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What is Gewurztraminer?

Toasting with Gewurztraminer wine.
Some Gewurztraminer wines have the aroma of lychee.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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Gewurztraminer is a cold-climate grape used in the production of white wine. Though not universally popular, it is often used as an early wine to teach people how to recognize different varietals through taste, because of its distinctive smell and taste. The main aroma from Gewurztraminer is one of fresh lychee fruit. This scent is very noticeable and pleasant to most people. The grape exhibits other spice as well – the name derives from the German word Gewurz, which means 'spiced'.

While many wine connoisseurs turn their noses up at Gewurztraminer, proclaiming it to be too straight-forward in its aroma and taste, others find it to be a truly fine wine when produced with care and attention to detail. Because of its strong aroma, it is one of the few still wines that holds up particularly well when paired with spicy foods. In the United States, this has helped bolster its popularity, with the increased popularity of Asian and Indian cuisines and the desire to find wines suitable for pairing with these dishes.

Gewurztraminer originally comes from the village of Tramin in Italy, and some Italian Gewurztraminer is still produced. The most popular Gewurztraminers, however, come from the Alsace region of France. These wines are a study in contrasts, with an extremely sweet bouquet, but a surprisingly dry taste.

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Gewurztraminer from Alsace, along with Riesling, is one of the few French wines named directly for the grapes used, rather than for the region or a special blend. Grape growers in Alsace have on average only about five acres of land – not nearly enough grapes to produce a consistent wine – and so it is the job of a number of “shippers” to gather grapes from a number of producers and create the wine. When you buy a Gewurztraminer from Alsace, therefore, you are buying it based on the reputation of the shipper, rather than a vineyard – notable shippers include Domaine Weinbach and F.E. Trimbach.

German Gewurztraminer tends to be sweeter than its French counterpart, though in recent years a number of German wineries have begun producing drier varieties. In the United States, Gewurztraminer is planted throughout California and New York. Elsewhere abroad, it is also popular in Australia, New Zealand, and small parts of Canada.

Gewurztraminer is another white wine grape that is particularly susceptible to the noble rot of botrytis, allowing it to be turned into late harvest dessert wines with a very high sugar content. Some poor examples of dessert-style Gewurztraminer have somewhat negatively impacted the popular perception of this grape, which can be made into an extremely high-quality dry white wine.

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