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My first grade teacher Mrs. Barwin was a kind caring woman who ended up being the calm eye in a hurricane of scary-ass nuns that would begin just the next year in second grade and the cruelest, most sadistic nun of them all—Sister Peter Ann.  But first grade was different.  It was a time of wonder and learning things like phonics, the Byzantine spelling/pronunciation rules that define the English language.  We also began our initial explorations into the world of science and one of the first things we had to learn about was the planets.  In fact we were required to stand up and recite the nine planets in order from tiny fiery Mercury nearest the sun all the way to distant, dark and even tinier Pluto.  I distinctly remember learning about the planets because I had to work with the girl who sat behind me.  Her name was Sheila and there were two very distinct things about her: her dirty blond hair was reminiscent of mild electric shock and the fact that she picked her nose and ate it.  Even at the tender age of seven I knew that this was wrong—at least as far as the field of gastronomy was concerned.  Even to this day when meeting someone named Sheila I am given to pause …

 As for the planets, Pluto was my favorite.  It was discovered in 1930 by an American astronomer, Clyde W. Tombaugh, at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona and named by an 11-year-old English girl.  At 1,400 miles in diameter it’s slightly smaller than the earth’s moon.  It takes Pluto 248 years to go around the sun and one day on Pluto is the equivalent of 6.5 days on Earth. 

 Why the fuss over Pluto? Stay with me.  In 2006 scientists demoted it to a “dwarf planet.”  After 76 years of stardom it was no longer one of the great nine.  If you’re keeping score a dwarf planet is obviously smaller than a planet but it’s so small it can’t clear objects out of its path.  I will not expound on the mild anguish I experienced over glowing childhood memories of my favorite once-proud Pluto being dashed in an instant. For the record, Pluto is also called a plutoid–a dwarf planet that is farther out in space than the planet Neptune.  The term plutoid may also be used to describe certain college age dating social behavior.

Fast forward to last year.  I’m writing a piece on the wines of Alto Adige and am doing some quick research on Gewürztraminer.  In Alto Adige the village of Tramin is fondly regarded by the locals as the spiritual home of the grape.  To confirm that and more I reached for my copy of Jancis Robinson’s brilliant book, “Wine Grapes.” It’s co-authored with Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz and first published in 2012.  Wine Grapes is anything but portable weighing in at a hefty 6.7 pounds with 1,242 pages.  It’s arguably one of the greatest wine books ever written–so what better source to reach for when looking up the quick and dirty on Gewürztraminer.

I immediately turned to the table of contents—itself an act of maturity.  In the past I would have bravely albeit ignorantly tried to find the “Gewürztraminer” listing by blindly ploughing through the book’s pages.  But experience told me that this would be a waste of time.  Using the index in a book is not unlike the point where you finally stop and ask for directions; when your consequences software is so keenly honed that you can experience future potential agita that will be dished out by your significant other or anyone else in the car–all in the blink of an eye.

Finding the entry I quickly turned to page 408 for the Gewürztraminer listing only to find the following brief snippet: “See Savagnin.” I was a little concerned at this point.  I quickly paged through the book (screw the table of contents at this point) past Sabato, Sagrantino, a lengthy entry for Sangiovese, past Saperavi and Sauvignon Blanc, finally grinding to a halt at Savagnin on page 966 (can you say William the Conqueror?). There under “Origins and Parentage” I read that Gewürztraminer has been proven with DNA testing to be an aromatic mutation of Savagnin Rose (Galet 2000).  Jancis goes on to write that “Gewurztraminer has become by far the most widely planted variant of Traminer (Savagnin Blanc).”

There you have it.  With a single DNA-laced stroke the once noble Gewürztraminer has been stripped of its title and demoted to AA status (not even AAA!).  Such is cruel fate.  The salt on the wound? The village of Tramin obviously never was the spiritual home of the grape.  Because after all it’s a mutant form of a grape you’ve never heard of. Cruel fate indeed. 

Is Gewürztraminer the Pluto of Vitis Vinifera? You decide.

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