A dozen or so years ago, no one actually believed Gewürztraminer, this tongue twister of a wine, could be successfully grown in the vineyards of the Grand River Valley. We were wrong. Not only is it growing well among the other cool climate varietals like Riesling and Cabernet Franc, it is loving our soils and climate. The evidence: numerous gold, double gold and best of show medals in both state and national competitions.
Gewürztraminer is an extremely aromatic wine whose “nose” is absolutely delightful. The dominant aroma is that of lychee (a tropical fruit native to parts of China.) It also reminds one of roses and passion fruit, so it will provide a “romantic, somewhat exotic” hint to the tasting experience. While it produces a white wine, the grapes themselves range from pink to red in color. On the palate, its finish is often described as “spicy.” The grapes produce naturally high brix (sugar) levels so it is usually finished in an off-dry style.
Its history dates back centuries and the “traminer” comes from a German speaking province of northern Italy, Tramin. It may be related genetically to viognier of the Rhone Valley. It is widely grown in Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and a number of other central European nations. It is one of the wines grown in the Middle East, primarily in the Golan Heights but also in Turkey. In the “new world,” it is popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and, of course, in the United States in cool climate regions.
It is also very much a product of its “terroir” (general climate and growing conditions). It is sensitive about soils and does poorly in “chalky” soils, needing dry, warm summers. Because it is a fairly early bloomer, it will succumb to spring frosts, but it ripens late so we also need a long, extended warm fall. It does not do well in hot climates as the high sugar levels need to be balanced by a strong “acid backbone,” which is burned off by high temperatures. One of the reasons that our 2017 vintage was so powerful can be directly attributed to the amazing summer and fall of that year.
Its intense aromas and spicy flavors make it pair especially well with spicy foods and Oriental cuisine. Chilled, on a warm summer evening it would be great served with Tex-mex cook outs or to make that Chinese take out a meal to remember.
Several years ago, the Ohio Wine Producers Association poured the Firelands Isle Saint George Gewürztraminer at the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium in Sacramento, and it made a huge impression on the thousands of “west coast” palates there.
In recent competition seasons, the Gewürtz from Ferrante has turned many, many heads. In last year’s prestigious San Francisco Chronicle judging, it was deemed “best of class” against some of the world’s best examples. This year, it was named as the American Wine Society’s “best of class” varietal and in the just completed Ohio Competition it was named the “best of show” against several hundred state-produced wines, regardless of class or variety.
Its primary shortfall is the tongue twister nature of its name. Seldom is it ordered by novices when they are trying to impress a client or “hot date.” A special colleague, Mary McNellie, whom we lost more than a decade ago, always called it her “Gee-wiz” wine. But for those of you who want to explore its charm, and not use Mary’s acronym, the phonetic pronunciation is “Guh-VERT-struh-mee-nr.” Practicing a little before ordering in a restaurant or at a wine bar is recommended, but the effort will be well worth it when you sniff, sip and then savor this very lovely wine.
DONNIELLA WINCHELL is the executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association. She can be reached at dwinchell@OhioWines.org.