Food & Drink

Introduction to Anderson Valley gewurztraminer

Laurie Daniel
Laurie Daniel

The Anderson Valley in Mendocino County is best known these days for pinot noir. But I’ve long referred to the valley as “the American Alsace.”

Grape varieties commonly associated with France’s Alsace region — especially gewurztraminer, riesling and pinot gris — thrive in the cool, ocean-influenced climate of Anderson Valley, and the area has a long reputation for these grapes. So it was a natural place to hold an annual International Alsace Varietals Festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in February.

The modern wine era in Anderson Valley began in the mid-1960s, and gewurztraminer was a part of it. The variety was among those planted by Donald Edmeades on his property outside Philo. In 1968, gewurztraminer was planted at Husch Vineyards. Navarro Vineyards, founded in 1974, was a big proponent of gewurztraminer from the start.

Others have followed, such as Handley Cellars and newer wineries like Balo and Toulouse. These wineries produce pinot noir, of course, but they also make excellent whites from Alsatian varieties. Good riesling also is planted on Mendocino Ridge, in the hills south of Anderson Valley.

This year’s festival, held in Boonville, had good participation from Mendocino County wineries, but there were also wines from elsewhere in California (including from Claiborne & Churchill in Edna Valley) and from Oregon, New York’s Finger Lakes region, New Zealand and, of course, Alsace.

Before I offer some specific recommendations, a few thoughts about gewurztraminer:

The grape can be difficult for consumers to grasp, beginning with how to pronounce it: geh-VERTZ-truh-mee-nur. The wine — gewurz, for short — is very aromatic, typically with the scents and flavors of lychees and rose petals. It can be a little spicy, too.

I love gewurztraminer, but even I’ll admit that some examples are almost oppressive, with aromas reminiscent of heavily scented body powder.

On the other end of the spectrum are some California gewurztraminers that are simple and lack the distinctive perfume.

Gewurz, like riesling, can be made in dry, off-dry and sweet versions. The Anderson Valley excels at all three.

A classic example of dry to barely off-dry gewurztraminer is the 2013 Navarro Estate Dry Gewurztraminer ($19.50), which is spicy and rich, with good varietal character. The 2013 Husch Dry Gewurztraminer ($14) is a great buy and is crisp and aromatic, with lychee and some floral notes. And the 2013 Handley Cellars Gewurztraminer ($20) is quite dry and spicy.

There are a number of good dry rieslings from the Anderson Valley, including the racy 2013 Handley Cellars Riesling ($22), with its lime flavors and long finish; the 2013 Balo Dry Riesling ($24), which has similar flavors; and the zippy 2014 Toulouse Riesling ($24), which will be released later this spring.

In the Mendocino Ridge appellation, Allan Green grows riesling at his Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. The 2013 Greenwood Ridge White Riesling ($18) is racy and fresh, with lime and lime zest notes and just a trace of sweetness. (It also ages well: The day after the festival, the winery’s tasting room poured a fresh, vibrant 2006.)