David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 11/25/2015:
One wine for Thanksgiving
If I had to choose just one wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner it would be Alsatian gewurztraminer. I can hear you tripping over the word. Let’s take it in pieces; gewurtz means spicy in German, and traminer is named for the northern Italian town and historical birthplace of the local wine called Tramin. In German if you place an “er” on the end of something it means “from that place.” So the translation of the grape variety we call gewurztraminer is literally “spicy wine from Tramin.”
All of this German wording for a wine from Italy would make some sense if Alsace was in Germany but, as the geographically astute readers already know, Alsace is part of France. Alsace is in the very farthest eastern part of France right next to Germany on the western side of the Rhine river. This region is the most culturally German part of France and the French and Germans have sparred over this territory for centuries. In the twentieth century the province changed hands four times.
All of this cultural blending has lead to a funny, long, sometimes difficult to say grape name, gewurztraminer. But remember traminer is the name of the grape from the Italian town of Tramin and the grape they grow in Tramin is an oddity called called savagnin blanc (this is not to be confused with the very popular and much more common sauvignon blanc). This means that gewurztraminer is actually spicy savagnin blanc. The reason we can buy Alsatian versions and not Italian ones is because of terroir. Terroir is the soil, the river, and the mountains. In Alsace the terroir conspires to make savagnin blanc struggle in such a way that it produces the perfect wine for Thanksgiving.
The cultural mish-mash that is gewurztarminer; Italian grape, German name, grown in France and served at an American holiday is perfect for representing the immigrant heritage of America. Thanksgiving is a day when we give thanks to those who struggled to get us here and to those who struggled to feed us once we arrived. And it is the mish-mash of dishes that make up Thanksgiving dinner that makes gewurztraminer the perfect pairing. Gewurztraminer pairs perfectly with roast turkey but also many kinds of stuffing from cornbread to jalapeno. It pairs well with all the side dishes like green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, garlicky mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, apple pie and just about anything else.
The reason Alsatian gewurztraminer does this so well is because it is a white wine (actually the color is a very slight pink) with a high level of acidity and a heady amount of alcohol at 14%. The acidity and alcohol strip the compound fats and flavors from your mouth with each sip. This allows you to taste each bite independently and to truly savor the compound flavors. Gewurztraminer has intense aromas of tropical fruit, nutmeg and cinnamon. The wine smells sweet but tastes rich and luscious with a dry finish.
Two good locally available Alsatian versions are Trimbach and Hugel both available from Fitgers Wine Cellar. Alsatian gewurztraminer should retail for around $20 a bottle and should be served chilled.
It is also possible to find gewurztraminer from California, Washington and South Africa but I caution you on reading this column and then thinking that all gewurztraminers are the same because they are not. Often the Californian and Washington examples lack acidity and can be too sweet.
The terroir of Alsace and their signature wine, the multinational hybrid that is reflected in its name, makes Alsatian gewurztraminer my one wine recommendation for Thanksgiving. Cheers.
David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at email@example.com.