Wine with Food: Alsatian Gewurztraminer
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | May 1984
You will not find a wine labeled exactly “Alsatian Gewurztraminer”. You will have to look for a bottle that reads Gewurztraminer and then see if it was imported from Alsace. And, when you locate a bottle, you will be rewarded with a wine experience unique in the world of wines. (Assuming other factors of age and storage conditions have been favorable.)
There is something about Gewurztraminer wine grown in Alsace and vinified in Alsace that is not equaled anywhere else in the world. It has a charm all its own which wine makers around the world have not been able to duplicate. (Even in the neighboring German vineyards, where the same varietal grape is grown.) We have some very good Gewurztraminer in California, but there is enough of a difference to declare those made in Alsace unique.
Well, what is Gewurztraminer? It is the name of a grape, and wine made from it has a unique spicy, flowery, aromatic character that is unmistakable. Gewurz in German means “spice”, and the wine demonstrates this character very well. In fact, if you have not had a Gewurztraminer before, you might consider the taste a little strange at first, but it is so good, that it is easy to get used to. It is a white wine with these charming attributes when young and which fade rather fast with ageing.
The better wines come from the southern portion of the French wine growing region known as Alsace. Mainly around the town of Colmar. Yet some of the northern vintners around Strasbourg have some excellent examples too. The vines grow on the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains, down to the western banks of the Rhine river (the “winiest” river in the world.)
What to serve with Alsatian Gewurztraminer?
I think it is a wine to enjoy for itself, though . . . not by itself! It is so dominant and bold that it should be savored for its own characteristics. This then says that it should really be served as an aperitif wine. The social hour wine, instead of “cocktail” hour. It makes for great conversation because it is so different and any that have not had it will certainly comment on it.
To match hors d’oeuvres with it is a little difficult. They must not clash, and they must not distract
First we must be somewhat familiar with the sweetness level of the particular wine we are serving.
Gewurztraminer will be made in a dry style, with usually just a hint of sweetness to take the edge off the aromatic character. This is the most common style. The label will not say this. You will have to know the wine or try it ahead of time. With this style, any fruit flavored cream cheese canapes or unsalted nuts will be fine. No meats. No spicy dips or chips. Celery and cream cheese boats are fine. Warm quiche puffs are very suitable.
If your wine is made in a bone dry style, which I consider too austere for this grape, it will usually be too stark for aperitif use. Serve it with bouillabaise. It will hold up to it and be an interesting accompaniment. You might serve it with sauerkraut casseroles. It will go very well with it. A native dish called Choucroute garnie a l’alsacienne is that type. I like to have bone dry Gewurztraminer with curry dishes. It really adds an interesting dimension and stands up to the curry.
If your wine is on the sweet side, then still use it as an aperitif, but use fruit slices, or more compatible hors d’oeuvres that have blander tastes to them, to accompany the wine.
If the wine is a late harvest style, which is usually very sweet, then serve it with dessert at the end of your meal. Would be great with flake pastries, napoleons, or poached pears with caramel sauce. You will not run into too many of the late harvest examples of this wine from Alsace. They are not that common.
You should drink Gewurztraminer as young as possible. Preferably the current vintage. It fades as it ages. This does not apply to the late harvest style wines. They can be aged, and sometimes for many years. (They must be tracked though.)
If you are a Gewurztraminer fan, then you should also try some from other sources. It is a most interesting grape, and the variation in it from country to country, and from winemaker to winemaker could be study in itself. What an assignment!