Working in the wine industry, you sometimes get friends or colleagues thrusting a glass into your hand asking for your thoughts. I usually start by describing the wine – its fruit character, its balance, its length – and then wait for the inevitable follow up: ‘but what do you think of it?’ This is easy when the wine is very good or has some particularly attractive quality to comment on but can be tricky otherwise. Even if the wine is pleasant but nothing special, someone has worked hard to make it and I don’t like to disappoint. So, I sometimes reach for words like ‘unusual’, ‘different’ or even ‘interesting’. (Apologies to readers who have heard those words about a wine they have offered me!)
More challenging is when I’m also expected to identify the wine in the glass. ‘Blind tasting’, as it is called, is incredibly difficult at the best of times but almost impossible without context; so, if I’m in Burgundy, for example, I’m expecting the wine to be local, which narrows the likely possibilities. Similarly, if I’m with friends, I tend to know their tastes, which may be reflected in the wine they offer me.
But there’s one grape variety that is so distinctive that I would expect to identify it blind 8 times out of 10: Gewűrztraminer. Native to Germany and the Alsace region in north-east France, it stamps its aromatic, floral, almost perfumed character on nearly every wine its used in. We took a bottle of the Wine Society’s Exhibition Alsace Gewűrztraminer (£16.00) to a good friend recently and it had all those expected qualities and more. The flavours were delicate yet, at the same time, intense and rich. Just off-dry, it went perfectly with a mildly spiced Keralan Chicken curry that she cooked for us – the fragrance of the wine complementing the aromatic spices beautifully.
A wine with really ‘interesting’ and ‘unusual’ characteristics – but in a good way!