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New World: Gewurztraminer

A rare Gewurz Gold provided a beacon of light, but our tasters were generally underwhelmed with what they found here

The Gewurztraminer category in the Sommelier Wine Awards is one of paradoxes. On one hand our tasters often have to throw out a lot of wines in the early stages, on the other they’re usually very happy with the medal winners. They appreciate that it can offer something different on the list for food matching, but realise that most customers can’t pronounce it, let alone order it; they like that the New World’s versions are very definitely not European in style, yet too many wines are dismissed as anaemic.

All of which probably explains why, historically, very few New World Gewurztraminers have ever made it onto the Gold List, with the grape usually tending to top out at Silver. This is a ‘stock if possible’ rather than a ‘must list’.

In the early stages, there were no signs that things were any better this year.

‘Gewurz should be like the donkey in Shrek, jumping up and down saying “me, me, me!”,’ said Vinopolis’s Tom Forrest. Instead, most of them just stood in the corner, shuffling their feet.

It’s OK that the New World’s winemakers don’t want to make the full-on Alsace ‘tarts’ handbag’ style, but what our tasters were left with was, all too often, a ghostly aromatic echo rather than a nose-scrambling explosion of lychee, spice and roses.

‘They could be a new style, lighter than Alsace, not quite so aromatic as Adige,’ mused Diego Muntoni of Oxo Tower Restaurant. ‘But if people are looking for Gewurz, they want it to really taste of Gewurz.’

And of course, there’s no real guarantee that people are looking for it. It remains a hand-sell, probably matched with a sympathetic dish. Though in fact the Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewurz, which picked up the category’s first Gold for a couple of years, and did so at a highly impressive price, was reckoned by the final round judges to be ‘appealing for slightly spicy food matches but more as a drink on its own’.

‘We were looking for aromatic, floral, soft, spicy examples in a more modern styles without too much overripe or overt character,’ said consultant Peter McCombie MW. ‘And this showed that restraint coupled with good varietal character.’

For some sommeliers, of course, even that might not be enough. ‘Our diners are very traditional. They would have a heart attack if I gave them a Gewurz,’ growled Mariyana Radulova of the Royal Thames Yacht Club.

‘Some didn’t have enough Gewurz character. You couldn’t tell if they were a Gewurz or a Semillon.’ Mariyana Radulova, Royal Thames Yacht Club