The Tasting Room has
Please be Double-Vaxxed!
Tatomer, Trefethen, Hermann Wiemer, Poet's
Leap, Zocker, Stony Hill Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris
PINOT GRIS, etc.
(Alsace/Austria/Germany in the US of A)
Though Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most
popular California white wines, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are certainly worthy
of our attention.
Many years ago California Rieslings were labeled as "Johannisberg
Riesling." This allowed California vintners to associate their
Riesling with wines from a famous German wine.
Some years ago, California winemakers began to drop the
"Johannisberg" from their Riesling labels. But this allowed for
a measure of trickery: the grape known as Silvaner (or Sylvaner) was
allowed to be labeled simply as "Riesling."
The Federal government finally got involved in the mid-1990s and they actually
help sort out the confusing mishmash of "Rieslings."
Sylvaner was formerly allowed to be sold as "Franken Riesling", since it is a
prominent grape in Germany's Franken region.
But, of course, California
wines labeled "Franken Riesling" were mislabeled since they did not
come from Franken vineyards. Calling the wines simply
"Riesling," allowed wineries to play on the more noble and prestigious
"White Riesling," while selling Sylvaner wines.
Wineries such as Louis Martini in Napa, Mirassou in Santa Clara and Parducci in
Mendocino all made Sylvaner wines, once upon a time. Rancho Sisquoc in
Santa Barbara also made "Franken Riesling" many years ago.
Mirassou labeled its Sylvaner as "Monterey Riesling," even though it was not made of Riesling...but the grapes were grown in Monterey.
Parducci called its Sylvaner "Mendocino Riesling," even though it was
not made of Riesling...but the grapes were grown in Mendocino.
From Santa Ana, California!
Hallcrest, a Santa Cruz Mountains vineyard and winery, was a Riesling specialist
and they knew enough to label the wine as "White Riesling" and not
San Martin winery made Sylvaner, too.
In the 1950s and 1960s, one of the more fashionable wines was called "Grey
Riesling." This was not related, precisely, to Riesling and, in fact,
this grape was really Trousseau Gris. It was also known as Chauché
Gris. You might understand why "Grey Riesling," then, was a more
popular way to label this wine.
Napa Valley Artisan vintner Bob Pecota made a wonderfully fruity and dry version
of "Grey Riesling" when he launched his winery in the mid-1970s.
The Paul Masson winery made a couple of "Riesling Knock-Offs."
Emerald Riesling was the grape used for "Emerald Dry," a hybrid
originally thought to be a crossing of Riesling and Muscadelle (Sauvignon Vert
and the same grape as today's "Friulano" and yesterday's "Tocai
These days UC Davis claims Professor Harold Olmo's creation is a crossing of
Muscadelle and Grenache!
The grape made its debut somewhere in the late 1930s to late 1940s.
The idea was to have a Riesling-like wine from vineyards planted in the hot
climate Central Valley of California so yields could be high and the wine could
Today, Riesling or White Riesling, has fallen out of favor, though plantings of
it along the west coast are on the rise.
In California, government stats showed less than 1,500 acres being in the ground as
of 1999. As of 2019, California has 3,962 acres. Maybe there's
In 2017, 2018 and 2019, there have been 4 new acres of Riesling planted in
In California, Gewurztraminer today accounts for 1,715 acres. Pinot Gris is
planted on 16,928 acres in California, a big increase as local vintners look to
compete with Italian producers of Pinot Grigio.
For comparison: 92,311 acres of Chardonnay are planted in California. Sauvignon
Blanc amounts to 15,742 acres.
Once upon a time many California wineries cultivated Riesling in vineyards
adjacent to Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. They made Riesling simply
because customers demanded diversity, not because they could make great or
There have always been Riesling specialists, not only in California, but
Washington, Michigan and New York.
In California, the longest track record is owned by the Stony Hill Winery in
Napa. Don't let anybody tell you California Rieslings don't have finesse
or the ability to cellar for more than a year or two. Stony Hill can
certainly provide evidence to the contrary.
Despite being known
as "Cabernet Country," there are still good Rieslings made in
Napa. Trefethen Vineyards and Smith Madrone continue to produce Rieslings
of note. Gone by the wayside are Lyncrest and Veedercrest, two brands once
"hot" as Riesling makers, although the latter has been rescued by
Chateau Montelena in Calistoga continues to make Riesling, but today buys grapes
The Hagafen winery makes a Riesling, or two, and these are usually quite good.
In Sonoma, Chateau St. Jean made a range of Rieslings and Gewurztraminers under
winemaker Dick Arrowood in the 1970s. The winery produced wines from
slightly sweet to sticky sweet. They even labeled these as "BA"
for Beerenauslese and "TBA" for Trockenbeerenauslese. When the
German trade commission protested, Arrowood claimed "BA" stood for
"Botrytis Affected" and "TBA" indicated "Totally
The US Government wine label agency, back in the 1970s, then prohibited
them from using these German terms on California wines.
So we were surprised to see this label passed muster:
Navarro Vineyards is a Riesling and Gewurz specialist in Mendocino's Anderson
Valley. Handley and Greenwood Ridge make some aromatic wines, as well.
Wente Brothers used to make some nice Rieslings in the 1970s, even producing
late harvest rarities. They got their fruit from Monterey, which should
still produce good Rieslings. Claiborne and Churchill make a nice Riesling
The Santa Cruz Mountains had some good Rieslings. Storrs periodically has
a good rendition. Years ago there was a winery called Felton Empire and microbiologist
Leo McCloskey was the winemaker.
We recall finding a case of their wine in our storage area which had flipped
itself over as the bottles, packed cork-down in the box, re-fermented in the
bottle. The thrust of the corks pushing out of the bottles actually flipped the
case and this explained why I was sniffing wine near the office but didn't see
any broken bottles.
Sales rep Bill Gibbs called one day to ask if we had any inventory remaining, as
it seems customers had been calling to complain about these self-opening
A few vintners in Oregon make Riesling, but Pinot Gris seems to do better on a
winemaking and commercial level.
Washington State is a large source of Riesling. The Ste. Michelle brand
bottles significant quantities of Riesling and California's Bonny Doon Vineyard
launched a winery in the Pacific Northwest devoted to Riesling called
"Pacific Rim." We're fans of
the Long Shadows winery and their Riesling carries the Poet's Leap brand....
figured anyone who's devoted his brand of wine and winemaking to
California Riesling has to be nuts. And, so, I may have been
Young Graham Tatomer has ties to Burlingame, too, by the way. His
Pop lived in town and worked on his studies as a psychiatrist many moons
Graham attended U.C. Santa Barbara and while there he got himself a job at
the Santa Barbara Winery. And while working there he saw great and
unfulfilled potential in the locally-sourced Riesling grapes he worked
with in the cellar.
This ignited his passion for Riesling. I recall numerous vineyards
in the "new" mother lode of Santa Barbara were devoted to
Riesling when that region was in its nascent stages. Had consumers
not become so fixated on Chardonnay, Riesling might have gained more than
a toe-hold in Santa Barbara (and perhaps the Santa Cruz Mountains, for
Tatomer began making token quantities of Riesling and was able to sell a
little bit of wine here and there. Along the way, of course, he
encountered some benchmarks: wines from Deutschland and Austria and
then Graham had a moment of epiphany...he realized he needed to go to
Europe and get some "hands on" experience working with Riesling
in a place where Riesling was king, not merely an after-thought.
so Graham packed his bags and headed to Austria where he enrolled in the
University of Riesling at the Loibnerhof campus of Emmerich Knoll.
He did his bit of industrial espionage, learning about lizards, falcons
and the other important features of the Wachau wine region's viticulture
and enology. He ended up working a couple of harvest seasons with
the Knoll family.
And then he returned to California and began, anew, with his Tatomer wine
adventure. Sort of...sommelier, cellar rat...and he then, thanks to
a friendship with our pal Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard, was able to
launch his own production in a small way. ((Adam, by the way, makes
a nice Riesling from Santa Barbara-grown fruit...but when we've opened
bottles of Ojai Rieslings, they are way too young and totally
undeveloped. I'm betting when Adam's Rieslings have three or four
years of bottle aging, they'll show their stuff. And nicely,
too. But they are so quiet and unassuming right out of the gate...))
We liked Tatomer's rendition of Riesling from the Kick On Ranch.
This is a smallish vineyard site west of the town of Los Alamos, along the
San Antonio Creek.
Currently in stock is Graham's 2013 Lafond vineyard Riesling. Here's a
lovely dry white (yes, it's dry...trocken...not sweet...dry) which is
comparable to good Austrian Rieslings. It's got a mildly floral note
at this early stage and there's a fairly good stony aspect to the
wine. And it's dry, so pairing it with some smoked pork chops, ham,
chicken or Asian-styled foods is ideal.
And we think this will continue to blossom with a few more years of bottle
Currently in stock: 2013 TATOMER Santa Barbara
"Lafond" RIESLING $29.99
Trefethen family has been making Riesling since the 1970s and we're
pleased to report they're even better today than they were back then.
The current vintage is 2013 and this, of course, comes from
Trefethen's estate vineyards in Napa's "Oak Knoll District."
This is just north of Carneros and south of Yountville.
The wine is low in alcohol by California standards and a tad high by
German measures. It's 13.0%. The residual sugar is less than 7
grams per liter. For most palates, it will taste rather dry.
We like the floral, citrusy and mildly petrol-like notes on the
A bottle of 2007 paired with the fritto misto in the photo (some
years ago) was grand!
It also paired well with a plate featuring smoked trout and salmon tartare.
The 2013 is stellar...a bit brighter, fruitier and floral.
Currently in stock: 2013 TREFETHEN Napa DRY
- There's a
Riesling fanatic behind this fledgling winery that's located in Santa
Ryan Stirm spent some time in Austria doing some industrial espionage
(learning to make Riesling, mostly). He attended Cal Poly in San
Luis Obispo studying viticulture, enology, soil science as well as
learning the ins and outs of sustainable agriculture.
We've tasted a number of wines from this tiny producer and they're
definitely on the right track.
We have a 2016 vintage Riesling from Santa Barbara's "Kick On"
Vineyard. This is a breezy site not too far from the Pacific Ocean,
so the cooling air currents prolong the maturation of the grapes as they
hang on the vine. The fruit is hand-harvested and then driven to
Schloss Stirm in the old warehouse where Ryan vinifies the grapes.
He left the skins in contact with the juice for a day before
pressing. The wine is fermented using indigenous yeasts and there's
nothing fancy about the winemaking. We're told it's unfined and even
more amazing, unfiltered. And yet this is clean as a whistle.
We brought a bottle to a favorite San Francisco dim sum palace to share
with some visiting European friends who are writing a book about
California wines. For them, this wine (and that entire meal) was a
revelation. The wine is dry and quite crisp, with a good, fresh,
youthful Riesling perfume.
We want to hold on to a few bottles for personal consumption to see how it
ages. We suspect it's going to be a nicely profound bottle with
several more years of cellaring. On the other hand, it's quite
Currently in stock: 2016 STIRM Santa Barbara RIESLING "Kick
On" Vineyard $19.99
and Charlie Smith are real "mountain men" and they've been on Spring Mountain
since the early 1970s as part of the birth of today's "golden age of
Back in those days Riesling was a normal part of any winery's
portfolio. Smith wisely chose east-facing slopes for his Riesling
and his wines have often been very fine.
This is a winery that doesn't spend much effort in marketing. They
spend their time in the vineyard, working to cultivate good fruit and then
turn it into good wine. You'll hear that from many wineries but
these guys, having decades of vintages under their belts, are the real
Stu says they do all the vineyard work in the same manner, year after year
and yet, he points out, Mother Nature "stamps each vintage with a
unique set of flavors, senses and character."
And that's what's fascinating about wine...each bottle is a
bit of a diary of the year it took to grow and make that particular wine.
Winemaker Charlie Smith and his vineyardist/partner brother, Stu.
Two Napa Valley old-timers.
- They have about 38 acres under vine presently, including a bit of
Riesling (and some olive trees!).
Stu Smith discussing vineyard management and the finer points of
pruning with Massimo Ponte of Piemonte's
Best White Wine on Earth...Riesling.
Part of Charlie Smith's presentation of Smith Madrone wines
is detailing the history and current state of affairs of Riesling in the Napa
Today California has about 3800 acres of Riesling.
Napa used to have a fair bit of Riesling once-upon-a-time, but it's been largely
pushed out by Chardonnay.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the few wineries operating in Napa County had
"Johannisberg Riesling" as one of their portfolio.
Today there is less than a hundred acres of Riesling in Napa and Smith Madrone
cultivates about 5 of those.
- Smith Madrone Riesling is dry and they understand the balance and
finesse you find in top German Rieslings. Some wines actually have a
modest level of sweetness, but balanced by tangy, tart acidity, you find
the wines to be dry. Same here. The 2014 vintage we have in
the shop has around three-quarters of a percent of residual sugar, but the
pH is really low and the acidity is high, so you don't really sense that
tiny bit of sweetness. In fact, at this level of acidity, were the
wine to be stone cold, bone dry, it would likely taste out of balance and
not at all harmonious.
We tasted the 2015 on a visit to Smith-Madrone in early 2019. It's a
good bottle, but still way too young.
Charlie suggested the wine can be cellared for 15-20 years
"easily" and longer with good storage conditions.
We brought a bottle of the 2014 to share with friends with a dim sum lunch in the Summer
of 2018...damned good!
Tasted in January of 2019, it is growing with time in the
We appreciate the lack of interest in Riesling over all as this allows the
prices to remain relatively modest, especially in comparison with
Currently in stock: SMITH-MADRONE 2014 Napa
"Spring Mountain" RIESLING $29.99
Jonathan Pey has a small vineyard site in Marin County north of San
There he grows Riesling and Pinot Noir. The Riesling is a clone that
was imported from Germany's Rheinpfalz back in the 1960s. It's
tolerant of cold weather which is ideal for Marin, since the growing
season can be a bit chilly. Further, this clone is
disease-resistant, allowing Herr Pey to farm organically.
The site is maybe 8 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and the growing
season usually kicks off earlier than Napa and Sonoma. But the cool
growing season challenges the vines a bit and so the harvest tends to be
later than in the more famous regions.
The juice is settled in tank before they add a trio of cultured
yeasts. The cold fermentation takes about a month to complete and
then they leave the wine on the yeast sediment. This deposit is
stirred from time to time giving the low alcohol, high acid white a bit
more texture on the palate.
We're tasted a number of vintages of this wine and they age handsomely.
Currently, the 2016 is in stock...a cool vintage with low yields.
Pey make less than 200 cases of this beauty.
- Currently in stock: 2016 PEY MARIN Marin County RIESLING
"Shell Mound Vineyard" $26.99
Dan Lee is now an old-timer (as are we!). We met in our youth, ages
He's long been in Monterey County and we might say he's a bit of a
pioneer, along with his wife Donna.
Ages ago we hosted a "Winemaker Dinner" (well before these were
commonplace) and after we asked Dan and Donna if they'd like to share
another bottle of wine. We can't recall precisely the vintage, but
it was sure a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wine, probably the
Echezeaux. Back in those days the wine was merely expensive.
Today such a bottle is perhaps $600-$1000.
We were smitten by the wine and remember Dan sniffing and
tasting..."I think I can make a wine like this!" he boldly
Well, we're still waiting, but he does make good quality wines.
People who fancy Pinot Noir are romantics and passionate about wine
(typically). If you add Nebbiolo to the short list that's further
confirmation of this dynamic.
Add Riesling to the list and one might say they're "hopeless
We don't think Dan dabbles in Nebbiolo. Yet.
But he has been taken with Riesling and this is now a mainstay in the
We currently have the youthful 2015 in stock.
Lee cultivates a few rows more than one acre of Riesling in his
"Double L" vineyard which is certainly a marine-influenced
site. Dan credits the ocean breezes that blow through the vineyard
with causing the grapes to develop thicker skins. Add to the mix
somewhat longer hang time due to the relatively cool growing season and
perhaps it's not surprising he is making good Riesling.
Morgan's Riesling typically has a half a day of skin contact and then it
ferments at cool temps in stainless steel. As it's nearing the
completion of the fermentation, Dan lowers the temperature of the tank to
stop the fermentation and leave a bit of sweetness. The acidity is
balancing, though it's easy to detect a touch of sweetness.
Paired with spicy foods, though, this is quite refreshing and it tastes
dry. We think it will likely age handsomely, too.
Currently in stock: 2015 MORGAN Monterey "Santa Lucia
Highlands" RIESLING $19.99
is a tiny production label that is devoted to Riesling.
It';s the work of a fellow who had dabbled in cellar work in California's
Central Coast. In between gigs there he did a harvest at South
Africa's prestigious Hamilton Russell winery before coming back to
California and working for the Testarossa winery.
For the past few years he's been the assistant winemaker at the Chamisal
Vineyards winery in the Central Coast. He moonlights making his own
wine under the Maiden Stoen label.
We tasted a trio of Rieslings and selected one which caught our attention.
few Californians know there's good wine being made in New York state,
we've long been fans of the Finger Lakes region.
Decades ago we visited the area and tasted wines at the winery of
Konstantin Frank, Glenora, Bully Hill and Hermann Wiemer.
Konstantin Frank was a real pioneer there, planting Riesling in
this region which had been more known for its labrusca varieties and
French-American hybrids. Hermann Wiemer was born in Germany's Mosel Valley
and his father was involved in viticulture. Wiemer came to the Finger
Lakes and started cultivating Riesling and other interesting Vinifera
grapes in the 1970s.
Aside from growing grapes and making some good wines, today the company is a big
time "nursery" for grape vines...they sell hundreds of thousands of
grafted vines annually, both to wineries and "backyard farmers.
Hermann came to the US and found some land in the Finger Lakes region. He
knew that grapevines could be grown in places where cherries were cultivated and
Wiemer bought about 80 acres of land near Seneca Lake.
Wiemer had an assistant named Fred Merwarth and he took over the vineyards and
cellar operations in 2003. Wiemer finally retired in 2007 and today
Merwarth is assisted by an old school pal who's an agronomist.
The wines, especially their Rieslings, are well-regarded and much
sought-after...if you're "in the know." Here in California, far
from New York, there are a few Wiemer Fan Club members, but few customers know
there's good wine being made there, frankly. Fewer still have any clue
about the virtues of Riesling. C'est la vie.
The 2015 vintage "Dry" Reserve Riesling is a delightful
wine...really capturing the character of Riesling and even showing some
stony/slatey notes as you'd find in good German wines. The wine has a
touch of sweetness, but with good acidity to balance. The alcohol level is
below 13%, too.
Currently in stock: 2015 HERMANN J. WIEMER Finger
Lakes DRY RIESLING "Reserve" $24.99
Stony Hill winery is a fabled little estate in northern Napa Valley.
They've been making Riesling forever as every winery in Napa made Riesling
back in the old days.
Stony Hill continues to make good dry Riesling. And their wines age
magnificently. We had a bottle of an early 1990s vintage not too
long ago...what a splendid bottle of wine and it did not show itself to be
old or tiring!
The 2008 is the current offering in the shop. It comes across the palate as dry,
though the wine has about 10 grams of sugar/liter. Balance is the
key, though. And it's balanced. It's also quite complex thanks
to its extended aging.
We opened a bottle in late 2018...brilliant!
(We opened a 1994 at the same meal...there were some notes of oxidication,
to be sure, but the wine was still remarkably interesting.)
Currently in stock: 2008 STONY HILL RIESLING $22.99
2012 STONY HILL GEWURZTRAMINER Sold Out
A bottle of 1994 Napa Riesling consumed in 2011...was still alive and kickin'!
Lots of ripe peach or peach pie sorts of notes with a bit of petrol.
A bottle opened in late 2018 was older and less vigorous, but still complex and
State has numerous outstanding sites for Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
There are several "foreign" collaborators in winemaking
escapades in Washington. One is Chateau Ste. Michelle's "Eroica"
project, aided by wein-meister Ernst Loosen.
Another is that of Long Shadows...a label called Poet's Leap.
German wine authority Armin Diel, who co-authors the annual Gault-Millau
German wine guide, is a partner in this project. Diel also has his
family's wine estate and makes wonderful wines in Germany's Nahe region.
They planted various clones of Rieslings at Herr Diel's suggestion.
They've now made several vintages of Poet's Leap and it's routinely been one of
our favorite west coast Rieslings. They blend Riesling grapes from
vineyards in several locations and manage to nicely capture some of the
minerally notes one finds in good German wines. The wine is "off
dry," having around 10 grams of sugar per liter (most people find 5 grams
to be "dry")...
Currently in stock: 2016 POET'S LEAP Riesling (List
$25) SALE $19.99
RED TAIL RIDGE
great potential in New York's Finger Lakes wine region.
We've had a number of good bottles of Riesling (and a few other varieties)
from upstate New York.
The Red Tail Ridge winery is a husband & wife collaboration.
Nancy Irelan runs the cellar and winemaking operations, while Mike
Schnelle handles the work in the vineyards.
They have a 52 acre property on the western edge of Seneca Lake and they
We have a 2014 vintage RTR Estate vineyard Riesling at the moment.
It's a nicely balanced white with a touch of sweetness.
- Currently in stock: 2014 RED TAIL RIDGE Finger Lakes "RTR"
Our friend Luciano Sandrone from Barolo, standing in front of Chateau
very first wine we purchased from Chateau Montelena was a 1972
"Johannisberg Riesling" and I think it was offered for sale
to us in 1973...
I used to drive up to Napa to pick up various wines and it was always
fun to see this old chateau and taste upcoming releases.
In those days, the wine was from vineyards reasonably close to the
winery. These days, they get the grapes in a much cooler region,
Mendocino's Potter Valley.
The fruit comes from the McFadden Ranch and the 2013 is a
delight. The aromas are fruity and floral, with hints of apricot
and ripe melon. I suspect it will develop the classic fragrance
of "petrol" if you hold this for a few years, but it's such
a delight right now...and the acidity certainly balances the slight
amount of residual sugar here, so it finishes clean.
Currently in stock: 2013 CHATEAU MONTELENA Potter Valley
RIESLING Sold Out
- Oregon is a good place for Riesling and every once in a while we'll have
one or two in the shop.
Chehalem's is excellent! It's a three vineyard blend and made all
the more complex with being harvested at low sugar levels with high
acidity. There's a difference between sugar levels and physiological
maturity of the grapes. Sometimes it's possible to have good
maturity even at relatively modest sugar readings...depends upon the
We like the zippy acidity of this wine, but the fragrances are enchanting
and reminiscent of good, soulful bottles we like from Germany.
No oak...just stainless steel and it was bottled less than six months
after its fermentation. There's about 6 grams of residual sugar, so
it's close to "threshold" for most people. But the
relatively high acidity more than offsets that little bit of sweetness and
so, for most people, this is bone dry.
Riesling is one of those wines which, for us, grows more complex as it
ages and develops with time in the bottle. Though 2012 is not
exactly an "old" wine, we do note that this is blossoming most
handsomely. It's still young, but the wine is already at a stage
when it's both youthfully charming and yet offers more depth as would a
nicely mature bottle. This bodes well for the wine, as we think it
will grow even more profound.
Currently in stock: 2013 CHEHALEM "Three
Vineyards" Willamette Valley RIESLING $20.99
Weir has been making Riesling in Napa Valley for several decades.
Back then it was even called "Johannisberg
The Hagafen winery is a smallish cellar and they make a range of wines
that happen to be Kosher.
We usually have their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in the shop.
They've routinely been good. As has the Riesling.
Currently we have their 2013 Lake County Riesling in stock. It's a
fruity rendition that happens to have a modest level of sweetness.
It's not full-throttle sugary, but it's certainly a main theme of this
Currently in stock: 2013 HAGAFEN "Lake County"
RIESLING SALE $18.99
- You might have a look at these pages in pursuit of good, aromatic
A snapshot of ripe Gewürztraminer grapes courtesy of Claiborne &
Traminer grape is thought to have originated in the Alto Adige (which is
today part of Italy, though it's sometimes been Austrian).
It's a lovely variety which tends to ripen with a reddish color
as you can see, perhaps, in the photo above.
The famous Hungarian enological Johnny Appleseed, Agoston Haraszthy, is thought
to have brought the aromatic and spicy version of Traminer to California.
Some clones are less distinctive and the more "intense" Traminer seems
to produce wines which have aromatics reminiscent of rose petals and
grapefruit. Some tasters find notes of lychees in Gewürztraminer and, in
fact, research shows the grape to have some similarity to the lychee 'fruit' (or
In the days before Prohibition, both the Charles Krug Winery and Gundlach
Bundschu Winery were somewhat highly-regarded for their Gewürztraminer
The Charles Krug Winery, run by the Mondavi family, was still a good source for
Traminer in the 1950s and the grape may have reached the height of its
popularity by the end of the 1970s when there were close to 5,000 acres planted
in California. According to current statistics, there are 1715 acres
planted in California today. In 2019 there were 16 new acres of Gewürztraminer
planted and 50 the year before that!
Today, there are not many wineries noted for Gewürztraminer.
The top sources for this variety in California would include Handley, Lazy Creek, Thomas
Fogarty, Claiborne & Churchill, Navarro, Stony Hill, Mill Creek and Arista.
These vintners tend to make dry to just off-dry versions.
The Fetzer winery makes loads of Gewürztraminer, but it's less distinctive for
varietal character and noted more for being simply fruity, sweet and
low-priced. Sutter Home, the famed White Zinfandel producer, also dabbles
in Gewürztraminer and makes a wine rivaling Fetzer's.
We typically have a few Gewürztraminers from France's Alsace and one from
Germany. The most impressive and intense, is an Italian wine which is
vinified "dry" and made by the leading co-op winery in Italy's wine
village called Tramin. The Cantina Tramin has a special bottling called
"Nussbaumer" and this, for us, remains the reference point for Gewürztraminer.
CLAIBORNE & CHURCHILL
- This smallish estate has long featured Riesling and Gewürztraminer as
its main wines. Back in the 1980s they made both of those as well as
a blended white called Edelzwicker, a nod to the great wines of France's
The brand was launched by Claiborne Thompson and his wife Federicka
Churchill. The couple moved to the west coast from Michigan in the
early 1980s and began making wine with the 1983 vintage.
We've followed them since their start and are pleased to report the wines
have improved and we now have had a few vintages of Gewürztraminer in the
The 2019 vintage is currently in the shop. They label it
with the Central Coast appellation which is a bit generic given the grapes all
come from a signle vineyard in Monterey County, about halfway between Greenfield
and King City.
The fruit was picked in the first week of November of 2019 and bottled in early
April of 2020 to capture the intense floral fragrances. We find typical
grapefruit and spice notes. And if you think most aromatic wines such as
Riesling and Gewürztraminer are sweet, guess again. This wine has just 2
grams of sugar per liter, making it drier than most Chardonnays and Sauvignon
It's beautifully aromatic and smells "sweet," but you will find this
to be quite dry. It pairs handsomely with Asian-styled dishes as the wine
works well with soy sauce and sesame oil. You can also pair it with
seafood seasoned with spicy peppers.
Currently in stock: 2019 CLAIBORNE & CHURCHILL
Central Coast DRY GEWÜRZTRAMINER Sale $18.99
Handley launched her label and winery in 1982, so now she's an "old
timer," though the wineries of Husch and Edmeades preceded her by
about a decade. Navarro came after those two, but pre-dated
Handley in Mendocino's beautiful Anderson Valley.
She's located on the main highway near the town of Philo. She
makes some wonderful Anderson Valley wines and a bit of Sonoma Sauvignon
Gewurztraminer is frequently amongst the best of California (not like
the list is long, but she's a producer who's worthy of citation as a
Her 2012 vintage is beautiful...it's close to dry and beautifully floral
and fragrant. The wine is a fruit basket of tropical and exotic
fruits: cantaloupe, grapefruit, a suggestion of peach and apricot,
mandarin orange, perhaps...and then it has those lovely spice
This is a delight. Pair it with Asian-styled
Currently in stock: 2012 HANDLEY Anderson Valley
GEWURZTRAMINER Sold Out
And if you want to taste the most intense Gewurz, pick up a
bottle of the Tramin winery bottling from Italy...Nussbaumer, it's called.
There is not a winemaker on the planet who would not be proud to call that wine
We feel this is the benchmark for the variety, coming from a special vineyard
site in the hills above the town of Termeno (Tramin in Italian)...
Other interesting Gewurztraminers:
We typically have a wine from Domaine Weinbach in
Alsace...and usually one or two others from France.
There's currently quite a good wine from Pojer & Sandri in Italy's Trentino
From Austria, we have UMATHUM'S TRAMINER $24.99....a Blend of
red and yellow Traminers...beautifully and powerfully fragrant...not quite dry,
but not sweet.
And if you want something along the lines of Gewurztraminer
aromatically, don't miss Marotti Campi's phenomenal Lacrima di Moro d'Alba.
It's an obscure red grape from the Marche in central Italy.
The variety was nearly extinct, but this family worked diligently to
bring it back to life and now there are numerous producers of
Lacrima di Moro d'Alba.
It's a dark red wine, made without oak aging.
The fragrances are hugely fruity and floral and if you poured it into
black glass, most experts would take a sniff and identify it as
Dry, smooth and a perfect little picnic red...chillable, too.
We have the current vintage in stock for $15.99 a bottle, sale tagged.