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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Covey Run 2008 Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer

Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 3:35 PM

One can't always make it on looks alone, and a wine often needs a name to sell. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely grown red wine in California. Big and often dumb and brutish in the glass, it's got a cool and easy name to say: "Cab." In related news, Cab vines covered 75,791 acres of California in 2009 ― 26 percent of the state's red wine grapes. In the realm of whites, Chardonnay takes first place in acreage, at 94,986 in 2009 ― a whopping 52 percent of the state's white grape acreage. Is it any coincidence that no wine dances so beautifully on the tongue before the bottle's even been opened?

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Where, then, does this conversation put Gewürztraminer? The word is actually easy to pronounce, but that awful Germanic spelling will make any uninitiated eye glaze, enticing the buyer to just order a Cab, perhaps ― or Zin, Chard, or Pinot. And sure enough (and, yes, we know that we're making gross cause-effect assumptions here), California farmers grew a mere 1,764 acres of Gewürztraminer in 2009.

But few wines can be so aromatic and entrancing as Gewürztraminer. Muscat, maybe, is more fragrant and dazzling, but almost to a fault. But the best Gewürztraminers, which may be sweet or dry, smell fantastic and strike a fine balance between their sugars and acids. They may be aged for a decade or more, turning golden and bronze in hue and developing admirable character and body over time. Though the worst examples are overtly sweet and one-dimensional, Gewürztraminer's lasting impression is generally a good one. It was even named for its striking taste; Gewürz means "spice" in German, with traminer referring to the northeast Italian city of Tramin, near where the grape originated about 1,000 years ago. It would come of age in Alsace, where nearly 20 percent of vineyards today are committed to the variety.

The grape is often considered a nightmare to farm. The vines lack strong genetic resistance to vineyard viruses. Small clusters disappoint winemakers keen on large crops. And the buds break early each spring, making them susceptible to frost damage which can further diminish autumn yields. Blessed are we, then, to find affordable examples that bear all the qualities of the finest Gewürztraminers. The Covey Run 2008 Columbia Valley is one. As soon as the bottle is opened, that classic perfume billows out and heads for the nearest nostrils. The smell is potent, of lychee and grapefruit. In the mouth, the wine is off-dry and laden with honey, citrus, Swiss cheese, and mango. The Covey Run delivers a satisfying bite, too, plenty acidic to knock back the sugars.

Marketers with spouses in the restaurant industry might recommend pairing Gewürztraminer to foie gras, smoked salmon, quiche, mahi-mahi ceviche, boutique cheeses, or a variety of complicated soufflés. But Jesus! What if we aren't hungry? Just drink.

Covey Run 2008 Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer: $8.99 at BevMo! Stores.

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Alastair Bland

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