July 14, 2006
Relief from the Heat: Gewurztraminer

Yesterday evening's Grape & Gourmet, the annual Cal Expo gala where officials of the California State Fair reveal the major winners of this year's wine competition, got us primed for the wine that should be perfect for this weekend's torrid temperatures: Gewurztraminer.

A wine of extravagant floral and spicy highlights set off against flavors suggestive of lychee nuts, grapefruit, peaches and apples, gewurztraminer expresses itself most profoundly when it comes from cool-climate regions of Germany and Alsace. California generally is considered too warm to do well by gewurztraminer. But while gewurztraminers from California might lack the complexity and finesse of their European counterparts, they can be surprisingly forthright and alluring.

Judges at the State Fair wine competition this year found one gewurztraminer so soundly constructed and so refreshing they named it the Best of Show white wine. It's the Fetzer Vineyards 2005 Valley Oaks California Gewurztraminer ($9). That price also explains why it was named the competition's best value.

Inspired by the wine's showing, I spent most of my time at the gala looking for other notable gewurztraminers, and found several that will help temper this weekend's heat, regardless of whether hot dogs or prawns are coming off the grill, and regardless of how robust their accompaniements. They were the Firestone Vineyard 2005 Santa Ynez Valley Carronza Mesa Vineyard Gewurztraminer ($12), whose sharp flavors were matched by surprising length; the Jekel Vineyards 2005 Monterey Gewurztraminer ($13), which like the Fetzer, the Firestone and most California interpretations of the varietal is off-dry, with enough sugar to enhance the fruit without turning it sticky; the Nevada City Winery 2005 Sonoma Gewurztraminer ($14.50), which has a bit more sugar than many of the others but nonetheless also has enough bright acidity to give it lift; and the Ventana Vineyards 2004 Monterey Arroyo Seco Gewurztraminer ($16), the ripest and most complex of the gewurztraminers I tasted all evening, and less sweet than a lot of chardonnays nowadays.

Grab a corkpuller, secure a spot in the shade, and have yourself a very pleasant weekend.

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