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Grape’s long name is as memorable as the wine

Grape’s long name is as memorable as the wine

Gewurztraminer is another of those grapes I fall in love with again and again after each taste, especially when paired with food.

We hear it a lot in wine speak when it comes to certain grapes: “If Riesling is a bit of a misfit, then likely Gewurztraminer is a downright outcast.” This sums up perceptions of this intriguing and delightful grape, but sadly it’s one of the world’s best wine gems consumers continue to pass by.

The wine world and connoisseurs sometimes get a little frustrated with Gewurztraminer because the nose and taste are too obvious — like a glass filled with the aroma of rose petals. But my taste buds adore this wine and have no criticisms or frustrations. My loyalty began when I first tasted it with Indian cuisine, and my devotion will last forever.

The amazing and intriguing distinction of Gewurztraminer is that its aroma leads you to believe you are about to indulge in a sweet, luscious wine, but when you taste it, it is often delightfully and surprisingly bone-dry. This chameleon grape can be produced in the winery as very dry, sweet or even luscious wine.


  • 2017 Chateau Ste Michelle Gewurztraminer, Washington (about $11 retail)
  • 2017 Fetzer Gewurztraminer, California (about $10 retail)
  • 2017 Chateau St. Jean Gewurztraminer, California (about $16 retail)
  • 2017 Montinore Gewurztraminer, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2017 Brancott Gewurztraminer, New Zealand (about $15 retail)
  • 2017 Bouchaine Gewurztraminer, California (about $25 retail)


  • 2017 Balletto Gewurztraminer, California (about $22 retail)
  • 2016 Hugel Alsace Gewurztraminer, France (about $29 retail)
  • 2016 Gundlach Bundschu Gewurztraminer, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2016 Trimbach Gewurztraminer, France (about $30 retail)
Grape climate set wine’s alcohol level

Grape climate set wine’s alcohol level

The alcohol percentage in wine is a hot topic of discussion for wine drinkers. This conversation is often about the noticeable difference in wines over the past decade, as some wines have crept up from a “norm” of 13.5 percent to as high as 17 percent.

What determines a wine’s alcohol content is straightforward. As grapes ripen they accumulate sugar, which is then converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. Grapes with more sugar produce wines with more alcohol. Grape climate sets a wine’s alcohol level. 

Some grapes are naturally higher than others in sugar, but growing conditions as well as terroir have a large impact. If the grape has to struggle to ripen, it may have less natural sugar, resulting in a lower alcohol wine. If the grape is growing in a warm or hot climate, it will most likely have high levels of sugar.

Wine grapes are like any other fruit. If you have ever picked a strawberry before it’s ripe and taken a bite, then enjoyed a berry from the same crop that was left to slowly ripen on the plant with ample sun and ripening power, the sweetness level is dramatically different.

U.S. law permits a 1.5 percent variance from the ABV (alcohol-by-volume content) printed on the wine label.


Wines with less than 12.5 percent alcohol are considered very low alcohol wines. These include rose, white German riesling, Portugal’s vinho verde, French Vouvray, Italian Asti, Italian Prosecco.


  • 2015 Famega Vinho Verde Blanco, Portugal (about $9 retail)


  • 2015 Zonin Prosecco, Italy (about $17 retail)


Wines with 12.5 percent to 13.5 percent alcohol fall into the low alcohol category. These include Spanish Cava, California sparkling, Champagne, Italian pinot grigio, Oregon pinot gris, Spanish or California albarino, Beaujolais and Spanish Rioja.


  • 2015 A to Z Pinot Gris, Oregon (about $14 retail)


  • 2015 Stasis Albarino, California (about $45 retail)


Wines with 13.5 to 14.5 percent alcohol are high alcohol wines and include California chardonnay, Australian chardonnay, Australia shiraz, Barolo, Chilean merlot, and California cabernet sauvignon.


  • 2015 Matchbook Chardonnay, California (about $15 retail)


  • 2014 Force of Nature Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $26 retail)


Wines exceeding 14.5 percent alcohol are very high alcohol wines. Examples include Spanish sherry, California zinfandel, Amarone and port.


  • NV Osborne Sherry, Spain (about $14 retail)


  • 2014 Earthquake Zinfandel, California (about $26 retail)
Barbera wines earn their place at the table

Barbera wines earn their place at the table

The grape variety barbera (bar-BEAR-uh) plays second fiddle to the more famous Barolo Italian grape. But over the last 20 years we’ve seen this grape receiving attention and Babera wines earn their place at the table. Once regarded as an ordinary everyday drinking wine, barbera grows around the world, but it is the vineyards of Italy’s Piedmont region that for centuries have produced the most concentrated and complex examples of this grape.

Here’s some trivia about this grape that makes for an interesting dinner conversation (at least for wine geeks). Barbera is thought to be nearly 1,000 years older than cabernet sauvignon. Researchers have found the grape can be traced as far back as the 7th century.

As with many a great dinner conversation, there is also a tale of scandal. A 1986 Time magazine article reported on a wine scare across Europe precipitated by the illegal use of wine additives. Eight Italians were found dead and more than 30 hospitalized after drinking Odore barbera. The wines were found to contain 5.7 percent methyl alcohol; the legal limit was 0.3 percent. Methyl alcohol is generally used in industrial applications including antifreeze, solvent and fuel. The scandal resulted in regulations that require all exported Italian wine to be carry a government certificate of purity.

Barbera can be refreshing in its youth with cherry and raspberry flavors or aged into a serious full-bodied style with a plummy spice taste. When made with care it can even deliver the undeniable “truffle” aromas and flavors reminiscent of the great wines of Piedmont.

This grape is often overlooked in food and wine pairing. As with most Italian grapes, its high acid content and soft tannins make it an almost perfect match with most foods.


  • 2014 Paolo Marcarino Piemonte Barbera, Italy (about $14 retail)


  • 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Italy (about $21 retail)