By Celia Strong
This past weekend, some of us were lucky enough to enjoy a great tasting. Saturday was National Hugel Day, so we tasted seven different wines. I thought, since these are great wines for the holiday meals we have this month and next, we could go over them this week and let everyone in on what we learned and on some deals.
Hugel is a family owned winery in the Alsace region of France. Founded in 1639, the twelfth generation since then is now running them. In Alsace, most of the wines are white, like 90% of them. This region is located in northeastern France, with vineyards that face the Rhine River and Germany. Many the grape varieties grown there are what we usually think of as German grapes. Riesling is Alsace’s great grape, but they also have Gewurtraminer (spicy from the town of Tramin), Muller-Thurgau, Muscat and Sylvaner, as well as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Their wines are always bottled in the tall, thin, green glass that the Mosel region of Germany uses. The wines labeled for a grape variety are always 100% that grape. And, except for specifically made dessert wines, these are all dry wines. Really dry. (Which I emphasize because, between the grape names and the German looking bottles, many people think they are going to be sweet wines.) There’s a lot more we could discuss about Alsace and the house of Hugel. But, if we do, we won’t have time for our seven wines. And, let’s face it; the wines are why we’re here.
So, in the same order we tasted them on Saturday night. Hugel Gentil is their blend. It uses Riesling for elegance and minerality, Pinot Gris for body, Gewurtraminer for aromas, Muscat for fruit and Sylvaner for refreshing elegance. The name “Gentil” translates as “nice.” Which was exactly what everyone thought of this wine. Nice tasting and a nice surprise. For $13.99 or $9.97. (Hang on and we’ll see what two prices mean.)
Hugel Pinot Blanc was our second wine. Very different, very dry. This grape is related to the other Pinot varieties. Over previous discussions we’ve tasted some California ones. Pinot Blanc is often able to replace a Chardonnay. And with a nice change of flavors. For $16.99 or $13.47
Hugel Pinot Gris was our third wine. Really, really nice. More like an Oregon Pinot Gris. And the fun label! Not heavy, this wine is a natural expression of this variety. No oak, no lees. Even someone who didn’t like Pinot Grigio – any Pinot Grigio, loved this wine. Yay! Another convert. For $19.99 or $14.97
Fourth, we tasted Hugel Gewurtraminer. This is, by far, one of the most distinctly flavored grapes. But, it also is a great food grape. Several years ago, the Hugel Gewurtraminer was chosen as the “Best of Show White Wine” at the Hilton Head Winefest. From over 1,000 wines. Despite being a white wine, it always pairs well with certain beef dishes – like curry! Hugel considers this their flagship wine. For $26.99 or $19.97.
Next, we tasted Hugel Riesling. This is a lovely sipping wine. Dry and crisp and refreshing. The Riesling grape has an affinity for almonds. Sometimes, just some roasted, salted almonds and a bottle of this wine make a great dinner. In Alsace, Riesling is their great white variety. In this soil, it shows great fruit and minerality. And does taste quite different than other Rieslings. For $22.99 or $15.97.
Now, we get to the last two. For the first five wines, everyone sort of just moved at their own pace. Because the last two were special, we tasted them together. The Hugel Riesling Jubilee is a spectacular wine. From the great 2007 vintage, this wine is a yardstick to measure all other Rieslings against. The grapes for the Jubilee wines from Hugel come from their own Grand Cru vineyards. And the grapes are rigorously selected from the harvest. For $59.99 or $50.97. More than very limited. Less than one case in the state.
Last, we tasted Hugel Pinot Noir Jubilee. Wow! Red Pinot Noir makes up only eight percent of the 110,000 they produce each year. From the 2008 vintage, this wine tasted like Chinese Five Spice powder. Light, smooth, still cherry red in color, despite being seven years old. Not everyone’s idea of what a Pinot Noir is, but an opportunity to taste an Alsatian one is very rare. I loved it. And dreamed of duck breasts for dinner. For $54.99 or $46.97. Very limited also.
Now, though, we need to discuss food and these wines. As a group, they go with lots of different foods. If you realize that Alsace is right next to Germany, many of what they eat goes well. All the pork dishes – roasts, chops, pâtés, sausages, chicken and game birds, mild cheeses. And, from the other side of the world, Asian flavors. Soy, coconut milk, lemongrass, curry, spicy foods are all delicious with these wines. And, one last meal that excels with any of these wines? Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner. Isn’t it nice Hugel Day is so close to our holiday? A perfect chance to drink them. And what about the two prices? Buy any three bottles and you get the lower price. An even nicer way to try them. Enjoy.