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Gewurztraminer: What is it and how it tastes

Get to know this distinctive yet underrated variety..

Gewurztraminer is Alsace’s most distinctive yet underrated grape variety, capable of producing many styles, from dry to sweet.

Like any good wine, Gewurz should be balanced. The grapes need to be harvested at perfect ripeness to avoid bitterness, high alcohol and/or overt sweetness – especially when botrytis increases the sugar level. The variety does not have as much acidity as Riesling, but neither does Chardonnay and we all know how complex, long lived and exciting the best Burgundies can be.

If you are diving in to a wine list or wine shop blind, it can be tricky to judge how sweet an Alsace Gewurz can be just by looking at the bottle, but most good producers do not change the sweetness levels of their cuvées from vintage to vintage, so it pays to find a few names you like. Some producers even indicate sweetness on the back label.

As Andrew Jefford previously wrote in Decanter magazine ‘Gewurztraminer is the wine world’s equivalent of a peaty whisky such as Laphroaig, or yeast-extract spreads like Marmite; it’s either loved or loathed.’

What Gewurztraminer tastes like

Gewurztraminer offers complex aromas, ranging from rose to apricot kernel and tropical fruits, together with pepper and sweet spices. Dried fruits and honey also appear when there’s noble rot. Simple Gewurz wines with no specific origin beyond AC Alsace are usually medium bodied and either off-dry or semi-sweet. While these wines are simple they should still show typicity, with spicy fruit and a slightly bitter finish.

Like Riesling, Gewurztraminer is transparent to its terroir, and reflects the nature of its soil or origin. Several Alsatian grand crus give Gewurztraminer a chance to express these distinctive characters. Marly limestone terroirs such as grands crus Hengst, Florimont, Mambourg or Marckrain produce deep, rich and spicy wines with a good acid backbone. Granite or sandstone terroirs such as grands crus Brand and Kessler, or quartz soils like Fronholz in Epfig can produce aromatic and elegant wines with lots of fruit.

Limestone terroirs, such as grand cru Furstentum, Osterberg or Zinnkoepflé will produce full-bodied wines with strong fruit and a good acidity.

Gewurztraminer food pairing

Despite conventional wisdom, Gewurztraminer is very food friendly. Drier styles are perfect partners with spicy food from Asia, North Africa, India or Latin America and even can be good alternatives to rich and silky reds. The most powerful wines, even sweeter ones, can stand up to rich and flavoursome dishes like lobster bisque, curry or tagine. And of course for every Gewurztraminer style, there is a perfect cheese to be served. Alsatian Munster is the classic, but the variety works well with Roquefort, Stilton or Gouda too, or on any occasion when you might serve Port.

Sweeter wines can naturally pair with desserts like fruit tarts, but are especially lovely with dishes involving cinnamon, dried nuts and dried fruits.

On your journey to rediscovering Gewurztraminer, start with the drier styles before delving into the more luscious ones – and 2014 is the perfect vintage to do so, particularly from the terroir-driven grands crus. And if you can, lay down a few of the best bottles for 15 to 20 years. Your patience will be rewarded by incredible complexity.

Originally published in Decanter magazine in 2016. Updated in 2021. 

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