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Full of sugar and spice, heavily aromatic Gewürztraminer is the perfect choice for either an eclectic palate or a sweet sipper. Here is an in-depth guide to choosing and buying the best Gewürztraminer wine for your taste buds.
Often overshadowed by Riesling, Gewürztraminer is a similarly varied wine. Ranging from dry to off-dry to sweet, the real power of Gewürztraminer is in its unique taste. It’s full of exotic fruit, heavy spice, and just a bit of smoke. So distinctive, even a beginner can pick it out in a blind tasting!
If you are someone who likes a little extra spice in life…Gewürztraminer is the wine for you!
Key Points about Gewürztraminer:
- Fruity and Spicy Aromatic Wine
- Pronounced “Guh-vurts-tra-mee-ner”
- Key notes of lychee, rose, peach, cinnamon, and ginger
- Very dark coloring for a white wine
- Ranges from Dry to Sweet
- Difficult to Grow
- Comes from a pink-skinned grape
- Fairly Rare
- Good bottles can be found under $20
- Pairs well with Indian, Thai, and Arabic foods
What is Gewürztraminer?
Gewürztraminer is of the most underrated wines in the world. The lack of vineyards partly explains this grievous misstep. There are under 40,000 Gewürztraminer vineyards on planet Earth in total. That’s only 7% of the number of Chardonnay vineyards! So, understandably, Gewurz can be a rare find.
But even more heartbreaking, it seems the complicated name also scares off casual drinkers. It is pronounced “Guh-vurts-tra-mee-ner”, for any who are struggling. But to be on the safe side, you can call it “Gewurz” (Guh-voorts) for short.
If you can get past the rarity and foreign pronunciation, Gewürztraminer is a delightfully easy-to-drink wine. Full of exotic fruits and rare spices, it tends to border the off-dry/sweet category. But the majority of Gewürztraminers produced are actually on the drier side!
The high sugar in the grapes (and residual sugar in the wine) and combined sweet aromatic notes often make wine drinkers think the wine is sweeter than it truly is.
Gewürztraminer grapes are more than just rare. They are unique! Gewurz grapes are one of the few pink-skinned grapes to produce white wine. It is these deep pink skins that contribute to the vibrant rose-gold color of most Gewürztraminers. Gewurz has a reputation for being a dark white, because it comes from darker grapes!
The grapes themselves are somewhat finicky. They are very difficult to grow, only thriving in specific climates and soils. Gewürztraminer grapes also tend to rot and over ripen quickly.
Obviously this is something of a problem for a grape that already low in acidity and high in sugars. (And accounts for why there are so few vines.) However, Gewurz wines that make to the public always show off the tender care and terroir of their origin. I suppose that’s a wine’s way of saying “thanks.”
- Difficult to grow
- Require cooler climates
- Extremely susceptible to terroir
- Will not grow in chalky soil
- Has a very low natural acidity
- High sugar
- High susceptibility to noble rot
All combined, this explains why there are so few vineyards. And why so many of those that produced quality Gewurz are in cooler climates.
The low acidity, high sugar, and noble rot also mean that winemakers must be very careful in making Gewürztraminer. With such low acidity and high sugar, you run the risk of making a dangerously alcoholic wine. Or possibly a worse alternative, a sickly sweet undrinkable wine.
What is Noble Rot?
Noble rot is a fungus that attacks certain varieties of grapes like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chenin Blancs. It grows in moist conditions and tends to hit when the grapes are fully ripe.
Wait! Before you run screaming for the hills and swear off wine for good, noble rot is helpful!
The technical term is botrytization (caused by the grey Botrytis Cernae mold). It is attracted to moisture and infests the stems, leaves, and skins of grapes. But as the grapes dry, the noble rot draws much of the water out of the grapes. Meaning what is left behind is more concentrated, flavorful, and sweet.
Gewürztraminer grapes love cooler climates where there can be substantial rain. And the grapes themselves grow on the underside of the vines, meaning they are protected from the sun. This all makes the perfect breeding ground for noble rot to take hold. This might be why Gewürztraminer has such a reputation as being a sweet wine.
Where does Gewürztraminer come from?
With a name like Gewürztraminer, you probably guessed that this grape originated in Germany. But you’d be wrong. History points to the Alto Adige region in northern Italy. So why the connection to Germany? Well firstly, the region has a large German culture and many inhabitants actually speak German. So the origin of the name is obvious.
Of course, Gewürztraminer is grown in Germany as well, historically and in modern times. The grape eventually traveled down the Rhine River, finding a home in Alsace, France, near the border. Gewurz traveled even further into the cooler regions near the Alps, including other areas of Italy, Austria, and Hungary.
Today it still grows in a number of these regions. And since it is so susceptible to terroir, Gewürztraminer grapes produce different bottles based on where they grew!
We know its origins and we know it’s range today, but the history of this particular grape is something of a mystery.
What is in a name?
The name Gewürztraminer comes from the original interpretation of the wine’s origins. “Gewurz” meaning spice in German and “traminer” meaning the type of grape. (This is why in France and English-speaking countries it is often referred to as just “Gewurtz.” Obviously, that doesn’t work out as well in Germany.)
While they got the spice component right, it turns out these grapes are not actually Traminer grapes. Instead, we found Gewurz grapes are a mutation of Savagnin grapes instead. (All of this is not necessary if you just want to buy a bottle.) Savagnin is white grapes and at some point, some of them mutated to pink or red skins.
Pink Savagnin grapes look remarkably similar to Red Traminer grapes, so we can excuse those early wine connoisseurs who didn’t have access to the newest innovations in DNA testing.
According to this new info, the really the name should be “gewurtzsavignin.” Which doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same way? Ah well, a rose by any other name…
Taste Profile of Gewürztraminer
Speaking of roses, let’s take a closer look at the Gewürztraminer flavor and aroma.
Anyone who has ever eaten at an Indian restaurant can instantly identify the prominent flavor of Gewürztraminer: lychee!
This isn’t just an impression, either. Gewürztraminer grapes and lychee actually contain the exact same aromatic compounds. If you haven’t had this exotic Chinese fruit, you can find canned lychee in your local supermarket in the international section. Fresh ones usually appear in the early summer. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like lychee, so give it a shot!
Secondary fruit flavors in Gewürztraminer include green melons, stone fruits, and red citrus.
Now that we’ve covered the sugar, time to discuss the spice! Gewürztraminer is recognized for its intense spicy flavors like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The more high quality your wine, the more unique the flavors like rose, allspice, and incense!
Most Gewürztraminers are made as dry or off-dry wines. However, because of the properties of the grape-like low acidity, high sugar, and tendency to noble rot, there are quite a few sweet varieties as well. (Some Gewurz actually has a small percentage of residual sugar.)
And, if you really think about those fruit and spice flavors above, I bet you imagine sweet treats, aren’t you? The Gewürztraminer you are drinking may not actually be that sweet. But the sweet-inspiring aromatics themselves can make it taste sweeter than it really is. (Similarly aromatic grapes like Riesling and Muscat have the same tendency.)
- Red Grapefruit
- Honeydew Melon
- Rose Petals
- Smoked Incense
The Price of Good Gewürztraminer
Aside from all of those delicious and unique flavours and the generally superior quality of Gewurtz, the final bonus is the price.
You can find good Gewürztraminer under $18 and you can find really exceptional Gewürztraminer under $25. (This makes it the perfect Thanksgiving wine when buying for a crowd!)
How to choose the Best Gewürztraminer
You’ve battled past the name and rarity and you’re curious about lychee, rose, and cinnamon wine. Success! With a rare wine like this, it’s best to have a plan before you march into your local shop and pull one off the shelf. Ready to dive in?
There are a few key points you should remember any time you buy a bottle of Gewurtz.
- Quality Producers
- Dry or Off-Dry
See some Gewürztraminer comparisons here:
- Why does the producer matter? We’ve talked about how difficult it is to grow Gewürztraminer grapes. They need specific climate, care, and terroir. Otherwise, they just aren’t at their best. A number of warmer-weather Gewürztraminer vines produce very sweet, very low-quality wine. The kind you want to use in cooking.
- How do I avoid bad Gewürztraminer? You need to look for key producers with experience and a track record of quality. Don’t get scared away, many of these can be found at local wine shops, and most aren’t that expensive!
- What are the best producers for Gewürztraminer? Look for names like Husch or Amity in the US and Hengst, Walch, Kirchberg, or Schlossberg from Europe.
You really want to focus on areas that have cooler climates in general. These grapes need lower temperatures to mature to their most nuanced flavors.
- Alsace, France
- Alto Adige, Italy
- New Zealand
- Monterey, Sonoma or Mendocino (California)
- New York
One other tip to remember, you’ll find the brightest, freshest and newest Gewürztraminer in the Spring. These wines are released just as winter ends, so keep your eye out for newer vintages. Gewürztraminer should be consumed young!
Dry or Off-Dry:
Nothing is worse than opening a bottle expecting a crisp, dry wine, and getting stuck with something like sugar water.
The trouble is most bottles won’t come right out and say, “this is a sweet wine” on the front of the bottle. (Though you will occasionally find a marking on the back that will tell you, so don’t forget to check there!)
Instead of taking a guess, remember that certain regions produce certain styles more regularly.
- Alsace: All, Dry, Off-Dry, Dessert
- Grand Cru Cuvées will usually be Dry
- Vendanges Tardives will usually be Sweet
- Italy: Dry
- California/New York/Washington: Dry, Dessert
Remember anything labeled “late harvest” will be sweet!
And, if all else fails, as your friendly wine-shop attendant to help you pick one to your tastes.
Best Years for Gewürztraminer
The key to a good year for Gewürztraminer is cool temperatures and mild rain. Too hot or dry at these grapes suffer, too wet and they rot away.
Obviously this means the best years will vary based on where you look and what regions you are buying from. The weather in California and the weather in Italy may be totally different during the year!
- Alsace, France: 2012, 2009, 2006
- Italy: 2014, 2012, 2010
- California: 2014, 2013, 2012
- New York: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2009
- New Zealand: 2014
Obviously 2014 is a fairly safe year to choose. But there are additional years that produced good wines, just be careful to select quality producers to get them! And if you ever want to look up more vintages, check out the wine spectator chart!
My Top 5 Gewürztraminer Recommendations for 2019
Below are my top 5 affordable Gewürztraminer suggestions for 2019. You’ll probably be able to find one of these or at least one of these producers in a wine shop near you!
New York: 2018 Boundary Breaks Gewürztraminer $22 (Dry)
A greener version of Gewurz with strong honeydew melon notes mixed with peach, apricot, and the tell-tale lychee. There is much less spice on this palate, more focus on tropical fruit with hints of mango and banana. Just a touch of lime and minerality. Very light and easy to drink!
- Eye: Pale Yellow with a gold hue
- Nose: Lychee, Pear, Honey, Rose
- Palate: Lychee, Peaches, Apricot, Honeycomb, Tropical Fruit, Lime, Stones
- Finish: Dry with just a hint of something bitter
- Pairs with: Tacos, Pad Thai
Alsace: 2014 Hugel Gewürztraminer $24 (Dry to Off-Dry)
Full lychee and peach flavors with just a bit of lemon acidity. You’ll notice hints of rose and apricot in the background. It is very well balanced for being so intensely aromatic. The texture is a little heavier and silkier than I expected. Overall a deliciously rich wine with just a tiny hint of spice. A perfect wine for a spicy dinner.
- Eye: Pale Gold
- Nose: Rose, Exotic candies, a hint of Anise, Sweet Flowers
- Palate: Rose petals, lychee, peach, apricot covered in honey, Faint lemony acidity, a sharp Ginger spice that quickly fades.
- Finish: Off-dry roses, a bit of nutmeg, medium length, a bit bitter
- Pairs with: Indian Food, especially vindaloo, hot curries, or achaar
Italy: 2012 Erste+Neue Puntay Gewürztraminer $18 (Dry)
Big on the perfumed flowers and fruit! A delicious example of a heavily rose-scented wine which makes for a soft wine that pairs well with meaty fish like salmon or tuna. You will notice brighter notes of minerals and lychee as you sip further.
- Eye: Hay or Straw with hints of Pink Roses
- Nose: Lychee and powerful Rose, Another flower, perhaps Jasmine? Palate:
- Finish: Lychee, Rose, followed by a Fruit Salad: Peaches, apricots, and nectarines
- Pairs with: Most Indian Food, Pad Kee Mao
California: 2013 Husch Estate Bottled Late Harvest Gewürztraminer $25 (Sweet)
A sweet wine with more focus on stone fruits like apricot and peach. Honey notes are unavoidable in this sweet wine. But the tropical flavor of pineapple and some tart acidity keep it from turning sickly sweet. Also, an excellent, affordable dessert wine!
- Eye: Deep Rose Gold
- Nose: Peaches, Honey, Apricots, something savory like Garam Masala
- Palate: Strong peaches and apricots followed by lychee in syrup. Full notes of tropical fruits, faint Lemon acidity, savory Cloves
- Finish: Smooth but short, sweet
- Pairs with: Peach Cobbler, Seared/Grilled Peaches, Pumpkin Pie
Washington: 2012 Analemma Oak Ridge Gewürztraminer $27 (Off-Dry)
Surprisingly acidic for a Gewürztraminer and very well balanced. Aromatic with strong lychee fruit and rose petals. But savory notes of ginger and allspice mixed with a bright red grapefruit acidity keep it from being too sweet. The combination of fruit, acid, and spice make it a really outstanding example of a classic off-dry Gewurtz.
- Eye: Rich Gold with rose hints.
- Nose: Lychee, Rose petals, Hints of Allspice and Grapefruit
- Palate: Full Lychee and Rose bursts with spicy ginger and savory warming allspice, but the grapefruit acidity is the real star
- Finish: Off-Dry, medium-length, light and soft
- Pairs with: Moroccan or Ethiopian foods
Which wines are similar to Gewürztraminer?
The most obvious is Riesling, which you could even use as a substitute in most cases. Riesling also has dry, off-dry, and sweet varieties. But it does lack spice.
Your second choice should be Moscato. Gewürztraminer tends to have very light effervescence so a sparkling sweet wine works in a pinch. Gewurz is even known as “the grown-up version of Moscato” in some circles! Gewürztraminer does have a bit heavier flavor and texture though, so it isn’t quite as easy sipping as Moscato.
Should I serve Gewürztraminer chilled?
Yes. Since it is a white wine Gewürztraminer should be served slightly chilled. But don’t keep it too cold or it will lose some of those more intricate flavors that appear when it warms up.
What food pairs with Gewürztraminer?
Because of its exotic flavor and unique spice, Gewürztraminer actually stands up to many foods that would otherwise overwhelm a lighter white or clash with a red! Pair it with spicier foods like Thai, Indian, Arabic, African, Mexican, or even sushi. You can also pair it with fatty meats like a goose, duck, pate, foie gras, or venison.
When it comes to cheese, a funky munster is an excellent choice!
What is the difference between Riesling and Gewürztraminer?
Often confused, they both have strong peach, lychee, grapefruit notes. They both vary between sweet and dry. They both pair well with spicy, exotic foods. And they are both white wines. They even come from similar areas in Europe!
But there are a couple of big differences between these two.
- Riesling: these grapes are white with a very flowery aroma. They are also very high in acidity.
- Gewürztraminer: rose, pink, or even red-skinned grapes with a very spicy aroma and low acidity.
While not the first things that come to mind, weight, and texture are key components of any wine. And they can really help you set apart a Riesling and a Gewürztraminer!
- Riesling: tends to be a lighter wine with very strong acidity. You’ll also find a crisp minerality.
- Gewürztraminer: tends to be much more full-bodied. They can be silky, oily or waxy, with lush richness and full texture that finishes dry.
Lychee is usually an easy indicator for Gewürztraminer, but unfortunately, Riesling can also share the aroma of this exotic fruit. Instead, focus on acidity levels and spice.
- Riesling: mineral notes, crisp, orchard fruits, citrus, exotic tropical fruits (lychee, passionfruit)
- Gewürztraminer: full tropical fruits (lychee, passionfruit), citrus, stone fruits, spices: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger
Should Gewürztraminer be aged?
Most Gewürztraminer is meant to be consumed young, so your best bet is a “drink-now” bottle. In general, wines with low acidity and high aromatics don’t stand up well to aging. They might get oily or waxy and definitely flat.
However, there are a few varieties from Alsace of superior quality that can be aged. But always be sure to select a good vintage if you’re buying an older bottle. You’ll find strong spice flavor in aged Gewürztraminer wines.
Add a Little Spice to your Glass
Gewürztraminer is a wine that has long been overshadowed, ignored, or downright avoided. But its unique flavors and styles are slowly making a comeback! Don’t be afraid to try either a sweet or a dry to experiment with something new.
The rare combination of sweet lychee fruit and warm spices makes Gewürztraminer a stand out wine. Even better because it pairs with foods that normally puzzle wine drinkers. If you hate sweet, don’t worry, Gewurz can be dry too.
Take a risk and try out a spicy glass of Gewürztraminer on your next take out day and enjoy all the lush fruits and spices. There really is no choice that is better for an exotic night.