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Gewürztraminer is one of the most pungent wine varietals, easy for even the beginning taster to recognize by its heady, aromatic scent. While the French have achieved the greatest success with this grape and its name may be German, the history of Gewürztraminer began in Italy's Tyrollean Alps, near the village of Termeno (Tramin) in Alto Adige.

Since the Middle Ages, the parent variety traminer has grown there. Traminer also is grown widely throughout Eastern Europe, but neither abundantly nor very successfully. With hardly any of the characteristic of its spicy offspring, traminer berries are pale green and make much less interesting or appealing wine, hardly scented at all.

Like Pinot Noir, however, Traminer vines do have a propensity to mutate. One of these mutations, a few centuries ago, resulted in a vine that produces dark pinkish-brown, spotted berries and makes very distinctive and heady wine.

The French began calling this prized clone traminer musqué, traminer parfumé, or traminer aromatique; the Germans roter traminer; and the Italians traminer rosé, traminer rosso, or termener aromatico. In the late 19th century, the Alsatians began calling this vine Gewürztraminer, although it wasn't until 1973 that this name was officially sanctioned. Wine texts often report that "gewürz" translates from German as "spicy", but considering the list of various synonyms, the more likely contextual meaning is "perfumed".

The berries, with their thick and tough skins, can attain high sugar levels of amazing concentration. Alcohol levels, therefore, can get quite high in dry versions. Conversely, low acidity and high pH in Gewürztraminer are problematic. Close monitoring and precise harvest timing are critical. Early picking retains acid, but without long "hang time" distinctive varietal character fails to develop. Pleasant results are nearly impossible in warm climates.

The dark pink color of gewürztraminer grapes results in wines colored from light to dark golden yellow with a copper tone, depending upon the fruit ripeness. Gewürztraminer is quite full-bodied, more so than most any other white wine type. In fact, the combination of its strong, heady, perfumey scent, exotic lychee-nut flavor and heavy-oily texture can be overwhelming and tiring to many palates. There is a slight tendency to bitterness that seems exacerbated by ripeness, so a light touch is needed at the wine press. Many makers finish their Gewürztraminer with a mask of residual sugar. In fact Gewürztraminer can be made into an excellent dessert wine.


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