Serious Grape: Gewürztraminer, the Spicy White Wine with the Difficult Name

On Fridays, Deb Harkness (Good Wine Under $20) joins us to talk wine. Take it away, Deb!

Gewürztraminer is one of those grapes that's hard to spell. Because of this, it's often overshadowed by wines like Riesling that are so much easier to pronounce.

Despite its tongue-twisting name, it's easy to fall in love with Gewürztraminer because the grape produces wines that are aromatic, spicy, and pair brilliantly with spicy food—especially Asian food. I love Gewürztraminer with Thai cuisine, seafood (especially oysters), and grilled chicken or fish.

If you're interested in trying a Gewürztraminer, remember that the grape is grown all over the world. The wines made from the grape range from fruit-forward treats to more austere, restrained beauties. It flourishes in cool climates, where the grape's naturally high levels of sugar don't rise to undrinkable levels. In spite of the cool temperatures, most Gewürztraminers are still a bit sweet (or "off-dry" as they are technically called), though it is possible to find dryer bottlings.

Here are some of my favorites, all widely available and affordable:

The 2008 Chateau St. Jean Gewürztraminer is made with Sonoma County fruit and and is a lovely domestic example of the grape. Decidedly rich with nice acidity, the wine is off-dry in style, with aromas of lychee and roses. These are followed up with more lychee and apples on the palate and a spicy honey and floral aftertaste. This wine delivers more complexity than most at this price point. (find this wine)

The 2007 Espiritu de Chile Gewürztraminer is made with fruit from Chile's Central Valley. This wine smells like honey--pure and rich. Flavors of apricot and honey are on a surprisingly lightweight frame that is good for those who sometimes find Gewürztraminer too overpowering. This wine has a drier aftertaste, though it is still a bit off-dry. (find this wine)

Alsace is well-known for its superb Gewürztraminer. Look for the 2007 Helfrich Gewürztraminer, a classic example of the grape. Perfectly balanced between fresh and lush with both clean pear and rich tropical fruit aromas and flavors. The spicy, fruity aftertaste is juicy and draws you in for more. A stunning wine for the price, and one of the best value wines you can buy. (find this wine)

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.