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The Darwinian Wine - Only the best have survived! 

March 02, 2020

These days it still feels a bit weird to be talking about gewürztraminer. Why? Because it was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in Australian wine before the masses went for chardonnay and then Kiwi sauvignon blanc. Why didn’t gewürztraminer work back then (in the late 1980s and early 1990s)? Because most of the time it was terrible. And despite some notable examples, you can’t fool most of the people most of the time.

So those who make gewürztraminer today are up against it. They’re aware of the variety’s chequered past (which is a polite way of putting it), they understand that most people can’t say it properly (always a negative when it comes to trying to sell something) and they also know that most contemporary wine drinker have no idea what a good example tastes like. In other words, they’re onto something of a hiding.

Wine being what it is and passionate winemakers being what they are, there is still a critical mass of gewürztraminer made in Australia. And since Charles Darwin was largely correct, they tend to be small in number and surprisingly high in quality. The fittest survive, provided no product manager wants to take them mainstream.

One such gewürztraminer is made by a South Australian maker that is considerably more famous for its shiraz. Its latest release, from 2019, was made from fruit sourced from the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley. Because the maker in question is Henschke, whose Adelaide Hills vineyard at Lenswood was seriously singed in the recent fires, it’s likely that for a time at least, future releases will focus more on their Eden Valley component. The love of viticulture runs deep in the Henschke blood, so along with all of you I hope, I wish a speedy recovery to this and all the other vineyards that suffered during the recent outbreaks of bushfire. As if growing good grapes wasn’t already challenging enough…

The good news is that if you’re not much aware of gewürztraminer and what it brings to the table, all you need to do is taste this wine. The Henschke Joseph Hill Gewürztraminer 2019 opens with a penetrative, heady perfume of lychees, rose water, musk and lychees laced with exotic spice and dried flowers. Underpinned by a fine, bony spine, it delivers the intensity and presence expected on the palate of a serious gewürztraminer, but it lacks the heaviness and fatness that make so many oily and clunky. Instead there’s juicy intensity and shape, with a pleasing suggestion of sweetness that’s perfectly countered by its acidity and texture. It finishes with length and refreshing acidity, with the kind of pleasing balance that will help it age gracefully. It costs around $36.

So there you have it. It’s possible, however, it you have taken on board all I have said, that you’re still wondering why I’m recommending this wine. It’s because it’s the perfect accompaniment with spicy, fragrant, intensely flavoured food served by so many of Australia’s most empty restaurants at this moment in time. So, to do yourself a favour, and at the same time to help keep the doors of your local Chinese restaurant open for trade, wander in and treat yourself to some incredible food with a white wine that fits so perfectly with so much of it.

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