Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gewurztraminer the white, semi-dry wine. The best is the Gewurztraminer AOP (AOC) from the Alsace, France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated December 2019.

I was introduced to the Gewurztraminer AOP, a white wine from the Alsace some 40 (plus) years ago. Then, at a dinner in the Alsatian town of Mulhouse, my hosts served a semi-dry, incredibly floral wine. The wine had me spellbound. At that time, few visitors France had heard of Gewurztraminer, including yours truly, and practically no one would see a Gewurztraminer on a wine list unless they were here in the Alsace region in north-eastern France. Gewurztraminer, called Gewürzt, by the locals, is a white wine that is very different, full of flavor, and scented like no other.
Gewurztraminer grapes.
Unlike most other French AOP wines, the AOP (AOC) wines of Alsace are allowed to be named after the grape variety from which they are produced. Today Gewurztraminer wines are produced in just about every wine-producing country in the world. However, the best of the Alsatian Gewurztraminer AOP wines beat the best of the best from anywhere else. For some clarity on these AOP and AOC labels, see my post: AOC and AOP on France's Foods and Wine labels?

Mulhouse France and Basel Switzerland.

The town of Mulhouse in the Alsace, France, where I was introduced to Gewurztraminer, is close to the Swiss city of Basel that holds many important exhibitions. The two towns are interlocked and even share the same airport.

I spent ten or more days every year, for over twenty-five years, at exhibitions in Basel. The evening were filled with endless opportunities to enjoy excellent French cuisine and wonderful French wines, including my favorite Alsatian white wine: Gewurztraminer. 
The oldest wine barrel in the world.
Ste Caterine cask dated 1715 at Hugel Winery, Alsace, France.
Still in use according to the Guinness book of records
Photograph courtesy of

Before or after an exhibition, I would join friends and explore the Alsace Route des Vins, the Alsace wine road. The wine road begins close to Mulhouse which is thirty minutes from Basel and continues on for another 115 km ( 72 miles) past Colmar and onto the region's capital of Strasbourg. (Strasburg is also home to the European Union's parliament and Colmar, less than an hour's ride from Basel is the Alsace’s second-largest city.  Colmar and to the left and the right are tens, maybe hundreds, of excellent French restaurants, large and small. While there are many outstanding restaurants in Basel itself, France is always beckoning, and the wines are from France).     
The City of Colmar
In the Alsace region of France.
(On 1-1-2016 the Alsace became part of the new super region of the Grand Est).
Choosing a Gewurztraminer AOP wine.
When choosing a Gewurztraminer AOP or another regular Alsatian white wine (not a Grand Cru or Vendange Tardive wine), do not buy wines more than three years old. Trust me; most Alsatian three-year-old AOP white wines will be no better than a two-year-old wine. Four or five-year-old white Alsatian wines are best when left in the wine shop unless you have an expert to advise you. Ordinary Gewurztraminer wines are excellent wines with only a few meant to be kept for years; drink them young.

Gewurztraminer Grand Cru

Grand Crus are different, and so when Grand Cru is on the bottle of an Alsatian wine, it indicates a separate appellation, a distinct and unique growing area. The vineyards with the right to produce Grand Cru wines are the home of the best of Alsatian wines. In 1975, the right to add Grand Cru on an Alsatian wine’s label was legalized after tests (a rarety for French wines),that included taste tests. Other vineyards that applied later are tested, tasted, and some are added. When you buy a Grand Cru wine, then the name of the vineyard must be on the label, and you need an updated wine guide to choose among the many vintners and different years. N.B. If you find a surprisingly cheap ten-year-old wine in a supermarket or wine shop leave it; if it was any good the real experts would have bought all there was long before you got there.

Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Zotzenberg.
I leave the Gewurztraminer Grand Cru wines at dinner to the real mavens who can afford them, and enjoyed them when I was invited.  Though the Grand Crus do include the very very best, I do find excellent Gewurztraminer AOP wines without Grand Cru on the label, and when the bill comes, they are easier to digest.
Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive (VT) wines
Vendange Tardive wines are made with grapes that are left on the vine long past the usual harvest date; then, as the grapes begin to dry out, the sugars and flavors are concentrated, resulting in the perfect grape for a sweet dessert wine. Open a bottle of a Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, and the area around is filled with the scent of flowers. These wines may be offered as an aperitif or as a single glass accompanying certain dishes.
Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN)
Sélection de Grains Noble (SGN) Alsatian wines are even sweeter than the vendange tardive wines and are considered the highest grade of the Alsatian dessert wines. These wines are made when the grapes, on the vine, have been infected by a helpful fungus called botrytis cinerea (mostly known in English as the “noble rot”). As long as the climate is not damp, this fungus does its magic and concentrates the sugars and scent a few steps higher than the vendange tardive wines. The famous sweet Sauterne wines of Bordeaux are also produced with the aid of the “noble rot.” When you buy any of these fabulous SGN Alsatian dessert wines, remember this is a wine for sipping and smelling, not for quaffing.

Marc de Gewurztraminer
Marcs, like Italian Grappas and similar brandies from other wine-producing countries, are made from grape skins, leaves, pulp, and seeds that are leftover from the production of wines. Initially, these leftovers were processed into very rough brandies that were given freely to the workers in the vineyards; they got drunk, and that took their minds off their poverty. These cheap marcs and grappas were then slightly improved and subsequently sold, cheaply, to the townspeople who could also get drunk cheaply and forget their problems. Over the years, the methods of distillation developed, and a second distillation produced a brandy that was smoother, tastier, and more fragrant that could be sold to more discerning customers.
Today the better French Marcs and Italian Grappas, with a 40 % alcohol content, are offered like other fine brandies in the finest restaurants. A pleasant Marc’s scent will tell you the type of grape that was used, and In the Alsace, your digestif should be a Marc de Gewurztraminer.
Vinaigre de Gewurztraminer:
Gewurztraminer vinegar adds its unique scent and taste to sauces. Vinaigrette and other sauces made with vinegar bring that scent of flowers.
Vendanges Tardive Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle
Leon Boesch Gewurztraminer

Menus in the Alsace may Include:

Un Verre de Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives - A glass of sweet Gewurztraminer late harvest wine. One of the best ways to enjoy this wine without buying the whole bottle.
Asperges Blanches d'Alsace et Écrevisses au Vinaigre de Gewurztraminer - White asparagus from the Alsace served with crayfish and flavored with a Gewurztraminer vinegar. N.B. The white asparagus from the Alsace is fabulous and during the season will be on nearly every restaurant menu.  

White and green asparagus
Along with other goodies in the market.

Foie Gras de Canard "Maison," Gelée au Gewurztraminer et Pain de Campagne Toasté – Fattened duck’s liver prepared with the chef's own recipe, served with a jelly made from the cooking juices flavored with Gewurztraminer and accompanied by toasted country bread.
N.B. On French menus "Maison" while also indicating a home or implying "homemade" does not infer that the competition is buying their product in the local supermarket!  On a French menu, "Maison" indicates a particular restaurant's or chef's take on a well-known dish.
Dos de Maigre aux Effluves d'Epices Cuit sous Vos Yeux Sauce Beurre Blanc au Gewurztraminer et son Risotto aux Champignons - A thick cut of meagre the fish, also called croaker, scented with spices; all cooked in front of the diner in a Beurre Blanc sauce made with Gewurztraminer wine and accompanied by a button mushroom risotto. (Be careful using the word "maigre" as it also means lean).
Escalope de Saumon Frais, Sauce Légère au Gewurztraminer  Fresh salmon served with a light Gewurztraminer flavored sauce.

Le Sorbet Citron Arrosé au Marc de Gewurztraminer – A lemon sorbet lightly flavored with a Marc de Gewurztraminer; this may be offered between the main course and the dessert menu:
Granité au Melon Rose et Gewurztraminer AOC Alsace Grand Cru  - A granite made with crushed frozen melon and rose water, flavored with a Gewurztraminer Grand Cru.  Granités were originally the French take on Italian granitas, and in the beginning, they were sugar, fruiKougelhopf cake, and water served with crushed ice, a sludge.  Many guide books still translate a French granité as sludge in English.  However, the granités served in most French restaurants have moved on and are now very different from a sludge. 
Kougelhopf Glacé au Marc de Gewurztraminer, Coulis aux Fruits Rouge - This is a popular Alsatian dessert where an ice-cream cake is often made using the traditional engraved Kougelhopf  cake pan.  You will receive a slice of this ice-cream cake shaped like a regular Kougelhopf cake.  In this menu listing the ice cream is flavored with a Marc de Gewurztraminer and accompanied by a puree of berries, strawberries and other red fruits. 
Un Verre de Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives - A glass of sweet Gewurztraminer late harvest wine. One of the best ways to enjoy this wine without buying the whole bottle.

At the end of a meal, Alsatian menus may offer an Alsatian coffee:
Café Alsacien – An Alsatian coffee; a shot of black espresso coffee served with whipped cream and a shot of Gewurztraminer Marc. (A similar coffee elsewhere in France, without the whipped cream, will be a Café Cognac).

Kougelhopf  (Gugelhupf) with Alsatian Coffee by the side.
Photograph Courtesy of Lyons Coffee
The Kougelhopf cake, also called Gugelhupf, Kouglof, and other similar names, include cakes that today have a wide variety of recipes. The original Kougelhopf was a raisin-filled yeast bread made in traditional engraved pans with a hole in the middle; these pans with their engravings have become collectors’ items. As a child, I remember my Oma, my Austrian Grandmother making these cakes on the stovetop.
Kougelhopf pans
Betschdorf and Soufflenheim for Alsatian pottery
Exploring the Alsace

With friends and family who joined us after the annual Basel exhibition, we would explore the Route des Vins d’Alsace. This Alsace wine road extends from the South, near the small town of Thann, 25 minutes from Mulhouse to the North of the Alsace, just past Marlenheim, 24 minutes from Strasbourg for over 120 km (75 miles); however, that is as the crow flies, but double that distance if you follow the route on the map. There are close to 100 towns and villages along the way, all with wine and tourism an important part of their economies. We quickly learned the way to enjoy a weekend in the Alsatian wine country with the wine road as our guide was to take a single 5 km to maybe 10 km (3 to 6 mile) section.
The village of Eguisheim,
(Forty minutes from Basel and fifteen minutes from Colmar).
Photograph courtesy of  Tambako The Jaguar.
We would wander around beautiful small towns and villages. There we could join in the wine tastings that sometimes seem to be set up every 20 meters and enjoy the beautiful houses, many with nesting storks on their roofs.  For lunch, we would have a traditional Alsatian tarte flambé and then wander or drive around the beautiful countryside while discussing dinner. 
A stork sitting on a house in Hunawihr, Alsace
(Thirty minutes from Colmar and one hour from Basel).
The Gewurztraminer fete.
If you are in the Alsace at the end of July, then on the last Saturday and Sunday, there is a Fête du Gewurztraminer, a Gewurztraminer fete, in and around the communes of Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr. Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, the small town and the village, are about 20 minutes' drive north of Colmar. You will find more information about their communes and their wine fete's exact dates on their English language website at:

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2014, 2019

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