Pros:Well-balanced, easy to pair.
The Bottom Line: Fetzer "Valley Oaks" Gewürztraminer is an extremely well-balanced wine, especially for the price, and the perfect pairing for spicy dishes from Mexico, Asia, or the southern U.S.
I am told that gewürztraminer means "spice grape" in German. That's a fair name, I suppose, even though, compared to, for example, a Belgian abbey ale, the spiciness of a gewürztraminer is extremely subtle, and certainly not the dominant flavor. Lychee grape or honey grape would perhaps be more appropriate, but grapes taste like grapes, not lychees, and several other white varietals can taste of honey. I have no idea what chardonnay means, and Muscat is the capital of Oman, not known for grapes or wine, so I suppose there's no reason to complain. "That one that most people can't spell, that goes well with Indian and East Asian food and jambalaya" will probably work if you need to order it and can't remember it.
Recommend this product?
Most gewürz in the seven-dollar price range occupied by this Fetzer wine, in their "Valley Oaks" selection, is off-dry. That's not covering for a flaw and in this case makes the wine more food friendly, not less. Spicy food, especially food flavored with chiles or cayenne pepper, can make a wine taste "hot", and residual sugar reduces or eliminates this effect. The charcoal-dry gewürztraminers of Alsace are great with Continental cuisine, but the spicier fare that's nearly become standard here in the U.S. calls for the equally aromatic, sweeter, and cheaper gewürz from the New World. This is even more the case if the sauce is sweetened, as is usual for many Thai or Chinese dishes.
Go too sweet, however, and the wine can dull the palate. Fetzer has struck the optimal balance; their Valley Oaks Gewürztraminer is drier than the competition--most notably, drier than Columbia Crest--and has a bit more acid, too.
Quality is consistent from year to year, but the wine is slightly variable. The 2007 vintage had more apricot aroma than usual; past years have been more lychee-like. In the mouth one tastes honey, as well, in addition to the warm spices--think cinnamon, nutmeg, and Sichuan peppercorn--that make gewürz gewürz. For an off-dry wine, the finish is clean, not sticky at all.
Like most gewürz, this goes well with food too robust for riesling, and is likewise too strong for most seafood; shrimp may be an exception. Pair Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewürztraminer with Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and Cajun or nouveau Creole cuisine--with any dishes needing a bit of residual sugar and generous acid. It's especially good with pad thai. Of under-$10 gewurztraminer that can be found in supermarkets, it's probably the best, and telling wine-shop staff that you're looking for a wine like this is one way to get good recommendations, if you don't get pointed right back to it.
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Winery Name: Fetzer
State or Region: California
Wine Rating Scale: Better than most