Alsace in Ontario - Jackson Triggs' Gewürztraminer

May 18, 2010

In a previous blog I recommended a notable Pinot Blanc from Konzelmann. I also mentioned the grape variety hales from Alsace in North-Eastern France on the German border.

Considering we're on the "border" of summer with spring still dragging its feet, I feel it's time to be prepared for the warmer weather and get to know some of the greater white wines of the Niagara Region. 

For those beginner wine lovers in southern Ontario, it's essential to note that despite the humid months of July and August, we live in what's considered a cool climate viticultural area. If you look at a map of the world, the majority of wine growing countries fall between 50 degrees and 30 degrees North and 30 degrees and 50 degrees South latitude.

Ontario's three main viticultural areas (Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County - just outside of Toronto) all fall in between 41 and 44 degrees North latitude (the Okanagan Valley  in B.C. is just shy of 50 degrees). 

Alsace in France is also considered a cooler climate lying between 47 and 49 degrees North latitude

Here in the Niagara Peninsula we have the Escarpment acting as a buffer for the on-shore winds from Lake Ontario. This green, southern series of bluffs creates a circular air flow which helps to blow away fog and mist and reduce the threat of damaging frost in the early spring.

In Alsace, the Vosges mountain range protects the region from westerly, rain-bearing winds. While Alsace is one of the driest wine regions of France, along with Roussillon (just north of the Pyrennes), Loraine, which lies west of the Vosges is the wettest. 

The soil in Ontario's vineyards range from Glacial till (mix of clay, silt, sand, gravel), Clay Loam, Sandy Loam (found near Lake Ontario) to Silty Clay (mostly around the Escarpment benches).

The vineyards of Alsace have been described as a 'checkerboard of soil types' including chalk (mixed with clay), limestone, granite, schist, volcanic rock sediment and sandston along with Alsace's pinkish-coloured sandstone which has become known as grès de Vosges (often used as a building material for local cathedrals).

Despite all the technical stuff, the two regions have some nice things in common, namely their easy to read labels and aromatic whites.

Pinot Blanc or Weisburgunder, Pinot Gris or Grauburgunder, Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer are perhaps the most famous white varieties of Alsace (the latter four considered the four 'noble' varieties suitable for making the Grand Cru wines of the region).

Of the five mentioned, Gewürztraminer (ge-VURZ-trah-MEAN-er) is the tongue twister, the one  the majority of wine lovers have the most trouble pronouncing. 

Gewürz is actually a German word (big surprise, right?) for spice. Traminer or Tramin, a town in Alto Adige in Northern Italy and is thought to be the place where the grape first originated. So really, the name means "spicy grape from Tramin". 

In parts of Germany and Austria the variety is known as Clevner (which is easier to pronounce, if you ask me).

Styles of Gewürz (the abbreviated form is understood and used quite often) range from light and floral to viscous and rich. Italian Gewurztraminer - mainly known as Traminer - is traditionally closer to Pinot Grigio in body with notes of strawberry and white flowers. In Alsace, you typically find lychee, pink grapefruit and rose water. 

In Ontario, so far many of the wineries I've seen with Gewürztraminer vines are aiming to produce the French style. Some are successful but I find most fall just a tad short of the mark. 

I can highly recommend Featherstone out in Vineland for an excellent rosewater/lychee Gewürztraminer.

For those looking for the lush Alsatian style, Jackson Trigg's two Gewürztraminer offerings. 

While visiting the winery today, the young trainee behind the tasting bar, Laura said she really enjoyed the Grand Proprietor's Reserve 2007 Gewürztraminer. I have to say, I first tried the 2007 Riesling (a nice apple petrol touch) and 2008 Chardonnay (buttery with notes of toffee and apple pie), then went on to try Laura's recommendation. 

I was very impressed. For just about nineteen dollars, you can enjoy the lychees, the grapefruit and roses with an additional round, plump honey melon element. The acidity could be a bit brighter but that's just it, Gewürztraminer is not traditionally known for its zesty quality - unlike Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The viscous body, however, makes the wine so seductive and exotic. An excellent value and comparable to the offerings of Alsace. 

I can also recommend the Delaine Vineyard 2007 Gewürztraminer which has more of a white grapefruit, orange rind, rose and floral feel. It's also gorgeous but it all comes down to your palate and your preferences.

Both wines would be perfectly paired with spicy dishes - Indian, Thai and Vietnamese. Tonight, I had my Grand Proprietor's Reserve with Pad Thai.

Excellent wines but the only thing is I have a hard time recommending the winery namely because of Jackson Triggs' Cellared in Canada (CIC) wines. 

Nonetheless, for a corporate winery, they make some nice higher-end wines. If you love Alsatian Gewürz, these are a must-see and drink

Clark, Oz, 2009 Pocket Wine Guide. Harcourt Publishing, Orlando, 2008.
Fielden, Christopher, Exploring the World of Wine and Spirits. WSET: London, 2005.
 MacNeil, Karen, The Wine Bible. Workman Publishing Company Inc. New York, 2001
Wine Council of Ontario, The Wine Regions of Ontario: An Introductory Course for Ontario Colleges and Ontario Wineries, Second Edition


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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