Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wine for rocking out -- Gewürztraminer

Tried and true recipe for 80's metal band success:

Aqua Net? Check. Leather pants? Check. At least one power ballad? Check.

And, of course, an umlaut somewhere in the band's name.

For those of you unfamiliar with German diacritics, "umlaut" is the name for the two dots above a vowel. Now, 80's bands dispensed with that convention -- randomly peppering umlauts anywhere they could, but hey…that's rock 'n' roll.

Just the same, I can never look at a bottle of Gewürztraminer without wistful remembrance of my Queensrÿche fanboy days. But I don't need to go into great detail about my mulleted, body-waved boyhood, so let's focus on the present and the grape at hand.

The Gewürztraminer grape originated in the Italian Alps, but the Alsace region of France and the mountains of Germany are best known for this aromatic grape. The German word "gewürz" translates as "spicy" or "perfumed" -- either of which easily apply to the wine. Gewürztraminer is a mutation of the traminer grape, hence the full name.

Only a few regions successfully grow this grape. In addition to the aforementioned, there are successful plantings in New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest, and a few counties in California. Austria grows some of the best, most expensive Gewürztraminers in the world.

Gewürztraminer produces a medium-to-full bodied, extremely fragrant wine. These wines are generally very fruity and at least somewhat peppery. Gewürztraminers may be some of the most food-friendly wines around -- perhaps even more so than Riesling. Gewürztraminer is one of the few whites you could pair with a steak somewhat decently. However, Gewürztraminer really comes to life when paired with fresh fruit, strong cheeses, or almost any spicy food. It's perfect with almost any Asian or Cajun cuisine.

Gewürztraminers, especially imported, tend to be a little difficult to find at Vine prices. Even so, there are a few bottles that Warrant a mention…

We start in Germany with Georg Albrecht Schneider 2004 Halbtrocken Gewürztraminer Spatlese -- Schneider Winery in Mainz, nestled among the mountains along the Rhine River, is best known for very decent Rieslings. Over the last several years, Schneider branched into Gewürztraminers. If you look back to the Riesling entry, you'll remember that "Spatlese" indicates the grapes are picked at the peak of ripeness. "Halbtrocken" is literally "half dry," an apt description of what we've got here. Schneider starts with a big scent of melon and apples. The wine is full bodied with flavors of honey and cloves. The finish is very peppery and slightly sweet. For a good food pairing, think of traditional German fare -- cheeses, spicy sausages, spaetzle. You could also pair it, as I mentioned earlier, with a spicy Asian dish and not go wrong. $12-14.

I wanted to try different plantings of American Gewürztraminer market, so I got two: one from California, and one from Washington. The Adler Fels 2005 Gewürztraminer is from Sonoma County. I was wonderfully surprised by this wine. The Adler Fels was one of the best whites I've had in a long time. It has a nice floral and apple nose, is medium bodied with a nice crisp acidity and some pear flavors -- but it's not as sweet as many other wines of this type. The finish is very long and peppery, with more of that tasty pear flavor hanging around. The Columbia Winery 2005 Gewürztraminer from Washington had a much more prounounced nose of honey and grapefruit and was quite full bodied. The taste was considerably sweeter and not as peppery on the finish. We decided to taste them side by side with different dishes. We had them with a spicy Thai vegetable curry and a version of ginger and garlic chicken. We also tried them both with sushi. With food, the Columbia actually works better as the sweetness cut through the spice more effectively. The Columbia is a simpler wine, so you don't lose as much of the complexity and flavor as you do with the Adler Fels paired with spicy foods. Overall, I think the Adler Fels was the superior wine, but consider having it with cheeses or on its own. The Adler Fels is $13-15. The Columbia is $7-11.

We can't leave the Gewürztraminers without a jaunt to Alsace. The Lucien Albrecht 2005 Reserve Gewürztraminer was my choice here. The Albrecht has a wonderful nose of ginger and apples. The flavor is sweeter than the other wines here, with some strong honey flavor. The flavors are much "deeper" and the finish was less peppery. Instead, the fruit dominates, and you're left with a finishing flavor of apples dipped in honey -- a Rosh Hashanah wine, if you will. One of the more interesting aspects of Alsace Gewürztraminers is the suggested pairing with strong cheeses -- blue cheese, Stilton, Roquefort. Give it a try. The cheese brings out the honey flavors in the wine. Of course, it's a very strong choice for a spicy curry. We made a chicken, chickpea, and potato curry with it, and it was fabulous. $13-15.

A final word about wine and umlauts. "The Umlaut Society" is the wine club of Göpfrich Winery in Sonoma County -- a favorite of mine (and yes, I am a member). They're listed on my blogroll. While their wines are a little more expensive than those I review here, they're worth the extra money. Their cabernet is the best I've tasted. Check them out.

(Thanks to Vine reader allenmurray for the column suggestion.)

Until next time…Rock!


Anonymous said...

Mike -
In discussing the Regions of Gewürtz, don't overlook the Fingerlakes region of NY. Not only the home of world-class rieslings, a few of the less-risk-adverse vintners plant and produce Gewürtztraminer. When they are successful in select microclimates the product is suberb... such as Hermann Wiemer's 2005 Dry Gewürtztraminer

The Naked Vine said...

I didn't realize there was decent Empire State Gewürtz. New York wines aren't generally readily available here in Cincy Metro. Can you make some recommendations?