growing season to develop its flavors and acid, it requires
colder climates to develop those characteristic spicy qualities. This means the coastline or cooler
climates of California. Not surprisingly, this specifically means the Sonoma Coast, Sonoma,
Mendocino and parts of Central California. Navarro in Mendocino and Thomas Fogarty in Santa
Barbara both make very good American renditions of Gewürztraminer. Fetzer also in Mendocino
makes a lighter styled wine that’s also very popular and available in most supermarkets.
Further North in Oregon and Washington, the style ranges from dry to off dry to sweet wines.
In Oregon, Erath and Bridgeview both make an off dry style that’s the perfect companion to
spicy Asian cuisine while Amity and Montinore make an Alsatian-type of dry Gewürztraminer
that pairs with both Asian cuisine and savory white meats such chicken and pork, especially if
said white meats are served with fruit based chutneys or sauces.
Slightly further North, Washington also produces its fait share of Gewürztraminer with Covey
Run, Hogue, Columbia Crest and Chateau St Michelle producing various styles of
Gewürztraminer. Like most of their California relatives, most of these wines can be purchased for
$15 or less and most are available at your local supermarket.
Finally, in the land of those Northerly neighbors famous for Molson beer they also make great
Gewürztraminer-eh. Yes, in the Okanagan Valley, the Gewürztraminer is usually harvested late
to make a rich dessert wine that’s perfect as an after dinner drink to pair with cheese and dessert.
Because these luscious dessert wines are more labor intensive, they usually cost a little more (and
they usually are only available in 375ml or half bottles which again doubles their price).
What Do I Drink?
I will admit that if I have storage space and the extra $$ needed, I do enjoy a good Alsatian
Gewürztraminer from Zind Humbrecht especially if I’m dining at a nice Cantonese or Mandarin
restaurant that allows diners to “bring your own”. However if I’m dining at the neighborhood
Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian or even Mexican restaurant (or doing take-out from any of
those restaurants), I pick up a simple Gewürztraminer from the neighborhood supermarket.
Especially if the food has its fair share of chili peppers – this is where the residual sweetness and
lower alcohol help tame that capsaicin burn. However, if you want a complex aperitif while
cooking; my favorite comes from the homeland of Gewürztraminer. Mind you, Gewürztraminer
was mainly made to pair with food but the Abbazia di Novacella from Alto Adige is perfume
marketed as wine with rose petals, stone fruit, citrus, minerality and a seamless palate that rivals
any aperitif. And it’s less than $20.
Therefore my recommendation is to start with off-dry or slightly sweet Gewürztraminer. Try it
with spicier Asian, Indian or Mexican cuisine and see how you like it. If you’re ready for the next
step, purchase a dry domestic Gewürztraminer. Once again, pair it with the same cuisines. If you
feel adventurous, go the final mile (and brown bag lunch for a week or two) and purchase a
good Alsatian Gewürztraminer. This wine should be savored with fine Asian cuisine, roasted
white meats or fine cheeses. And if you do find that gewürztraminer isn’t your wine choice,
simply save the leftover for this healthy dessert:
Gewürztraminer Poached Pears
4 to 6 slightly under ripe pears
1 bottle fruity Gewürztraminer
¾ cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 small vanilla bean split in half lengthwise
Juice from 1 medium lemon
Peel from the same lemon
Peel pears but leave stem intact. Melt sugar in the Gewürztraminer in a saucepan that will hold
all of the pears in a single layer. Add cinnamon stick, vanilla bean (scrape sticky seeds out of the
pod and add to liquid), lemon juice and peel. Simmer pears in this liquid for about 20 minutes
until the pears are tender. Remove pears and cool (can be refrigerated overnight) then split in
half lengthwise and remove core and stem. Serve with frozen vanilla yogurt (or ice cream if you
The poaching liquid can be saved for a sherbet or granita if you have an ice cream maker.
Gewürztraminer… Bless You