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Wine Without Pretense: Spice is nice

POSTED: May 2, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Want some good news about wine? I thought so. But you are required to take a dose of not-so-good news along with it.

Good news: If you read this column you probably know I love gewurztraminer. OK, I’ll "pronounce" it for you ... guh VURTS tra meener. That’s the name of the white wine grape that originally came from Europe, which makes spicy, fruity, mouth-filling wine that is great with the right food.

My favorite food pairing for a dry gewurz (that’s what we pros call it) is the wonderful Thanksgiving (or whenever) roast turkey. The dry spiciness just wraps itself around that juicy white meat and succulent dark meat like white on rice.

Gewurz also is great with spicy Asian foods ... Thai, Vietnamese, etc.

I just discovered a gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France — which produces the finest gewurz in the world — that’s not only wonderful, but is sensibly priced ... and available locally.

It’s Michel Leon Gewurztraminer 2010. I recommend it highly. "Gewurz" is a German prefix meaning "spicy." You’ll pick up notes of clove and related spices in the nose. That spice is muted in the mouth, but it provides a distinctive flavor. There is nothing quite like a good gewurztraminer.

Bad news: Sadly, the gewurztraminer you will most often see on the wine store or supermarket shelves comes from Fetzer, the big, corporate winery in Mendocino County, Calif. Too bad. It’s abundantly fruity, bordering on sweet, and I have shied away from recommending it because of those reasons.

Recently, on an out-of-town shopping trip, I spotted a new Fetzer gewurz called Shady Loam. I bought a bottle and emailed the PR folks at Concho Y Toro, the Chilean wine giant that now owns Fetzer. Tell me about this wine, please, I asked.

I waited. About a week later I got an email saying this person would look into it and get back to me. The Internet must have died in Chile because a month later I had heard nothing.

Tired of waiting, I opened the Shady Loam. It is, in a word, mediocre. Just as fruity as the original with an overbearing peach taste, this is not a wine I could recommend ... except, possibly, as a mixer for a batch of summertime white Sangria.

Good news: As I mentioned last month, wine in a box is a good bargain for folks looking for relatively inexpensive, long-lasting, everyday drinking wine.

For those not familiar with box wines, here’s a primer: The cardboard box contains an airtight bag. No air contacts the wine after the box has been opened and the wine tapped. And the one thing I tout about box wines is that they will stay fresh for 4-6 weeks after opening.

Bad news: There are some over-the-hill box wines out there. My wife recently bought a Black Box Pinot Grigio at a local package store. I’ve had Black Box wines and have recommended them because of value and quality.

Not this one.

When I tapped the spout and poured a glass, I was unpleasantly surprised with a flat, flabby white wine that was clearly not up to what I am accustomed to from Black Box.

So I checked the vintage. It was from 2008, and for a mass-produced pinot grigio that’s a tad too much age. There was precious little fruit flavor; the wine was harsh and just not nice. It’s another candidate for that Sangria — with lots of orange juice.

Concerned, I tapped out an email to the folks at Black Box. They must have the same Internet connection as Concha Y Toro because I received no response.

As good as quality control is in today’s wine industry, there still are flaws. Always remember to check vintage dates when you buy wine — especially whites. That date indicates when the grapes were grown and the wine-making process began.

You really don’t want to buy an average white that’s more than three years old. Who knows where it has been or how it has been stored. If you run across a great deal on a six-year-old pinot grigio in the wine store’s bargain bin, put it down and walk away.

My bad: In my April column referring to freeing trapped wine from a wine box I mentioned the bag as being aluminum. Alas, although at one time they were aluminum, they are now made of food-grade plastic. 

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesville times.com/life.


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