This past April I had the opportunity to travel to Alsace, a French wine region with a focus on white wines. I had tasted many rieslings from Alsace, it’s the grape I associate with this region, but it was another grape — gewürztraminer — that grabbed my attention.
Gewürztraminer is the second most planted grape in Alsace, with riesling being number one.
Wine purists would correct me if I called gewürztraminer a varietal rather than a clonal mutation of traminer/savagnin. “Gewürz” means “spice” in German and was added to traminer after an aroma mutation. This can be compared to pinot noir; pinot gris, pinot grigio, and pinot blanc are mutations of the same variety.
To add a little more confusion, proper spelling of the grape is gewürztraminer, except in France where it is gewurztraminer (without the umlaut).
Gewürztraminer is naturally high in sugar and lower in acidity, for a softer, rounder mouthfeel. The wines are usually fermented off-dry to medium sweet and are very aromatic. This sweetness is perfect to balance highly-seasoned and spicy Asian, Indian, and Thai dishes. It is one of only a few white wines that I would also recommend with sweet and spicy BBQ ribs and other spicy summertime dishes.
Gewürztraminer is grown in regions of France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and right here in Ontario, Canada. How does Ontario gewürztraminer benchmark against those I tasted in Alsace? That is the question I set out to answer.
With a few exceptions the Ontario gewürztraminers that I tasted tended to be drier, higher in acidity and less aromatic than those in Alsace. Lychee and passion fruit and floral notes were common in all. While all of the Ontario gewürztraminers are very good, one in particular blew me away!
Ontario gewürztraminer is quite versatile in style from dry to sweet icewine. However, not a lot of them find their way to the LCBO. Many of these gems are available only from the winery, and are worth the trip to purchase.
Pelee Island Winery, 2017 Lola Gewürztraminer ($13.95, LCBO#: 618231) — This one is available at many LCBO locations. Lola is a label produced by Pelee Island Winery. While not overly aromatic, it delivers in taste. With approximately 28 grams/litre of sugar this wine is medium sweet. There is a peachy and honeysuckle sweetness and lemon zest to counterbalance. An ideal summer sipping wine at an excellent price.
North 42 Degrees Estate Winery, 2016 Gewürztraminer ($19.95, available at winery only) — Invitingly classic aromatic rose petal notes on the nose. Very floral. Bone dry with only 4 grams of sugar/litre. Ripe fruit flavours of peach, pear and orange marmalade. Hints of hibiscus add some nice complexity. Elevated acidity which leads to a nice clean finish.
North 42’s host Michelle Trpcevski recommended pairing this wine with Bistro 42’s curry dishes.
North 42 Degrees Estate Winery, 2017 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer ($29.95/375 ml bottle, available at winery only) — The grapes for this wine were picked on November 12, 2017. Picking in the late fall allows the berries to become riper and produce more sugar, resulting in a sweeter style of wine. This late harvest gewürztraminer has 62 grams/litre of sugar. It’s deliciously sweet!
Classic flowery perfume nose along with hints of honey. Layers of complexity on the palate. Lychee fruit, sweet peach, orange peel, tangerine, and a waxy earthiness.
Recommended food pairing — Muenster cheese. It’s a classic Alsatian wine pairing.
Lacey Estates, 2016 Inspired Gewürztraminer ($20, available from the winery or LCBO#: 132639 in limited supply) — Lacey Estates is located in Prince Edward County, and sourced gewürztraminer grapes from Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench sub-region to make this wine. At 9 grams/litre it is still dry in style.
Winemaker Kimball Lacey offered this information. “Skin contact …. this adds to the golden colour and will heighten the nose and flavours on the wine as well. There were three different periods of contact on the wine: 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours. All were pressed out separately to individual tanks, inoculated with the same yeast strain and fermented to different levels of sugar content. And then filtered and blended back together in the end. The name ‘Inspired’ was given to this wine as the amount of grapes that came in (roughly six tonnes) was more than I was expecting and it inspired me to try some new directions with this wine.”
Aromatic touches of rose and orange zest on the nose. The palate offers a pithy, phenolic edge that gives texture. Ripe pear and red apple fruits. This wine has lovely balance.
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery, 2017 (CREW) Gewürztraminer ($17.95/winery only) — This is it! The one that blew me away.
Aromatic flowery rose petal, honeysuckle, and orange blossom on the nose. It delivers fresh, ripe peach, pear, and juicy citrus on the palate. With 20 grams of sugar/litre there is a lush mouthfeel. There is sweetness, and it is perfectly balanced and really supports this wine to the finish.
Made from estate-grown grapes, only 50 cases were produced. It’s a great value for such small lot production. The 2017 vintage is currently available at the winery and is expected to sell out by mid-summer. The 2018 vintage will be available then. I tasted it too, and it is every bit as good as the 2017.
This Ontario gewürztraminer checks all the boxes for what I was looking for. From the first sniff of aromas I was taken back to my week in Alsace. I encourage you to get out to CREW and get this gewürztraminer.