This South African wine is one which perhaps very few people have heard of, and many will not know that they have drunk. The wine is a variety from the Traminer branch, but it has become more aromatic (hence the addition of Gewürz, which means spice). This variation is not the only one to occur in the Traminer line, as there are also Durbacher Clevner, which is a red grape variety, and a number of others. The main problem with the current Gewürztraminer is that it is rather difficult to cultivate, preferring very cool climates in order to properly mature.
Although the vine has been regularly cross-bred to try and iron out some of its stubbornness, the Gewürztraminer remains a very fussy vine. When it is in a soil that it likes, the vine will start to spread quickly, even becoming unruly if not managed, but on chalky soils it will fail to flourish. In any environment the vine is very vulnerable to diseases, to frost, and to becoming over-ripe before its harvest date. It flowers early, then the grape is on the vine for months before ripening late into the season, and not always consistently. If it is exposed to too much hot weather, it will produce an excessive amount of sweetness that will undermine the taste of the grape.
Other difficulties are caused by the nature of the mutation in the Gewürztraminer, which can make it difficult for South African growers to produce a consistent wine on each vintage. Although it is widely known as a ‘white wine‘ grape, in fact the flesh and skin of the grapes can be blue or even black, similar to red wine grapes. This can confuse growers, although the wine produced is usually white, dry and very sweet. A dry Gewürztraminer can smell of lychees/litchis, but when it is very dry will often smell of roses, producing a very floral taste. Nevertheless, because of the unpredictability of the grape, the wines produced can smell and taste very different to expectations.
Perhaps the reason why this wine is cultivated in South Africa at all is due to the very intense spice and floral tastes which are almost uniform in the Gewürztraminer wines. Because they are such a strong and distinctive taste, these wines are occasionally blended into weaker white wines in order to give the latter more character, and the single varietal wine is considered to be an exciting and interesting wine to drink with very heavily spiced foods such as chilly or curry.
One of the producers of Gewürztraminer wines in South Africa is the Simonsig wine estate. The wine produced by this wine maker has a rich sweetness which has been compared to Turkish Delight. The scent of lychees in the 2009 bottle is consistent with expectations, as is the general fruitiness of the bottle. There are additional tastes of honey and acidity which make the wine seem drier than it actually is, but nevertheless Gewürztraminer from Simonsig is an excellent bottle of wine, suitable for an array of strong-flavoured foods.