While I'm grateful to the El Niño/global warming gods for taking it easy on us this winter, I've found this summer to be particularly oppressive. And with all the heat and humidity comes several ongoing patterns—pants, dresses, and sleeves get shorter, foreheads and backs-of-necks get redder (or in my case, browner) and wines get colder. I prefer to beat the heat by flying to a private island and sipping Coco Locos on the beach, but when my private jet is undergoing repairs, a cold, crisp glass of white wine in my small New York apartment suffices.
Usually I reach for a dry Riesling or a partially-oaked Chardonnay, but if my notorious sweet tooth kicks in or I'm opting out of dessert for the night, Gewürztraminer hits the spot. Often on the floral side and somewhat effervescent, this wine can be a refreshing alternative to your go-to white, especially when you're looking for something that will go well with food.
Pink Grapes, White Wine
Gewürztraminer grapes produce an aromatic and sometimes spicy white wine (Gewürz actually means "spicy"). They're white wines, but the grapes are pink or reddish in color. In order to achieve the golden, yellow color you typically see, the juice must be pressed off of the skins right after the grapes are crushed, to prevent color from the skins from seeping into the juice.
Where It's Produced
Gewürztraminer does well in cooler climates to prevent the natural sugar levels from getting out of control—and because cooler weather helps to preserve the acid in the grapes, keeping the wine in balance. Most likely, the Gewürztraminer you'll find at your local wine store will come from France, specifically from Alsace on the eastern side of the country (right next to Germany). You'll recognize these bottles as tall and thin, with or without screwcap.
Despite the über German-sounding name, production in Germany is much lower, but you may find a bottle or two from Pfalz or another region. To round out the Old World regions, Italy, particularly Alto Adige in the north, is another source of Gewürztraminer.
In the New World, look out for California, New York, Washington, and even Australia.
How to Serve Gewürztraminer
Because of the slight sweetness of Gewürztraminer, it's best to get a decent chill on this wine to prevent it from tasting too syrupy (50 degrees F or so, a little lower for sweeter bottles)—a couple hours in the fridge should do the trick. Gewürztraminer is typically consumed young, with 4 years of aging or less. It will taste great with food that might make drier wines taste bitter—try spicy Chinese dishes, slightly sweet Thai options, or even pastry. It will work nicely with a cheese plate, as well.
So which bottles should you try? We put a half-case to the test, including a few widely available bottles from Alsace and California.
Seek Out These Bottles
Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer Reserve 2010 ($19) from Alsace was very distinct aroma, almost like orange teriyaki sauce. And the characteristic sweetness was well balanced—it's sweet-and-sour when it hits your tongue. Try this apple-pie-like wine with Chinese food or crusty bread and cheese.
Also from Alsace, Hugel and Fils Gewürztraminer "Hugel" 2010 ($20) had a peppery, spicy scent that carried through in the flavor. Bright acidity and a hint of bitterness at the finished worked well to balance out the sweetness of this wine. Try it with pepper crusted tuna or a mustardy chicken salad.
The claim to fame of the Gundlach Bundshu* Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2011 ($18) is that this wine is dry, dry, dry—a reputation which the California bottle certainly lived up to. This was probably the lightest option of the group of wines we tried, with a bright effervescence. Crisp, unripe pear and light lime acidity kept it lively. Drink it on its own as an aperitif, or serve with a salad dressed with a citrus vinaigrette.
*Pronounced like gun-lock bun-shoe as you can gather from their fun t-shirts
Although not a pure Gewürztraminer, the white blend St. Francis White Splash 2010 ($12), also from California, is a light summer sipper (albeit with marginally more Gewürztraminer than Pinot Grigio, Malvasia, and Viognier). The smell of lemonade was echoed by lemony flavors with a hint of vanilla in the juice. This slightly sweet wine was balanced enough that you could imagine drinking it for a while with some light appetizers.
On the Sweeter Side
A few of the other bottles we tried were complex and tasty, but definitely not dry refreshers.
One bottle that really screamed for food was the Dopff and Irion Gewürztraminer 2009 ($17). A vivid apple scent wafted from the glass and hinted at the sweetness to come. You could really taste the residual sugar on the tip of the tongue, so make sure to get a nice chill on this one to prevent the sweetness from being overwhelming.
With its strong lychee aromas, Willm Alsace Reserve Gewürztraminer 2010 ($16) would work well as a post-dinner treat, though you could also serve it with spicy Thai food. There's a slight effervescence and herbal, sage-like bitterness here that we enjoyed.
Add Your Picks
Do you buy Gewürztraminer? Let us know in the comments: which bottles have you enjoyed recently, and what foods do you like to eat with this type of wine?
About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.