The calendar says spring and the white Snowdrops have made their appearance ahead of the daffodils, the crocuses, and the iffy tulips. But a freak snowstorm still might rear its ugly head. It’s been that kind of winter, hasn’t it? But no matter. We put those worries aside the other night with a 2012 Pfaffenheim Gewürztraminer from Alsace.
To begin with, it smelled of roses and its most reliable sensory marker, lychee. Aromatherapy in a glass!
Just a few weeks before we opened this bottle, we’d paid our snow-clearing service to remove a foot from the flat roof of our country cabin. They had done the job, pitching it onto the ground, where it sat in piles frozen hard as rocks. Would we ever see the end of it? Since January, John had been harvesting the tallest stalks of our forsythia and I’d put them in vases all over the house. Every Friday night since then, they had greeted us with blazingly beautiful, spring-like yellow flowers. They were our way of fighting the gray haze of winter—they and wines like the Gewürztraminer. (Don’t let the name turn you off. It’s ge-VURTZ-tra-mee-ner.)
The wine was almost colorless, crystalline. And it was dry even though it had hints of honey, peaches, citrus peel, and white pepper, the last appropriate, as Gewürz means “spice” in German. The nose immediately took us back to our very first Gewürz almost 40 years ago at what was then the family-owned Sebastiani Vineyards in Sonoma County. Containing more than 400 aromatic compounds, Gewürztraminer is one of the world’s most fragrant grape varieties.
One of the knocks on Gewürztraminers is that they don’t have enough acidity, that they’re mostly fat fruit bombs. This one was delightful and light and had enough acidity to lift my spirits. I hope it does the same for you. Although several wineries in the U.S. make Gewürztraminer, including Lenz on Long Island and Fetzer and Navarro in Mendocino County, its home is Alsace, that wonderful vinous stronghold in northeastern France that borders Germany. It is Alsace’s most famous wine and can be dry, semi-sweet, and late-harvest dessert sweet, a rare wine known as vendange tardive.
The one that helped us chase the winter blues away was made by the Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim et Gueberschwihr, a cooperative of grape growers in southern Alsace who wanted to work more efficiently. Their enterprise began in 1957 with a cooperative of growers in Pfaffenheim and in 1968, it merged with a cooperative in neighboring Gueberschwihr. Now 230 members strong, they farm about 670 acres and have won numerous awards at the General Agricultural Competition in Paris. The pink-skinned Gewürztraminer grapes grow in limestone and clay soil vineyards protected by the Vosges mountain range, where they get little rain but a lot of sun. The cooperative has invested in new buildings and equipment, but it still picks by hand the grapes that went into our Gewürztraminer.
Dorothy J. Gaiter conceived and wrote The Wall Street Journal's wine column, "Tastings," from 1998 to 2010 with her husband, John Brecher. She has been tasting and studying wine since 1973. She has had a distinguished career in journalism as a reporter, editor, columnist and editorial writer at The Miami Herald and The New York Times as well as at The Journal.