I can still remember the first time I tasted a wine made from the gewürztraminer grape variety. I’d just started working in a wine shop and came across an intriguing-looking tall, thin bottle from Alsace, in north-eastern France, on the shelf.
The label had very Germanic writing on it: the name of the producer and the name of the grape didn’t sound French; they harked back to the various times, over the centuries, when this part of France had been part of Germany.
Fascinated, I bought the bottle, went home, opened it, poured a glass of golden wine and took a sniff. And my nostrils filled with an abundance of aroma: rose petals, Turkish delight, lychee, exotic spices, pink grapefruit. Almost shocked by how perfumed the wine was, I tentatively took a sip – and those same flavours flooded my tongue, accompanied by a rich, almost oily texture.
If I’d understood German, I might have known what to expect, of course. ‘Gewürz’ means ‘spice’, and the wine I tasted was certainly full of a spice-like, floral, exaggerated bouquet: it’s a distinguishing, unmistakable feature of wines made from this variety.
Gewürztraminer is a very aromatic, pink-skinned mutation of the very old (and not particularly aromatic) white traminer grape. Traminer is found in many winemaking districts, under various names: in the French region of Jura, for example, it’s called savagnin, and is used to make the distinctive vins jaune, aged in barrel under a layer of flor yeast. Over the centuries, though, it’s the ‘spicy’ gewürz-kind-of-traminer that has become the favoured grape in Alsace and elsewhere, partly because it’s a variety that can produce high levels of sugar in the fruit, resulting in rich, ripe, generous, textural wines.
We are spoiled for choice in Australia when it comes to Alsatian gewürztraminer: most of the top producers – Zind-Humbrecht, Hugel, Weinbach, Trimbach, Ostertag, Josmeyer and more – are shipped here. If you feel like spoiling yourself on an Alsace example of the variety, save up for a Vendange Tardive (late harvest) or Sélection de Grains Noble (made from botrytised fruit) from one of these producers: the extra ripeness and noble rot add even more exotic richness to the grape’s already hedonistic nature.
There’s a long tradition of growing gewürztraminer in Australia as it was among the many grape varieties brought into the country in the 19th century. It became particularly popular during the white wine boom of the 1970s and ’80s, often blended with riesling to make a cheap, sweet white sold in both bottle and cask: wines like Wyndham Estate’s popular traminer-riesling brand, TR2, came to define a whole era of drinking.
Gewürztraminer is anything but trendy anymore, but thanks to its long viticultural legacy it is still quite widely planted across Australia, albeit in small parcels, meaning that while very few producers today make a lot, quite a few producers make a little. Good examples can be found from the Clare Valley (Skillogalee) to Eden Valley (Henschke), from Coonawarra (Rymill) to the central Victorian high country (Delatite), from Margaret River (Flowstone) to the Granite Belt (Symphony Hill).
For a new generation of drinkers, it’s these wines that are helping to give gewürztraminer the high-quality reputation it deserves.
2019 Pipers Brook Gewürztraminer, Tasmania, A$35
This has long been a benchmark for the grape in Australia: the Pipers Brook gewürztraminer vineyard was first planted in the mid-1970s, and the mature vines help give the wine good perfumed varietal definition and complex, rich flavours.
2019 Ochota Barrels Weird Berries in the Woods, Adelaide Hills, A$35
Taras Ochota has been making this gewürz for a few years now, and has refined his style: early picking, a few days skin contact, wild ferment and lots of battonage (lees stirring) tone down the aromatics but build a lovely crunchy, nervy texture.
2018 Te Whare Ra Toru SV5182, Marlborough, A$30/NZ$28
This is a terrific example of how well gewürz blends with other aromatic grapes: in this case, the variety’s exuberance is tightened by the inclusion of some riesling, and given a savoury edge thanks to the addition of some pinot gris.
Imported by cellarhand.com.au
2015 Hugel Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France, A$40
This classic Alsace gewürz already has a little bottle age behind it, which has brought extra richness to the grape variety’s beautifully generous flavour and texture, though there’s no hurry to drink it. I recently enjoyed an extraordinary 30-year-old Hugel gewürztraminer, so give it time.
Imported by negociants.com