Hugel: The Jewel of Alsace
By Bob Lipinski
Alsace is a storybook region dotted with picturesque villages in northeast France. It occupies a narrow strip of land between Strasbourg and Mulhouse. It is no more than four miles wide and about 40 miles long, with a total area of approximately 40,000 acres. It is nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, just east of Champagne and Burgundy. Alsace is divided into two sections—the Bas-Rhin in the north and Haut-Rhin in the south.
Alsace produces approximately 20 percent of all of France’s white wines entitled to the AOC designation. Because it is located so far north, there is generally insufficient sunshine for the red grapes to ripen fully. Therefore, better than 90 percent of all wines are white.
Nestled in the picture-postcard village of Riquewihr (reek-VEEHR), in the Haut-Rhin near the town of Ribeauvillé (ree-boh-vee-LEE), is the venerable house of Hugel (hoo-GEHL), founded in 1639 by Hans Ulrich Hugel.
The Hugel family owns about 75-acres of vineyards where the grapes are hand-harvested. The vineyards have an average age of 35 years. The winery produced approximately 110,000 cases of wine per year, of which about 90 percent is exported to more than 100 countries worldwide.
Hugel makes white and red wines from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Muscat grapes. The wines range from very dry, through semisweet and very sweet.
I recently sat with Jean Frédéric Hugel to speak about his family’s vineyards and taste many of their wines. Most of the wines are current releases, with some older wines provided by Jean Frédéric.
2014 “Gentil” (zhan-TEE). It is a blend of primarily Gewürztraminer paired with varying amounts of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat and Sylvaner grapes. The first vintage was 1991. Perfumed aroma and flavors of lemon, melon, orange, peaches, honey, and pears. It’s dry with a long, fruity aftertaste. Just grab a glass… you don’t need food!
2014 Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Les Amours:” Light-bodied and dry with a spicy, sort of peppery bouquet and underscored with hints of apples and pears. Subtle flavors of almonds, plum, and citrus with hints of star anise in the aftertaste. Smoked fish comes to mind, especially trout.
2014 Riesling: Light golden color with a blast of green apple and citrus; dry and medium-bodied with flavors of tangerine, peaches, and ginger; a subtle finish and lingering aftertaste. Kielbasa with sauerkraut and hot mustard.
2012 Pinot Noir “Classic:” Pale crimson colored with an aroma and flavor of berries (especially cranberry), citrus, plums, and red fruits. Stainless steel fermented and aged to retain the berry character. Pair with some salmon or crab cakes.
2013 Gewürztraminer “Classic:” Bright yellow colored with an enticing floral aroma of honey, fresh flowers, and baking spices. Dry and medium-bodied with flavors of creamy peach, apricot, and grapefruit. Did anyone say barbecued ribs with plenty of dipping sauce!
2010 Riesling “Grossi Laüe” Vineyards (groh-SEE LOY): The name translated from Alsatian dialect means “Great Growth,” the equivalent of “Grand Cru” in Burgundy or “Grosses Gewächs” in Germany. Deeply perfumed bouquet and flavor of citrus, green apple, grapefruit, melon, smoke, and a certain tartness (which I love). Complex, full-bodied, off-dry, and loaded with minerals in the aftertaste. (I don’t assign points to a wine, but if I did, this would easily score in the mid-90s.)
2010 Pinot Gris “Grossi Laüe” Vineyards (groh-SEE LOY): Medium-full bouquet of butter, smoky peach, and citrus. The wine was aged in neutral oak barrels, which adds complexity to the flavors of apple, pear, and bitter almond. Risotto with wild mushrooms would pair nicely.
2010 Gewürztraminer “Grossi Laüe” Vineyards (groh-SEE LOY): Light golden colored with bouquet of orange and lemon peel, candied ginger, and cinnamon. Great texture and body with flavors of melon and white peaches. The aftertaste is slightly bitter and quite refreshing. Fabulous wine… don’t miss it!
2006 Gewürztraminer “Vendange Tardive” or late harvest. A full and exotic bouquet of kiwi, jasmine, and marzipan. Full-bodied and sweet (about 10% residual sugar) with delicious flavors of honey, candy apples, and apricot preserves. Still quite youthful… should easily last another 20 years.
2007 Riesling Schoelhammer (it is in the heart of the historic Schoenenbourg vineyard which overlooks Riquewihr). Bright yellow colored with an elegant bouquet of apple peel, spring flowers, and lime. Full-bodied and very dry with a delicate, minerally taste, green apples, bitter almonds, mango, and various herbs. A complex, expressive, and long finish. Wow… what a wine!
“Although the winery is more than 375 years old, Hugel continues to innovate, improve, and remain in the forefront of the highest quality wines.”
Bob Lipinski, author of ten books; writes, consults, and conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org