Wine Talk: Go Gewurz!

Gewurztraminer may be one of the most difficult grape varieties to pronounce, but it produces the most recognizable wines.

Gewurz wine 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Gewurz wine 311
(photo credit: MCT)
The Traminer grape variety originated in Tramin in the Alto Adige in northern Italy. The grape itself is slightly pink in color. The word Gewurz in German means “spicy.”
Today it is grown successfully in Italy, New Zealand, Australia, California and Chile, as well as Germany and Austria.
However, it reaches greatness in Alsace, the strip of land in northeastern France, on the border with Germany.
There, it makes wines ranging from bone dry, through semi-dry, to late-harvested sweet dessert wines. The wines come in a variety of weights from light and ethereal to rich and heavy with a slightly oily texture. Usually they have a low natural acidity.
All the wines achieve the intense aroma associated with Gewurztraminer.
At a beginners’ wine course it is invariably the first wine tasted to illustrate that wines may be recognized by their aroma. The aroma is of lychees and rosewater, with a hint of ginger.
The variety was initially brought to Israel by the Golan Heights Winery in the late 1990s. Then other wineries followed.
It seems to grow best in the Upper Galilee and on the Golan Heights, where the vineyards are at a higher altitude and the temperatures are a little cooler. The resulting wines made were semi-dry. They did not sell well initially because no one could pronounce the name, which seemed very unfriendly and foreign. Now the few wineries that grow and sell Gewurztraminer can’t get enough of it, as it sells out so quickly. It has become the quality Emerald Riesling – the combination of spices and flowers and heady floral scent make it the semi-dry wine for those that understand.
Gewurztraminer, at its finest in Israel, is used for luscious dessert wines. These wines still have the Gewurz aroma, but they are delicious and decadent. They also have had world-class international recognition. The Yarden Heights wine recently won the Grand Gold Medal at Vin Italy. The Carmel Sha’al Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, won the Gold Medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London. These are rare awards for Israeli wine. The Yarden Heights wine and Sha’al have vied with each other throughout the 2000s about which is Israel’s finest dessert wine, and they are amongst Israel’s most awarded wines.
Other Gewurztraminer dessert wines to gain notice include the Tzora Or dessert wine, which scored 92 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
The Binyamina Reserve Gewurztraminer scored 93 points from Israeli critic Daniel Rogov. Israel is becoming well known internationally for the quality of its dessert wines, and the best are made from Gewurztraminer.
The Gewurztraminers in Israel may be divided between table wines that range from off-dry to semi-dry or sweet dessert wines. Off-dry is a good descriptive term to describe wines that straddle the boundary between dry and semi-dry. Gewurztraminer should be served cold, but be sure to serve the dessert wines ice cold – even from the freezer. Gewurztraminers come in the elegant, graceful tall necked bottles associated with German and Alsatian wines. Most of the dessert wines come in a half-bottle size of 375 ml.
Gewurztraminer goes best with any form of Asian cuisine, particularly Chinese food. It also is good with smoked cheeses. If there is a wine that goes with curry, this may be it. It is also a good match with baked or grilled onions, tomatoes and red peppers.
As far as the dessert wine is concerned, it is the perfect accompaniment to foie gras or blue cheese.
Wine of the week
This is a good dry rosé. Light, fresh with a nose of red berries, and refreshing acidity. It is made from Malbec and Carignan grapes, the perfect summer wine, a wine to drink on the patio, served ice cold, during a hot evening. Rosés are in. Yogev is the mid-range label from the Binyamina Winery, offering good value for money. The Binyamina Winery, situated in Binyamina in the southern Mount Carmel, was founded in 1952. It is now Israel’s fourth-largest winery. Price: NIS 50.

The local Gewurztraminers
NIS 45 to NIS 60
Carmel Appellation Gewurztraminer 2010
Spicy, slightly blowsy, aromatic offdry wine, with a desert fox on the label. Classic Gewurz aroma.
Produced by the Carmel Winery from the Upper Galilee vineyards.

Yarden Gewurztraminer 2009/10
Aromatic semi-dry Gewurztraminer ticking all the boxes. Good balance between fruit and acidity. This is the leading semi-dry wine from the Golan Heights Winery.

Binyamina Reserve Gewurztraminer 2009
Semi-dry wine with aromas of lychee and grapefruit. Refreshing.
Part of the Binyamina Reserve series, which represent good value.
Tishbi Gewurztraminer 2009
Lively, refreshing easy drinking wine made from Gewurztraminer grapes, produced by the Tishbi Winery in the southern Mount Carmel.
NIS 75 to NIS 95
Yarden Heights Wine 2008
Richly complex, aromatic with a beautiful gold color. Aromas of peaches, apricots and honeysuckle. It has a very long, lingering finish. Produced from frozen Gewurztraminer grapes by the Golan Heights Winery. Regular award winner.
Carmel Sha’al Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest 2007
A late harvested single vineyard wine that is almost light and delicate (for a dessert wine). It has aromas of peaches and rose petals and a good, refreshing acidity. Sweet but not cloying at all. An award-winning wine at the highest level.
Binyamina Reserve Gewurztraminer Late Harvest 2009
A beautifully decadent dessert wine. Gold in color, very aromatic with an intense honeyed finish. A welcome new addition to the Binyamina Winery’s portfolio.
Best dessert wine made by Binyamina to date.
Tzora Or 2006
A silky dessert wine that made its name through the first tasting of Israeli wines by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Probably rare and hard to find.
Produced by the Tzora Winery, which is situated at Kibbutz Tzora.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for international and Israeli publications.
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