Gewurztraminer – our best kept secret

I like Gewurztraminer. Many people find the wine too perfumed, too floral or perhaps too sweet. Most find it hard to pronounce (it’s “gay-vertz-tram-eener”). For those reasons Gewurztraminer ranks eighth in terms of production size. It’s difficult to grow, difficult to make and difficult to sell according to one winemaker who continues to make it simply because it produces terrific wine by international standards. The fact that he enjoys drinking it also helps.

France, or more specifically the north-eastern region of Alsace, is widely acclaimed as being the source of the world’s best Gewurztraminer. If France is first, then New Zealand must surely make the world’s second best Gewurztraminer although we are the world’s twelfth largest producer of the variety. My claim that New Zealand Gewurztraminer is second best is undermined by the fact that I haven’t tasted Gewurztraminer from Moldova (2nd), Ukraine (3rd), Czech Republic (8th), Romania (10th) or Slovakia (11th).

I have however just finished tasting 55 examples of New Zealand Gewurztraminer from every wine region except Auckland/Northland. Grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir tend to perform best in the cooler southerly part of the country (south of Hawke’s Bay) while others such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah do best in Hawke’s Bay and further north. Gewurztraminer is more promiscuous and has the potential to make excellent wine in every region although wines from the northern regions tend to be rather lusher than their sleeker, tighter cousins in the south.

The quality of local Gewurztraminer has never been higher, thanks at least in part to terrific vintage conditions in the past two years, particularly in the northern part of the country. If you don’t like Gewurztraminer but haven’t tried it for a few years it might be time to give it another shot.

I like Gewurztraminer as an aperitif without the complication of food but the wine is a great match with spicy Asian-inspired dishes. It’s my first choice at Thai, Indian and Chinese restaurants.

Top Tip

Gewurztraminer, like Pinot Gris, is a pink-skinned grape variety which typically has a slightly deeper colour than most white grape varieties (apart from Pinot Gris) although the hue tends to be straw-coloured rather than pink. If someone asks you to identify a straw-coloured white wine with the aroma of rose petal or Turkish delight choose Gewurztraminer with confidence.

Lawson’s Dry Hills The Pioneer Gewurztraminer, Marlborough 2013 – $34.99

Flagship wine from one of Marlborough’s leading Gewurztraminer producers. Rich, creamy and concentrated Gewurztraminer offering a lot more complexity, weight and flavour than most. Sophisticated wine with a wide array of flavours including lychee, Turkish delight, liquorice and mixed spice/clove. Medium/dry. – view on

Te Whare Ra Gewurztraminer, Marlborough 2013 – $32

Luscious, concentrated Gewurztraminer with classic Turkish delight and clove flavours together with a subtle savoury bread-like character that may be from the yeast lees. Creamy textured wine with amplified varietal character. The wine’s impressive power is clearly demonstrated by its lengthy finish. Medium/dry. – view on

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Mar 2015.

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