|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.