The Musqué Mutation

Along with Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer is easily one of the most distinctive grape varieties in the world, instantly identifiable by its signature lychee and rose petal aromas, full body and low acidity. Gewürztraminer is by no means as stylistically versatile as Riesling or Pinot Noir, but it rarely fails to capture the imagination of oenophiles who have just begun their vinous discovery journey.

The exact origin of Gewürztraminer remains debatable, but almost certainly from Germanic Europe. Various theories have suggested Alsace, Baden, Pfalz, Steiermark and Südtirol as its birthplace, although the possibility of multiple origins cannot ruled out, not least because Gewürztraminer per se is a musqué mutation of the Savagnin / Traminer family. Similar to Malvasia, Muscat and Pinot, the Savagnin / Traminer family comprises numerous members that could be considered as clones, mutations or even varieties in their own right.

Despite its leadership in the craft, Alsace is most probably not the genesis of Gewürztraminer, as its first cuttings were introduced from Baden and Pfalz in the 17th and 18th centuries. German Gewürztraminer tastes noticeably different from its Alsatian counterpart not only because of terroirs and winemaking, but also due to different clones and varieties, leading to speculations that the gentler Traminer may have been misidentified as the wilder Gewürztraminer in Germany.

Italy’s Südtirol and – perhaps to a lesser extent – Austria’s Steiermark are the most likely origin(s) of Gewürztraminer. First, both are German-speaking, hence the unmistakably German-sounding name of the variety. Second, Südtirol is widely believed to be the location where Traminer naturally crossed with St. Georgen, resulting in Grüner Veltliner. Third, the origin of a variety usually has the most clones of it, cf. the Pinot family in Bourgogne.

Alsace may not be the ancestral home of Gewürztraminer, but it certainly is its spiritual home. Gewürztraminer loves and thrives in Alsace’s heavier clay soil, producing particularly ripe, pungent and powerful wines across the entire sweetness spectrum from bone-dry to Vendage Tardive, Sélection de Grains Nobles and the extremely rare Quintessence de Grains Nobles. Gewürztraminer is the second most widely planted variety in Alsace, and one of the five varieties permitted for Grand Crus.

It has too often been said and repeated that Gewürztraminer literally means “spicy Traminer”, but as Jancis Robinson MW noted, this variety actually contains extremely little if any spicy notes, “Gewürz” should better be understood as aromatic rather than spicy. Indeed, one of Gewürztraminer’s aliases in Italian is Traminer Aromatico.

Cave Kientzheim-Kaysersberg Kaefferkopf Grand Cru “Anne Boecklin” Gewurztraminer 2011

Brilliant citrine with shimmering golden reflex, the lavish nose diffuses pomelo, lychee, guava, sweet ginger and rose petal. Anchored by ample acidity and firm minerality, the voluptuous palate exudes tangerine, yuzu, nectarine, white clover honey and osmanthus. Off-dry and full-bodied at 13%, the dense entry continues through a rounded mid-palate, leading to a piquant finish.

Dirler-Cadé Kessler Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2008

Saturated citrine with bright golden reflex, the aromatic nose oozes blood orange peel, lychee, mirabelle, bacon fat and white smoke. Braced by generous acidity and clear minerality, the robust palate radiates mandarin peel, hami melon, rambutan, sweet ginger and essence de rose. Off-dry and full-bodied at 14%, the tangy entry persists through a vibrant mid-palate, leading to a potent finish.

Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages

Categories World of Bacchus