Top-shelf Aussie gewürtztraminer — it’s there if you look

Those who say that too much gewürztraminer (aka traminer) is too much of a good thing are probably right. It’s one of the most instantly recognisable of wines and a joy to drink in small doses.

But it’s hard to find the good ones because Australia grows so little of it – about six thousand tonnes annually compared to riesling’s thirty thousand and chardonnay’s 250 thousand. And most of what we do make goes to cheaper large volume blends.

Those deliciously grapey, sweetish blends – usually with riesling — have provided an entry point into wine drinking for millions of Australians over the last forty years, starting in the sixties with Penfolds Bin 202 Traminer Riesling and continuing today with the likes of Rosemount Estate, McGuigan and Hardys RR.

A little splash of traminer adds a lot to a wine. Its pink berries deliver heady lychee-like aromas, with matching opulence on the palate, and often, especially when grown in warm climates, a viscous to oily texture – striking characteristics but also ones that tend to limit our intake.

Although the world’s largest plantings today are in Alsace, France, Jancis Robinson writes that it was ‘first mentioned as growing in the village of Tramin, or Termeno, in the higher reaches of the Etsch Valley in what is now the Italian Tyrol, around the year 1000’.

Alsace remains, too, the model for top-end new-world producers including those in Australia and New Zealand. Most of the production is of dry versions — and these can be sublime – but in great years like 1976 exceptionally long-lived sweeter versions emerge.

In Australia, the lack of demand for top-end gewürztraminers tends to limit production, despite the existence of some wonderful old vineyards. But the sheer passion of some winemakers keeps the flame burning.

The converted need no urging. But adventurous palates can have a flavour adventure sipping the Australian gewürztraminers below. They represent pretty well the whole spectrum of dry styles from the juicy, plum warm climate versions like Olivine and Skillogalee from the Hunter and Clare respectively, to the leaner more intense versions from cool Macedon (Hanging Rock) and Coal River, Tasmania (Bay of Fires).

This is an in-your-face variety. But it’s an essential and unforgettable experience for anyone with even a passing interest in flavour.

Hanging Rock ‘The Jim Jim’ Macedon Ranges Gewürztraminer 2004 $27
If there’s such a thing as the finer face of traminer, this is it. There’s a thread of grapefruit-like zestiness cutting through the distinctive flavours. Outstanding.

Terrace Vale Hunter Vale Old Vine Gewürztraminer 2005 $18.50
This one’s lower in alcohol, meaning less astringency and lighter body. But it still has attractive, musky varietal flavour and characteristic tannin bite in the finish. Value.

Skillogalee Clare Valley Gewürztraminer 2005 $20
Clare’s warm climate shows in Skillogalee’s plump, even voluptuous style. It’s thoroughly delicious, plump and juicy with traminer’s familiar bite in the finish. Seductive.

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Woodbury Vineyard Eden Valley Gewürztraminer 2005 $30
From the old Tollana Woodbury Vineyard comes this sensational white that grows in interest with every sip and will probably age well. A classic for the cellar.

Delatite Dead Man’s Hill Mansfield Gewürztraminer 2004 $20
Something of a signature wine for the Ritchie family – beautifully balanced and smooth with attractive musk-like varietal flavour. Subtle and expressive.

Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Gewürztraminer 2006 $22
The clear value-for-money champ of the line up offers extraordinary, pure, lychee-musk varietal expression. Outstanding.

Olivine Hunter Valley Gewürztraminer 2005 $19
The aroma promises opulence — and the sleek, slippery, lychee-like palate delivers it. Sourced from old vines in the Upper Hunter. Outstanding value for money.

Bay of Fires Coal Bay Tasmania Gewürztraminer 2005 $25
Shows the zesty citrusy flavours and tight, dry palate of cool-grown fruit. Musky varietal flavours are there, too. Not entirely convincing.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2007