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The Rieslings of Hugel, Alsace

by Tom Cannavan 1999

During Vinexpo in Bordeaux this year I visited the stand of Hugel et Fils, one of the leading houses of Alsace. Regular visitors will have read before that I have often been somewhat disappointed in the wines of Hugel. I have found them rather unexciting, lacking a little complexity, and often to have a slightly jarring, pithy acidity that doesn't sit harmoniously with the fruit. I took the opportunity to taste through their range of their 1997 Rieslings: 1997 is a wonderful vintage in Alsace, and amongst the wines on show was the first release of the new "Hommage Jean Hugel" label: premium wines of Vendange Tardive ripeness that will be made only in exceptional years, in a bone-dry style. There was also a chance to taste a mature wine, the 1989 Vendange Tardive Riesling. I thought this was a good a set of Hugel wines as I'd tasted, promising great things for the vintage in general.

Hugel Riesling 1997
Very minerally, fresh nose with hints of lime fruit. More lime flavours on the palate, quite light-bodied but balanced and with good length.

Hugel Riesling Reserve 1997
Rather more intensity, with herbaceous and mineral notes on the nose and more weight on the palate. The fruit is very ripe and pure, with spicy notes in the finish. Very good.

Hugel Riesling Jubilee 1997
Though the policy of Hugel is not to name its Grand Cru vineyards on its labels, this wine comes from the top quality Schoenenbourg vineyard. There is terrific ripeness evident on the nose, a great purity of fruit. Very, very intense on the palate with lime and apple fruit and terrific length. Balanced and very fine. A wine that needs 8 years or so to show its best.

Hugel Riesling "Hommage Jean Hugel" 1997
Just a thrilling, super-sweet and concentrated nose. Very minerally, but loaded with fruit and a lightly waxy note. The palate shows real intensity again and a dry, very pure and focused, super-long finish. This needs time - 10 years minimum - but has wonderful balance and a gorgeous, brilliant clarity of fruit. Superb.

Hugel Riesling Vendange Tardive 1989
Beautifully developed nose with refined, complex, petrol and wax aromas over pear fruit. Palate is flooded with medium-bodied, fine lime and grapefruit flavours. Very nicely balanced into the long, slightly spicy finish. Lovely maturing Riesling, just developing classic tertiary aromas. No hurry to drink this.