What Am I Tasting?

This silky white displays lychee, cardamom and pink grapefruit sorbet flavors ... Play the game!

August 21, 2020

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Silky and light- to medium-bodied, this restrained version seems too subtle at first, but then the finely meshed flavors of green melon, lychee, cardamom and pink grapefruit sorbet develop, enlivened by sleek acidity and expanding through to the mineral-driven finish.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our mystery wine showcases lychee, melon, grapefruit and spice flavors, with sleek acidity. What could it be? Let’s crack the case.

Chardonnay is made in several styles. But whether it’s sleek and mineral-focused or rich and oaky, Chardonnay is unlikely to show our wine’s notes of lychee, pink grapefruit sorbet or cardamom.

Marsanne can be medium-bodied with citrus aromas. But Marsanne’s acidity tends to be on the lower side, and our note is missing the grape’s distinct waxy note. Let’s look elsewhere!

Torrontés can be aromatic, generally described as having a citrusy or perfumed character. The grape’s other hallmark aromas include ripe peach, rose and mineral accents. But this minerality is usually expressed as a saline note, which doesn't sound like a match for our wine, either.

Sauvignon Blanc could be a good fit. When aged in oak, it can show a rounder profile with moderate acidity, and riper versions can show melon and citrus notes with a mineral finish. But we are missing Sauvignon Blanc’s hallmark herb and grass notes, and that lychee note suggests a better candidate ….

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic white with a complex array of citrus and tropical fruits, and its signature notes are lychee and spice. Many top versions are balanced by moderate acidity and minerality.

This wine is Gewürztraminer.

Country or Region of Origin

Gewürztraminer thrives in cool temperatures. In warmer climates, it can ripen without enough acidity to balance out its natural sugar levels and rich flavors. While Argentina's high-altitude vineyards can offer cool conditions, the country’s intense sunlight is too extreme for Gewürztraminer production. Although Australia can offer cooler temperatures, Gewürztraminer is not a prominent grape there, where Riesling and Chardonnay remain far more significant. There are New Zealand winemakers who experiment with white grapes other than Sauvignon Blanc, including Gewürztraminer. However, these versions tend to be light and crisp, and Gewürztraminer accounts for a tiny fraction of New Zealand’s wine production.

Most of California’s Gewürztraminer vines are found in cool regions throughout Monterey and Sonoma. But Gewürztraminer represents a tiny fraction of California’s grape acreage, and the Golden State’s versions tend to be on the richer side, with butter and honey notes.

France is a global leader for Gewürztraminer, and makes a range of styles from dry to sweet. French Gewürztraminers are prized for their lychee, mineral and spice notes with balancing acidity.

This Gewürztraminer is from France.

Appellation

Knowing that our Gewürztraminer is from France, we can eliminate Australia’s Barossa Valley, New Zealand’s Marlborough, Argentina’s Mendoza and California’s Santa Lucia Highlands.

This leaves us with Condrieu and Alsace. Condrieu is a significant white wine region in France’s Northern Rhône Valley, where it produces rich and floral wines with melon flavors and moderate acidity. However, Condrieu’s whites are only made from the grape Viognier. Located on France’s border with Germany, Alsace is one of Gewürztraminer’s primary regions. Alongside Riesling and Pinot Gris, Gewürz is one of the region’s top grapes, and it is grown in several of Alsace’s grand cru vineyards.

This Gewürztraminer is from Alsace.

Age

Although dry Gewürztraminer isn’t as ageworthy as sweeter versions, it can still benefit from a decade of bottle aging, which might impart bitter smoke or graphite accents. Our wine doesn’t show these notes, plus its fruits and acidity are still fresh and lively. Bearing in mind that Alsatian producers tend to set their wines aside for two or three years before release, we can look to recent vintages in Alsace to determine our Gewürztraminer’s age.

Spring 2018 was warm and damp, leading to early budbreak in several Alsatian vineyards and to balanced Gewürztraminers with citrus, floral and spice flavors. Spring came early to Alsace in 2017, bringing warmer temperatures and more rain than usual, which led to an early harvest yielding wines with mouthwatering acidity and peach, almond and pepper flavors. Alsace’s weather was erratic in 2016, and vintners battled both mildew and drought (not at the same time); nevertheless, the vintage produced creamy, spicy Gewürztraminers with smoky mineral accents. Gewürztraminer vineyards excelled in 2015, despite the year’s drought conditions, and produced racy Gewürztraminers with orange and sweet stone fruit notes. Based on our wine’s lively citrus fruit and acidity, the recent 2018 vintage seems like the best fit.

This Gewürztraminer is from the 2018 vintage, making it two years old.

Wine

This is the J.-B. Adam Gewürztraminer Alsace Les Natures 2018, which scored 92 points in the Feb. 29, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $28, and 80 cases were imported. For more on Alsatian Gewürztraminer, check out senior editor Alison Napjus tasting report, "Extreme Alsace," in the May 31, 2018, issue.

—Aaron Romano, associate tasting coordinator