Poor Gewürtztraminer, the most hated of the noble grapes. Conduct a straw poll with any group of sommeliers about their least favorite wines, and Gewürtz will make everyone’s list, and for a good reason.
At its worst, it’s like drinking a bottle of perfume; oily, alcoholic, and putridly floral – like lilies shedding their stoma, which is to say that it can smell, literally, like death. A glass of Gewürtztraminer is responsible for the most profoundly terrible wine I’ve ever tasted, one so lacking in acidity that its flabby viscosity seems to coat my mouth years later, a phantom limb of regret.
But the best wine I have ever tasted? It was a few years ago in Alsace, around Christmastime. Wooden huts selling mulled wine and Kugelhopf cake lined the streets of Colmar. Taking a break from the crowds, my partner and I popped into a cozy wine bar on a quiet side street. I asked the server to bring me something excellent and local. She brought me – you guessed it – a glass of Gewürtztraminer. A late harvest wine, honeyed and gingered, deep as an ocean yet astonishingly fresh, and, it turned out, an ideal pairing for a frigid night, some jet lag, and a plate of sausages.
SINGLING THE TEXTURED
Recently, I’ve heard wine professionals express their disdain for “textured whites.” Bad experiences with wines like Gewürtztraminer, Viognier and Rhône varieties have led some to eliminate not just a single grape but an entire category of wines from their life experience. Down with the oily, the viscous, and the alcoholic; bring on the sessionable, the fresh, and the versatile.
But my experience in a Colmar wine bar taught me something valuable; that two seemingly disparate things experienced at one time – lightness and depth – can make for complex and profound experiences. I learned that the very thing that makes something potentially terrible is also what makes it potentially tremendous, and that tastes cannot be measured on a spectrum but something more like a sphere.
I have been reaffirmed in this belief by lip-smacking whites from Etna, mouth-coating Godellos from western Spain, and a renewed love for the creamy white grapes of the southern Rhône. When made well, these wines give back none of the freshness while adding a tactile dimension that gives literal and metaphorical weight to the experience. It’s a high-risk, high-reward, tight-rope walk, a conceptual space where all the world’s great wines reside. So let’s reclaim textured whites and celebrate them – yes, even Gewürtztraminer – not for what they always are, but what they always can be.