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Once you overcome the challenge of pronouncing its Austrian warlord-like sounding name, Gewürztraminer is a surprisingly gentle, hedonistic wine. Gewürztraminer translates to “Spicy Tramin”, but we feel this to be a classic case of lost in translation, as there’s nothing spicy about Gewürztraminer. Rather “spicy” in this sense means “aromatic”. Wonderful, and just a little decadent, Gewürztraminer is arguably the most aromatic grape around with its tell-tale aroma of litchi and rose petals. With a flavour profile such as this, it’s surprising to note that there’s actually not much Gewürztraminer in the world. For every one vine of Gewürztraminer there are 30 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and 4 vines of Riesling. Italian in origin, famous in France, but German in name, Gewürztraminer has perhaps been relegated to “niche varietal” status due to its confusing cultural heritage.

  

 

The story of Gewürztraminer started in the Middle Ages in Italy’s South Tyrol in a small village called Tramin around the year 1145 AD. Tramin has been a wine region since before recorded history, having already moved on to wooden wine storage tanks when the Romans took over some 2000 years ago. There’s quite a bit of contestation, however, as to who parented Gewürztraminer: Traminer or Savagnin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc)? Seeing as South Tyrol acted as the frontline for quite a few European wars, being settled by Bavarians after the Romans in 570 AD, to become part of Austria in 1363 and finally given over to Italy after WWI, it’s unsurprising that some vines ended up being mislabelled during all that border rearranging (to this day, 70% of Tramin’s population still speak German and wine labels are written in both German and Italian). Regardless of its questionable parentage, Traminer or Savagnin Blanc mutated and became a highly aromatic pink-skinned grape. The French called it Traminer Musque, the Germans Roter Traminer and the Italians named it Traminer Rosé.

 

Eager to see the world, Traminer travelled along the Rhine to Alsace, picking up the prefix “Gewurz” in 1870 (without the umlaut – no doubt the French were snubbing the Germans for something or other at the time), yet the name “Gewürztraminer” was only officially recognised in 1973. It’s in Alsace that Gewürztraminer experienced its greatest success, fame and fortune. 

 

Gewürztraminer spread to many other European countries, gaining both traction and nicknames. It became Mala Dinka in Bulgaria; Drumin, Pinat Cervena, or Livora in the Tscheck Republic. Hungary endearingly named it Tramini and Romania calls it Rusa. Gewürztraminer made a relatively recent appearance in South Africa, only arriving on our shores in the 1970s. When Paul Cluver moved over to wine after a century of farming apples and pears, Gewürztraminer was one of the first varietals we planted in the late 80s, along with Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, making Paul Cluver the first farm in Elgin to grow Gewürztraminer. Despite the French having the most popular success with this grape, Gewürztraminer best pairs with a worldlier palate. Think Asian or Middle Eastern – anything with coconut cream or a note of chilli or ginger. The low alcohol content and floral sweetness of the wine are the perfect antidote to chilli burn. Here at Paul Cluver our favourite Gewürztraminer pairing is with steamed Mussels in a Thai Basil Coconut Sauce.

 

Download the Recipe

 

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