Shanghai Daily

April showers bring May vino flowers

- John H. Isacs Isacs is the founder and CEO of EnjoyGourm­et, a leading gourmet digital (www. enjoygourm­ and print media company in China. He has authored over a dozen wine and food books including the awarded ISACS Guides and other gourmet books

This week I take liberty with the old proverb to infuse a bit of vino fun. The month of May is well underway but many of us in Shanghai are still unable to fully experience the floral beauty of this most blooming of months. Locked away in our own little worlds, the intoxicati­ngly beautiful aromas of May remain depressing­ly remote and distant.

Poet and agrarian enthusiast Thomas Tusser authored a collection of essays, “A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry.” Published in 1557, this work is most famous for the chapter “Sweet April showers bring May flowers,” a title that through the centuries morphed into the English vernacular as “April Showers become May flowers.”

Despite our present spatial limitation­s, we can still be inspired by Tusser’s words and experience some of sensorial delights of May flowers in a glass of wine. This is possible because many wines offer delightful floral aromas.

Modern winemakers understand the science of aromas and as a result are able to make wines with attractive aromas. One of the most desirable aromatic compounds is monoterpen­es, also referred to as terpenes for short. This compound is responsibl­e for most of the floral aromatics in wines, so when you smell flowers in a wine you’re actually sensing the vaporized aromas of monoterpen­es and other related compounds.

Some grapes have a penchant for making floral wines; think Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Ruche reds and Torrontes, Muscat, Reisling and Gewurztram­iner whites. The latter is my flowery springtime pick this week.

Gewurztram­iner is a funky grape that’s famously difficult to pronounce. The name is German, many of the best the examples come from Alsace, France and the grape most likely originated in northern Italy. The ancient

Traminer variety was most likely first cultivated around the small town of Termeno in the northern Italian region of Alto Adige. Also referred to as Italy’s Tyrollean Alps, this is a bilingual region where German is as prevalent as Italian. The German name of Termeno is Tramin and hence the grape gained its name of Traminer about a millennium ago.

The Traminer family of grapes is prone to mutation and sometime in the late 19th century a highly fragrant example of the grape appeared on the scene that became known as Gewurztram­iner, literally “spice” or “perfumed” Traminer. Unlike its green-skinned genetic father, the Gewurztram­iner grape has a spotty, dark pink skin. Despite showing great potential the new grape was not widely adapted until relatively recently. Part of the problem was a confusing plethora of different names including traminer musque, traminer parfume and traminer aromatique in France, traminer rosso and traminer aromatic in Italy and roter traminer in Germany. Though the word Gewurztram­iner first appeared in 1870, it wasn’t until 1973 that this name was officially sanctioned by European wine authoritie­s.

Gewurztram­iner is also a viticultur­al nightmare. The vine buds very early, making them vulnerable to frosts, while harvest dates are late. The vines are also quite susceptibl­e to pests and viral diseases.

Naturally high in sugar and low in acidity, Gewurztram­iner winemakers face the juggling act of picking early to retain freshness while compromisi­ng the full developmen­t of aromas and flavors or harvesting later and risking an overly fruity wine that’s woefully deficient in acidity. However, when the winemakers get things right and nature cooperates, Gewurztram­iner grapes make some of the world’s greatest and most unique white wines. Nowhere is this more true than in the far northeaste­rn reaches of France.


The best Gewurztram­iner wines arguably come from Alsace, an elongated

region between the Vosges mountains in France and the Rhine River across the border with Germany. The best vineyards are situated on the sloping foothills of the mountain range and feature a mix of sandstone, granite and volcanic soils. The soils and cool climate are most suited for white varieties like Riesling, Gewurztram­iner and Pinot Gris.

Gewurztram­iner is the second most planted grape after Riesling and makes wines ranging from bone dry to extremely sweet. The dry Gewurztram­iners are golden colored wines that commonly offer lively rose and spice aromas and concentrat­ed lychee and tropical fruit flavors with generous spicy sensations developing in a long complex finish. The distinctiv­e qualities of a dry Alsatian Gewurztram­iner wine make them the easiest wines to identify in a blind tasting.

On the other side of the Alsatian Gewurztram­iners style spectrum are the noble rot Selection de Grains Nobles. These ultra sweet wines are amongst the headiest sweet wines in the world offering great viscosity with an oily-silky texture and powerful rose, honey and tropical fruit aromas and flavors.

Some of the best wine producers in Alsace with wines available in Shanghai are the domaines Weinbach, Hugel, Trimbach, Zind-Humrecht, Sparr,

Barnes-Buecher and Kirrenbour­g. Top Alsatian Gewurztram­iner wines are quite age-worthy and when wellstored can be cellared for decades.

The exotic nature of Gewurztram­iners makes them lovely companions to equally exotic cuisines. Whenever I have the opportunit­y to savor authentic Moroccan cooking, a dry Gewurztram­iner is my go-to wine. These wines are also lovely with many Mideast, Indian, Thai and Malaysian dishes.

So whether you’re enjoying exotic dishes or just rejuvenati­ng in the afternoon sunshine, I invite all readers to turbo power their May flower power by enjoying a glass or two of Alsatian Gewurztram­iner.

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 ?? ?? Large oak barrels in Alsace provide a lighter oaking touch to Alsatian wines.
Large oak barrels in Alsace provide a lighter oaking touch to Alsatian wines.

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