Sunday School: Saisons & Gewurztraminer
The following is a part of a guest series authored by Lauren Gutshall on discovering new wines and beers.
Tasting something for the first time piques all of your senses. You eye up the plate as soon as it’s put in front of you. You breathe deeply and inhale the aromas wafting up from the food. You try to anticipate the flavors and the texture. You take that first bite and you make a split-second decision about whether you like it or not. That first bite is exhilarating.
Sipping a beer or wine for the first time is a similar experience. You roll the liquid around on your tongue, filling your mouth. You swallow slowly so that you can truly taste it.
Trying something new and basking in unique flavors is something I seek out on a regular basis. If there’s wine made from a grape I’ve never heard of or a beer I’ve never seen, I feel compelled to try it.
Both are spicy and yeasty, and they may make you pucker a bit before the underlying herbal notes bubble to the surface in a gentle fizz.
Gewurztraminer is the German name for both the grape and the wine it produces; the name literally translates to “spicy traminer.” But “gewurz,” (pronounced guh-vurtz) as it is colloquially called, is primarily grown in northern France. The grape is challenging to grow and can be susceptible to diseases. The wine tends to have a very low acid content, so it can have a creamy taste, and it’s typically finished in a dry or semi-dry style.
Saison has deep roots not far from gewurz in the French-speaking areas of Belgium. A farmhouse ale, it was first brewed for farm workers in the field. Because each farm made its own saison for the workers, other than a relatively low ABV, there was no real consistency of style. Today, saisons have a slightly higher ABV than their ancestors, and have a distinct flavor profile.
Saisons are lessons in duality for their competing, but complementing flavors. Saisons are fruity, but tart. They are golden hued, but cloudy. They are both floral and grassy, especially on the nose, but they taste of ginger, clove and coriander. They are somehow both sweet and bitter. They are earthy and yeasty, yet they tend to have a slight fizzy brightness.
Gewurztraminer is much the same. The wine smells sweeter than it tastes. It has a fantastic bouquet of flowers and lychee, but the taste is defined by spices: cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Gerwurz can have tart fruity flavors like grapefruit and lemongrass, but they can also have a smokiness. Gewurztraminers are funky and creamy, and are marked by the same dichotomy as saisons. Gewurztraminer is a white wine that wants to act like a red one.
The duality of the flavors in saisons and gewürztraminers is not jarring or disjointed. Instead, they enhance one another, building beautiful and rich layers of flavors.
There’s brilliance in a beer or a wine that can excite every taste bud in the mouth.
Both saisons and gewürztraminers pair with the same cuisine. They go best with foods that can stand up to their herbal undertones. Because of their firm spices, both go well with Middle and Far Eastern dishes. Indian and Thai curry go particularly well with saisons and gewurz. A word of caution: both beverages like the spice, but not overwhelming heat, so if you like hot peppers, stick with something less strident. Saisons and gewürztraminers also like tangy, pungent cheeses and the cured meats of charcuterie.
Saisons and gewürztraminers can both be “acquired” tastes, but they are totally worth the time and investment. If you haven’t already, take a gamble and make one your next new beer or wine experience.
Saison DuPont is one of the originals and a good representation of the style.
Domaine Zind Humbrecht Gewürztraminer is pretty nice, and easy to find.
Red Newt Cellars from the Finger Lakes makes a Gewürztraminer that is available in select PA Wine & Spirits stores.
Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery Gewürztraminer is amazingly good for a Pennsylvania wine.
“Sunday School” returns next week with another look at beer and wine. Have a question for Lauren? Submit it in the comments below or contact me.