Food & Drink, Libations

Alsace vs Canadian gewurz with Dr. Booze

A few months ago I dared to write about the wine that no one – or at least not people like us, darling – dare speak of: gewurztraminer. It is a wine with a long and storied history and for the first half of my life only available from the Alsace.

When we were in Paris in May we drank a disproportionate number of Alsace wines.  We did so despite having access to any number of Bordeaux and Burgundy at quite reasonable prices, because Alsatian wines are first rate if unfashionable. And it was there in the 4th Arrondissement, I determined to line up Alsace gewurztraminer against the Canadian wine and see what if anything I could make of the comparison.

You will have to hunt if you want to try Alsace wines here, as they really are NOT popular. MLCC carries over 20 gewurz and only three from Alsace, and one of them – Comtes D’Isenbourg Vendanges Tardives, I’m going to ignore as it is a dessert wine and I want to talk about table wines. (VendageTardives means late harvest which is fabulous but very sweet.)

In Saskatchewan you can find Hugel, a brand which has kept the category pried open all across North America, and comes and goes regularly from shelves across the prairies.  SLGA also carries Pfaffenheim Steinert Grand Cru. In Alberta the situation is even more confused as various stores carry different labels but you are unlikely to find Alsace wines at stores catering to more basic tastes. The bright amber label of the Hugel is your best bet but ask employees – if there is an Alsace fan amongst them you may find a bottom shelf wine that is fabulous.

I really like the two MLCC choices:  Gueberschwihr Goldert is an elegant traditional French Alsace, and Willm Reserve is a tremendous deal at $15.  If you’re reading this in Wild Rose country you’ll just have to make the commute to try them.  I haven’t seen either in Alberta. The Steinert Grand Cru however does surface in both Edmonton and Calgary and it is a must try wine.  Finding the Steinert amidst the coolers is like stumbling across a Van Gogh at a garage sale.

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For comparison I picked up the Sumac Ridge Private Reserve on the basis that any gewurz capable of holding down a space in the Maple Leaf Lounge may as well be considered the median taste set.  (Lounge Lizards get their choice of four wines, two of each colour.  The choice is a mass-produced Australian or USA wine red and white and a VQA wine of each as well.) I also picked up Quails’ Gate gewurz

Sumac Ridge appears to be chasing the people a little bored with sauvignon blanc, searching for something a bit thicker but still with crisp acidity.  Their wine is young, bottled last year, with a great fruit and floral bouquet, and that lychee fruit palate that makes gewurz so drinkable.  As an afternoonquaffer, or with Pad Thai this is a hard combo to beat.  It sure made sense to me as I waited my connection.

The Steinert Grand Cru although released around the 30 month mark, was the thickest wine of the four.  It is a very old fashioned gewurztraminer.  The colour was the darkest, no real surprise as it was also the oldest. The bouquet was explosive despite being four years old, loaded with floral and fruit scents.  The palate was very fruity, tasting of pear and lychee with a strong finish of herbs and minerals.  It’s a great wine.

The texture needs to be emphasized.  These days, California, Australia, and many Canadian wines are released when young, and quite viscous due to glycerol.  In general texture is a function of the grape and ripeness.  Pinot noir is light, syrah heavy. However many New World wines are thick, and owe their viscosity to the grape but to oddities of planting and vinification caused by the need for cash flow. Traditionally white wines from the Alsace and Germany tend to acquire such texture from ripeness (i.e. residual sugar) and age – some compounds from the oak that leach into the wine in the barrel.

The Hugel, the wine most readers will find, was much the same viscosity when swirled in the glass, more Alsatian in texture than the Canadian entries but not by much.  The mineral and herbal characteristics were more apparent than the Steinert – which for many drinkers will make the wine more rather than less accessible.  It is balance that you pay for in a good wine, at least in a good Old World style of wine, but balance makes it hard to sniff and announce “lychee with wet stone.”

The Quails’ gate was fairly thick on the tongue but much less sweet with acidity more obvious.  It’s a very nice wine, and has much to offer especially with Asian foods or fattier fish like salmon and steelhead. I drank most of a bottle with sockeye barbecued with fresh dill and was quite pleased by the combination.

The Willm Gewurztraminer Reserve is closer to the Canadian side of life.  There is a touch of pink in the glass indicating just a bit of maceration on the skins.  The fresh spice of a good gewurz, with that slight flavour of white pepper is present, however the fruit and sensation of sweetness will appeal to any number of drinkers particularly if you are drinking the wine with Pad Thai or something with a bit of coconut milk.

In general the Canadian gewurz are snappier and fresher – typically fermented in stainless tanks rather than barrels – and slightly lighter than the Alsace which may make an easier transition for drinkers new to the varietal. But if you are interested in exploring wines with grace and age, you must have the Pfaffenheim soon.

Finally, as a complete aside I must mention Stonecroft, a bottle I stumbled over while researching this column. It is a Hawkes Bay Gewurz from NZ, which if you’re a fan of the varietal is another must-drink. I haven’t seen a Hawkes Bay Gewurz anywhere else in Canada, so bravo MLCC! I drink a lot of Kiwi wine, for the same reason I drank Alasace in Paris:  elegance and restraint and purity of flavour.


Pfaffenheim Steinert Grand Cru Gewurztraminer, France 2009. $32 *****

Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer, BC, 2012. $14 ****

Quail’s Gate Gewurztraminer, BC 2011. $18 ****

Hugel Gewurztraminer, France, 2010. $27 ****

Willm Gewurztraminer Reserve, France, 2011. $15 ****