Food & Drink, Libations

Dr. Booze takes on the intimidatingly named gewurztraminer wine

Okay folks, this is it: today we’re going to talk about the wine that none dare speak its name, gewurztraminer.  

Now everybody calm down.  It’s not poison.  Honest. In fact I’ve noticed two trends that may mean we’ll be drinking ever so much more of the stuff in the near future. I had my first glass of rooibos tea and it reminded me of nothing but a good cold glass of gewurz. If you’ve never heard of rooibos, it’s a popular tisane from South Africa. It’s a legume, with a decidedly floral aroma and a slightly citrus flavour.  It is rapidly becoming all the rage.

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Secondly, when I was in the Maple Leaf Lounge last week in Winnipeg, the white of choice was Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer. Lounge lizards are a decidedly mainstream crowd, less picky than you might think. If they’re whaling back the gewurz then it’s at least an even money bet that the grape is in the ascendant.

When I went to check out the selection at the SLGA this was confirmed by the presence of no less than four genuine honest-to-gawd Canadian gewurz that weren’t priced for the jug wine crowd. For the last six years, I’ve faithfully patrolled the aisles like Diogenes searching for one honest gewurz.  Usually I’ve had to make do with a blend or some woeful little wine anchoring the $10 spot.

Okay, gewurz is a tough sell.  I know that; you know that; and we both which of us hasn’t been drinking their fair share. (Your mother writes me regularly about your drinking habits.  We both shake our heads and sigh.  Frankly you have let her down.) Here is your chance to make amends.  Things you need to know: older gewurz tends to lose the aromatic compounds that make that floral bouquet.  If you really don’t like the smell of flowers – and what’s up with that anyway? – then buy older versions.

I tell you that because the oldest gewurztraminer on the shelf here is Pelee Island Reserve, a 2008.  There aren’t a whole lot of white wines sold at the five year old mark and this is one of them.  Pelee Island tends to get no respect as a vintner because they specialize in value VQA wines down around the $12 mark.

Their Gewurztraminer Reserve is an off-dry wine, with great crisp acidity and very long finish. It has that slightly floral bouquet, with fruit somewhere between lychee and cherry aromas, and that great exotic spice that lingers towards the back of the nasal passages.

The palate is crisp as you’d expect, but it has a spicy finish that lingers in the mid-palate.  Like all gewurz this should be your go-to wine when pairing with Asian food.  I love it with pan fried shrimp and cilantro.

Sumac Ridge Private Reserve appears to be chasing the people a little bored with sauvignon blanc, searching for something a bit thicker but still with crisp acidity.  Their wine is young, bottled last year with a great fruit and floral bouquet, and that lychee fruit palate that makes a young gewurz so drinkable.  As an afternoon quaffer, or with pad thai this is a hard combo to beat.  It sure made sense to me in the Winnipeg lounge.

Gray Monk is an unwooded gewurz, and very similar in style and approach to Sumac Ridge.  The nose struck me as more floral with some herbaceous flavours.  The midpalate and finish were a disappointment however as the palate seemed a little flattened.  This is a fairly subtle criticism, and I doubt it will bother most people.  The lack of oaking means the wine is more citrus and fruity but it does lower the viscosity, which if you’re more of a sauvignon blanc drinker you’ll appreciate.

Mt. Boucherie is a solid Okanagan label that I rely on for well made wines at moderate prices.  Their gewurz was closer to the Pelee Island version with more astringency, some herbaceous flavours and a good crisp acidity, and a slightly rounder palate.  It made for an interesting contrast with Gray Monk, as these two vintners are usually very similar.  My guess is the difference is some of the crop spent time on oak at Mt. Boucherie.

If you’ve never had a gewurz, or are one of those people annoyed by the notion of an aromatic wine, you might want to revisit the issue with any of these four.  My pick would be Pelee Island, but I’ll gladly help you reduce your inventory of any of them.

Have a happy long weekend.  And if you’re looking for a picnic wine look no further!  (Take two bottles well chilled:  drink one:  chase romantic target around the picnic table:  repeat as necessary.)

Pelee Island Reserve Gewurztraminer, Ontario 2008. $20 ****

Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer, BC, 2012. $13.75 ****

Gray Monk Unwooded Gewurztraminer, BC 2011. $22 ****

Mt. Boucherie Estate Collection Gewurztraminer, BC 2011. $24 ****


James Romanow writes about Wine and all things boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze.