This masterclass was led by Nick Nobilo, who is the expert on this variety, and one with some experience: he’s now completed 56 vintages. He began making wine when his father let him experiment in the 1960s. He grew lots of different varieties, but Gewurztraminer was the the one that he fell for. It’s history goes back 1000 years, beginning as Traminer in southern Tyrol, in the north of Italy. As it moved westwards it found itself in Alsace. As a variety prone to mutation, Traminer changed colour to pinkish/garlic, and they noticed it had a nice spiciness. For years the name Gewurztraminer (‘spicy traminer’) wasn’t used, but in 1973 it became the official name for this variety.
Nick pointed out that while Riesling relies on acidity, Gewurztraminer relies on phenolics. ‘It is a white grape trying to be a red,’ he says, ‘and this is where the phenolics come in. It is very important that the flavour just under the skin is extracted in the winemaking process.’ For Nick, the skins are the most important part. ‘I do skin contact for up to 20h to extract those flavours.’ Phenolics, though, give a bit of bitterness. ‘Bone dry Gewurztraminers don’t really work,’ he says. ‘It’s essential to have a bit of sweetness.’
Nick loves Gewurztraminer. ‘For me it is the best of the white varieties,’ he says. ‘It is a shame that it doesn’t have a following in the market place or the interest – it’s time will come, so we are all waiting.’ And he thinks that New Zealand does a good job of this. ‘Outside of Alsace not many peopke produce Gewurz as well as we do.’
To make good Gewurztraminer, you need what Nick describes as the perfect triangle of phenolics, sugar and alcohol. ‘I place no importance on pH and acidity,’ says Nick. He refers to the analysis of good Alsatian Gewurztraminer as 4 by 4 – pH 4 and 4 grams of total acidity. Skin contact is important, but it needs to be cool skin contact, with the must chilled down before the skin contact takes place.
We tried nine wines, and these are my notes.
Ruru Gewurztraminer 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Powerfully flavoured with a savoury, spicy, smoky edge to the sweet grapey fruit. Some Turkish delight character. Stony and quite linear with good acidity. Tastes dry, but there’s a hint of sweetness. 91/100
Mud House Gewurztramuiner 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Sweet jelly-ish lychee nose. Fresh palate has tangerines and spice with sweet grapey richness. Honeyed and finishes sweet. 88/100
Millton Riverpoint Gewurztraminer 2014 Gisborne, New ZealandPowerful, spicy and savoury with some ginger, pepper and green tea, as well as bold ripe pear fruit. Such a distinctive wine with real depth of flavour. Long spicy finish. 92/100
Villa Maria Single Vineyard lhumatao Gewurztraminer 2014 Auckland, New Zealand
Fresh and fruity with some grape and spice notes. Open, with a bit of clementine and pear fruit. Light and delicate with not so much varietal character. 87/100
Blackenbrook Gewurztraminer 2014 Nelson, New Zealand
Lovely aromatics here: sweet, perfumed lychee and grape notes. Very delicate framing to the rich, broad palate. Grapey, smooth, spicy and off-dry. 90/100
Zephyr Gewurztraminer 2015 Marlborough, New ZealandNice fruit and spice drive to this. Lychees and table grapes with lovely balance between the sweetness, the soft texture and the slightly spicy, fruity finish. 89/100
Te Whare Ra SV5182 Gewurztraminer 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Very pure, linear, fruity nose. Fresh, clean, fruity palate shows grapes, pears, lemons and a bit of lychee. Nice length and focus here, carrying the sweetness really well. 90/100
Lawson’s Dry Hills The Pioneer Gewurztraminer 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
Powerful and bold with sweet lychee and conference pear characters, as well as a bit of green tea baked apple character. Has a long, spicy finish. Nice weight and balance, with some sweetness. 91/100
Vinoptima Reserve Gewurztraminer 2004 Gisborne, New Zealand
Powerful and intense with a lovely spicy edge to the sweet tangerine, apricot and table grape fruit. There’s some toasty development here, too. Nice contrast between the sweet and the savoury. Showing a lot of development here. Really nice, and very distinctive and powerful. 93/100
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