Gewurztraminers are love-it-or-leave-it wines. i am on the love-it side, their being among my favorite white wines. Alexis Lichine hedges by calling gewurztraiminer France's "most individual tasting wine." The wine's unique spiciness and intensely flavored full-bodied character tend to evoke cries of excitement as frequently as they do sighs of disappointment; in any case, gewurztraminers clearly leave a vivid impression on one's palate.
The gewurztraminer grape is grown successfully in such viticultural areas of the world as Germany, France, California, Washington, Austria and Italy. Yet the finest gewurztraminers are produced in the northeastern corner of France in Alsace.
Alsace produces lovely white wines. Unlike other areas of France (but identical to the practice in California), there a wine is named after the grape variety rather than the place of origin or the particular estate. Thus Alsatian wines are easily recognizable by names such as gewurztraminer, riesling, slyvaner, pinot blanc and muscat d'Alsace. Alsatian wines are usually vinified dry, although some of the area's most prized wines are late harvested, lusciously sweet gewurztraminers and rieslings which have been infected by botrytis. While numerous wine authorities have proclaimed Alsatian riesling as the area's most subtle, complex and technically correct wine, gewurztraminers better represent the region's personality and unique character. Gewurztraminer also offers the most interesting drinking experience if carefully matched with food.
The best Alsatian vineyards lie on the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains approximately 60 kilometers south of the cathedral city of Strasbourg. Like other wine regions, Alsace has its own route de vin . However, this winding wine road passes through what is surely the prettiest wine region in France. Between the commercial town of Selestat and the lovely medieval city of Colmar, the route de vin passes through the choicest gewurztraminer and riesling vineyards of Alsace as well as some of France's most charming villages. A glass of gewurztraminer served in a town such as Ribeauville, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg or Colmar will surely be memorable, and is likely to give the taste an infatuation with both gewurztraminer and Alsace.
The overall quality of Alsatian wines is quite good. Virtually the entire wine business in this region is controlled by a handful of firms which have vineyard holdings, but primarily depend upon contracts with growers for their grapes. After learning the grape varieties, knowing the particular shippers style of wine is the best method for a consumer to become familiar with Alsatian gewurztraminers.
The major shippers in Alsace who regularly import to this country include hugel, Trimbach, Dopff, Dopff and Irion, Jux, Leon Beyer, Josmeyer and Willm. Of the smaller firms, high quality gewurztraminers are produced by Schlumberger, Faller Freres, Kuehn, Klug and R. Schmidt.
The styles of gewurztraminer can vary considerably, although all of the better gewurztraminers should possess the grape's unsubtle, but characteristic spicy fruitiness. Proponents of well-made, full-bodied, intensely spicy, viscous gewurztraminers should look for the Reserve Personnelle or Reserve Exceptionelle offerings from the Hugle firm. Hugle produces different styles of gewurztraminer, from a dry regular bottling, to several marvelous sweet late-harvest gewurztraminers. His gewurztraminers are big, ripe and intense, and the best of them are the various reserve offerings.
Two other producers of big, rich, full-bodied gewurztraminers are those of Schlumberger and Kuehn. Both of these producers have a loyal and deserved following among Alsatian wine connoisseurs, but their wines have only limited availability, and are usually quite expensive relative to their peers.
More subtle in style, with slightly higher acidity, are the gewurztraminers produced by Trimbach, Faller Freres, and Dopff and Irion. These wines are not quite as rich, viscous or as full-bodied as a Hugel, Schlumberger or Kuehn wine, and therefore are frequently better choices with food. Both Trimbach's special bottling of gewurztraminer called Cuvee Ribeaupierre and Faller Freres, Cuvee Theo or Reserve are especially good.
With respect to recent vintages for Alsatian wines, most of the offerings on the market are from the 1977, 1978 and 1979 harvests. None of these vintages is a great vintage for Alsatian gewurztraminers a la 1976, 1971 or 1967, but given a choice, I would put my money in the 1979's which are just now coming on the market. They are very well balanced, fresh, lively wines with good fruit and the inimitable Alsatian personality. They should hold nicely for six to seven years. For current drinking, the 1978's are straightforward pleasant wines, whereas the 1977's are generally disappointing. Anyone lucky enough to stumble across a 1976 gewurztraminer should give it a try, as this vintage produced very intensely flavored and potentially long-lived wines.
Alsatian gewurztraminers age quite well. I recently tasted both a 1967 and 1971 Hugel Reserve Exceptionelle. Both had retained very good fruit and still possessed the authoritative spiciness so common in this grape variety. Despite the health of these wines, such gewurztraminers should be consumed by the time they are six years old.
What foods complement or deserve a good bottle of Alsatian gewurztraminer? The key to matching a gewurztraminer with food is to remember that gewurztraminers are spicy and intense, and unless accompanied with inensely flavored dishes, they come across as too overpowering. Gewurztrainers are sensational wines with smoked meats, fish and fowl, and can be simply sublime with the Alsation speciality choucroute garnie . Gewurztraminers are also surprisingly good with Oriental cuisine. A big rich gewurztraminer can even stand up to mosty fiery Zechaun dishes. Gewurztraminers are also excellent with French cassoulet and confit , Moroccan couscous , Spanish paella and many Creole dishes.
As for the sweet late-harvest gewurztraminers, they should be treated as a fine German beerenausles or trockenbeerenausles , and served with fresh fruit or a fruit-based tart.
Recommended Gewurztraminers (Listed alphabetically) Dopff and Irion 1978 ($6.49) Faller 1979 ($8.49) Faller Cuve'e Theo 1979 ($11.95) Faller Reserve 1979 ($9.99) Gaschy 1978 ($5.99) Hugel Reserve Personelle 1976 ($14.95) Mure' Clos St. Landelin 1978 ($9.99) Trimbach 1979 ($8.49) Trimbach Cuve'e Ribeaupierre 1976 ($13.49). WINE BRIEFS
Traveling to New York City? If you are, and you enjoy good wine with your meal, but detest being gouged by restaurants that mark up their wines 200 to 300 percent, two wine lists in the Big Apple stand out as being very comprehensive and reasonably priced. Windows on the World gets a lot of publicity for its wine list, and deservedly so, as Kevin Zraly of that establishment has done a super job in putting together a fine wine list with plenty of good wines and good values. Less publicized but equally outstanding is the wine list at the Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street. The wine list at Sparks is the creation of Pasquale Cetta, the restaurant's owner, whose love for fine wine shows. The wine selections from Bordeaux, Italy, and California are extremely well chosen with the emphasis on quality and value. Two of the recent house red wines at Sparks were the excellent 1974 Souveraine Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon for $12.50 a bottle and the well-made 1977 Mirassou Anniversary Zinfandel for $12 a bottle.
More than a few restaurants locally could learn a lot about wine lists from those at Sparks Steak House and Windows on the World.
Although some members of the wine trade are keeping the news quiet, imported wine prices continue to drop, as I stated in this column in early May. The combination of a bullish dollar and significant inventories of wine to sell are resulting in some excellent bargains. This trend may be short lived, particularly if the outcome of the 1981 harvest in Europe is small and/or poor in quality. Wine buyers lucky enough to have some discretionary income should be doing so shopping around for 1978 bordeaux, 1979 bourdeaux futures, 1979 chablis, 1979 Alsatian wines, 1979 macons, 1979 rhones and 1979 Loire Valley wines.