Definitions

late-ripening

Gewürztraminer

[guh-voorts-truh-mee-ner; Ger. guh-vyrts-trah-mee-nuhr]

Gewürztraminer (ɡəˈvʏrtstraˈmi:nɚ, guh-VURTS-trah-MEE-ner in English) is an aromatic wine grape variety that performs best in cooler climates. It is sometimes referred to colloquially as Gewürz, and in French it is written Gewurztraminer (without the umlaut). Gewürztraminer is a variety with a pink to red skin colour, which makes it a white wine grape in difference to the blue- to black-skinned varieties commonly referred to as "red wine grapes". The variety has high natural sugar and the wines are white and usually off-dry, with a flamboyant bouquet of lychees. Dry Gewürztraminers may also have aromas of roses, passion fruit and floral notes. It is not uncommon to notice some spritz (fine bubbles on the inside of the glass).

Its aromatic flavours make Gewürztraminer one of the few wines that is suitable for drinking with Asian cuisine. It goes well with Munster cheese, and fleshy, fatty (oily) wild game. Smoked salmon is a particularly good match.

History

The name literally means "Spice Traminer, or "Perfumed Traminer".

The history of the Traminer family is complicated, and not helped by its rather unstable genome. The story starts with the ancient Traminer variety, a green-skinned grape that takes its name from the Italian village of Tramin (Termeno), located in the northeastern region of Alto Adige/South Tyrol. The famous ampelographer Pierre Galet thought that Traminer was identical to the green-skinned Savagnin Blanc that makes vin jaune in the Jura. More recently it has been suggested that Savagnin Blanc acquired slight differences in its leaf shape and geraniol content as it travelled to the other end of the Alps.

Frankisch in Austria, Gringet in Savoie, Heida in Switzerland, Formentin in Hungary and Grumin from Bohemia are all very similar to Savagnin Blanc and probably represent clones of the Traminer family, if not Traminer itself. The Viognier of the Rhone Valley may be a more distant relative of Savagnin Blanc.

At some point, either Traminer or Savagnin Blanc mutated into a form with pink-skinned berries, called Red Traminer or Savagnin Rose. Galet believed that a musqué ('muscat-like') mutation in the Red Traminer/Savagnin Rose then led to the extra-aromatic Gewürztraminer, although in Germany these names are all regarded as synonymous.

With these convoluted genetics happening in the area that has been the front line for a millennium of wars in Europe, it's maybe not surprising that vines have been misnamed. Given that the wine made from 'Gewürztraminer' in Germany can be much less aromatic than that in Alsace, some of the German vines may well be misidentified Savagnin Rose. The Baden vineyard of Durbach claims its own type of Red Traminer called Durbacher Clevner (not to be confused with "Klevner", an Austrian synonym for Pinot Blanc). The story goes that in 1780 Karl Friedrich, Grand Duke of Baden brought vines from Chiavenna in Italy, halfway between Tramin (Termeno) and the Jura, which was known to the Germans as Cleven.

The Klevener de Heiligenstein or Heiligensteiner Klevener found around Heiligenstein in Alsace may represent an outpost of the Durbach vines. They are often described as a less aromatic form of Gewürztraminer, which sounds just like the Red Traminer!

Traminer is recorded in Tramin from ca. 1000 until the 16th century. It was spread down the Rhine to Alsace, by way of the Palatinate where Gewürz (spice) was added to its name - presumably this was when one of the mutations happened. The longer name was first used in Alsace in 1870 - without the umlaut. It's not clear what this name change represents, as it seems too great a coincidence that the musqué mutation happened just after the arrival of the great phylloxera epidemic. More likely an existing mutant was selected for grafting onto phylloxera-resistant rootstocks when the vineyards were replanted. In 1973 the name Traminer was discontinued in Alsace except for in the Heiligenstein area.

Crosses

The Germans have tried hard to breed the flavours of Gewürztraminer into vines that are easier to grow. In 1932 Georg Scheu crossed Gewürztraminer with Müller-Thurgau to produce Würzer, a little of which is grown in Rheinhessen and in England. Similar crosses at Alzey and Würzburg respectively have produced Septimer and the reasonably successful Perle. The early-ripening Siegerrebe is the result of a cross with Madeleine Angevine at Alzey and is notable for producing the highest ever must weight recorded in Germany, 326 °Oechsle. A cross between Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe produced Ortega

Cserszegi Fűszeres is the result of a Hungarian cross with Irsai Oliver.

In 1938 Harold Olmo crossed Sémillon and Gewürztraminer at U.C. Davis to make Flora, which is grown a little in California and New Zealand - in the latter it was mistaken for a late-ripening clone of Pinot Gris. Brown Bros blend it with Orange Muscat in Australia.

In 1965 Gewürztraminer was crossed with Joannes Seyve 23.416 at the University of Illinois to produce a hybrid variety called Traminette. Traminette is more cold-tolerant than the original, while maintaining most of the desirable taste and aroma characteristics.

Regions

In Europe the grape is grown in Italy, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Luxembourg, Moravia in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the New World, the grape is perhaps most successful in New Zealand and in the far south of Chile.

Australia

Australian Gewürztraminer is more notable for its occasional use of old names like Traminer Musqué and Gentil Rose Aromatique than the quality of the wines. Its naturally high sugar is exacerbated by the sunny climate, so that it is more suited for sweetening other wines.

Canada

Canadian regions where it is grown include the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, the Niagara Peninsula, and the north shore of Lake Erie and Prince Edward County wine regions of Ontario.

France

Gewürztraminer reaches its finest expression in Alsace, where it is the second most planted grape variety and the one most characteristic of the region. It grows better in the south of the region. Styles range from the very dry Trimbach house style to the very sweet. The variety's high natural sugar means that it is popular for making dessert wine, both vendange tardive and the noble rot-affected sélection de grains nobles.

As mentioned above, around Heiligenstein there's a grape known as Klevener de Heiligenstein, which is probably Red Traminer (Savagnin Rose) rather than a true Gewürz; the Heiligenstein wines are certainly more restrained than other Alsace Gewürztraminers.

Germany

Germany has about 10 square kilometres of the variety, but it is very different from that of their neighbours across the Rhine, as suggested above a lot of their "Gewürztraminer" is probably Red Traminer. The Germans go for a relatively dry style, that tries to subdue the natural flamboyance of the grape.

Italy

The Traminer is native to the cool Alpine slopes of the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol in northeastern Italy. Whether the Gewürz- mutant originated there or not is an open question, but it is certainly grown there today. Confusingly both pink and green grapes may be called simply Traminer. This wine is aged in Austrian oak rather than the Slovenian oak used for most Italian wine.

USA

In the United States, it is concentrated in Monterey, Mendocino and Sonoma in California, the Columbia Valley of Washington and Oregon. It is also grown in Michigan, Rhode Island, Caddo County, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas, and the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

Traminette wines are produced in the Finger Lakes region.

Israel

Although not native to the Israeli climate, growing Gewürztraminer grapes became somewhat of a trend in the late 90's and the beginning of 2000's. It is grown in different growing areas all over Israel. Most notable examples come from the Golan Heights and the Gallilee. All kinds of wines, from dry aromatic ones to very concentrated sweet ones are produced.

Vine and viticulture

Gewürztraminer is particularly fussy about soil and climate. The vine is vigorous, even unruly, but it hates chalky soils and is very susceptible to disease. It buds early, so is very susceptible to frost, needs dry and warm summers, and ripens erratically and late. Its natural sweetness means that in hot climates it becomes blowsy, with not enough acidity to balance the huge amounts of sugar. On the other hand, picking early to retain the acidity, means that the varietal aromas don't develop, and these aromas may be further diluted by overcropping in an attempt to overcome the low yields.

Synonyms

As explained above, genetic instability means that the Traminers should be regarded as a family of related clones rather than distinct varieties. Thus DNA analysis will probably reveal that the following names are not synonymous. It gets even worse when it comes to Gewürztraminer, as Geilweilerhof being Germans see no difference between it and Red Traminer - and some of the names look like they belong to the original green-skinned Traminer/Savagnin Blanc. Still, with those caveats, here they are:

Auvernas Rouge, Blanc Brun, Blanc Court, Bon Blanc, Christkindeltraube, Christkindlestraube, Clevener, Clevner, Crevena Ruziva, Crovena Ruzica, Diseci Traminer, Dreimaenner, Dreimannen, Dreipfennigholz, Drumin, Drumin Ljbora, Duret Rouge, Edeltraube, Fermentin Rouge, Fleischroth, Fleischweiner, Formentin Rouge, Fourmenteau Rouge, Frencher, Fromente, Fromenteau, Fűszeres, Fűszeres Tramini, Gentil Rose Aromatique, Gentil-duret Rouge, Gentile Blanc, Gewuerztraminer, Gringet, Gris Rouge, Haiden, Kirmizi Traminer, Klaebinger, Klaevner, Kleinbraun, Kleinwiener, Livora, Livora Cervena, Mala Dinka, Marzimmer, Mirisavi Traminac, Nature, Nature Rose, Noble Rose, Nuernberger Rot, Pinat Cervena, Piros Tramini, Plant Paien, Princ Cerveny, Princt Cervena, Princt Cerveny, Ranfoliza, Rosentraminer, Rotclevner, Rotedel, Roter Nuerberger, Roter Nuernberger, Roter Traminer, Rotfranken, Rothklauser, Rothweiner, Rothwiener, Rotklaevler, Rotklaevner, Rotklevner, Rousselet, Runziva, Rusa, Ruska, Ryvola, Salvagnin, Sauvagnin, Savagnin, Savagnin Jaune, Savagnin Rosa Aromatique, Savagnin Rose, Savagnin Rose Aromatique, Savagnin Rose Musque, St. Klauser, Termeno Aromatico, Tramin Cerveny, Tramin Korenny, Traminac Crveni, Traminac Diseci, Traminac mirisavi (Croatian), Traminac Mirisavi Crveni, Traminac Sivi, Traminec, Traminer, Traminer Aromatico, Traminer Epice, Traminer Musque, Traminer Parfume, Traminer Rosa, Traminer Rose Aromatique, Traminer Rot, Traminer Rozovyi, Tramini Piros, Trammener, Fűszeres tramini (Hungarian).

References

  • Clarke, Oz; Margaret Rand (2003). Grapes and Wines. London: Time Warner Books. ISBN 0-316-72653-2.

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