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Alsace and Bordeaux

by Tom Cannavan, 11/98

This was a tasting of white wines from the Alsace producer Hugel et fils, plus assorted wines from recent vintages in Bordeaux. There were several wines I have tasted before, so a good chance to assess their progress. Hugel have a great history and continue to be key players in the modern Alsace wine industry. I have sometimes found a certain orange pith bitterness to the acidity of many of their wines, including a couple of these in the past. All of these wines are from Hugel's "Jubilee" range - their top wines from Grands Cru vineyards, though these are not named on the labels for political reasons (Johnny Hugel disagrees with the reasoning behind certain vineyard sites having been declared "Grand Cru"). One wine (a Hugel Gewurztraminer from 1988) was pulled from the tasting at the last minute as the bottles opened were in very poor condition. A last minute substitute was served blind for a bit of fun, but otherwise the tasting was not blind. Prices in pounds sterling. Approximately £15=$25 at current rates of exchange.

Hugel Riesling Jubilee 1993. £14.99
Last tasted in November 1997 when I said "Straightforward at this stage, but may develop". Well, it hasn't much. The colour is a medium-deep gold/green. The nose is certainly showing a little more of the classic waxy, paraffin character, but mostly melon and pear fruit, with hints of minerals. There's plenty of alcohol and weight to the palate, with greenish fruit: apples, gooseberries and a citrus bite. Quite steely, though ripe enough, and the finish is quite long. Acidity dominates the finish. Quite simple really, but my favourite of the Hugel dry wines.

Hugel Gewurztraminer Jubilee 1993. £14.99
Medium lemon-yellow. Very intense, aromatic nose. Deep scents, slightly rubbery, hay-like aromas. Lusciously sweet as it hits the tip of the tongue, then citrus and melon flavours before a really bitter, grapefruit and orange pith acidity takes over. Atypical, and to me, rather unbalanced.

Hugel Gewurztraminer Jubilee 1985. £14.99
A more golden hue, but very youthful. Sweeter scented, more subtle nose. Over-ripe lychees, mango and higher, more delicate flowery notes emerge. Light on the palate, with a soft, mouth-filling texture. Sweeter, with again rather bitter acidity and a slightly woody, dank note in the finish. Decent length, spicy and fairly intense, but not totally convincing.

Les Pagodes de Cos (2nd wine of Cos d'Estournel), St-Estèphe 1994. £14.99
I last tasted this in a blind tasting 16 months ago when I said "Young, a bit unapproachable, but good.". Very dense, ruby/black starting to develop amber on the rim. Nose of cedar, leather and a bit of gaminess. Good, ripe, blackcurrant fruit. Dense and spicy on the palate with a mature appeal. Still grippy, but the sweet, ripe fruit is showing well. Fairly high acidity. Drink soon.

Cordeillan-Bages (from Château Lynch-Bages), Pauillac 1995. £19.99
Intense, rich, purple/black. Vivid nose of blackcurrant. Very pure, intense, almost New Worldy. A dusty, blueberry and custardy oak impression. Very silky on the palate, but grippy tannins too. Fruit is a bit thin and in the background, the tannins and acidity dominating. Creaminess in the finish and the sweetness of the fruit shows through. Very long and well-balanced.

Reserve de la Comtesse (2nd wine of Pichon-Lalande) 1995. £27.99
Youthful, very vibrant ruby/purple. Classy nose of pencil-shavings, saddle-leather, earth and a gamey complexity. Also deep, dark-roasted coffee bean notes and plenty of dark, damson and black cherry fruit. Good framework of acidity, ripe tannin and sweet oak supports plenty of fruit. The wine is long, structured, already nicely together and has potential. Very fine.

Château Belair St-Emilion, 1er Grand Cru 1990. £28.99
I have also tasted this before, almost 2 years ago, when I wrote: "Austere and giving little pleasure". Very dark ruby colour with deep amber rim. Restrained nose. A little bit medicinal, but toasty notes appear, deep and plummy, with earth, liquorice and leather. Very soft on the palate, maybe a bit dried-out tasting, but enjoyable as a mature, leathery claret. Decent length. Drinking now.

The ringer of the evening - served blind.
d'Arenberg (South Australia) Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 - £14.99
Very dark, dense, purple/black. Soaring nose of minty, high-toned fruit. Eucalyptus and blackberry. Australian. Absolutely pure core of intense black fruit, rich and creamy, ripely sweet and with great depth. Typically Australian profile, with a rich, long finish and ripe tannins. Balanced, very young and very good. A young, good quality cabernet/shiraz?

Hugel Tokay-Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive 1990. £13.99 per half bottle
Very deep, glossy, golden colour. Sweetly perfumed, buttery nose with waxy notes. There are minerals, flowers, apricot kernals and a little bit of lime zest. Quite luscious, medium to full bodied, plenty of sweet, ripe peach fruit and nice hints of pineapple and nectarine. Good acidity - gentle and generous, with no edges. Medium length and nicely balanced. Nearer to off-sweet than sweet, and still lots of potential. Very nice.

Château la Rame, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont 1994. £13.99 per 500ml
A neighbour to Sauternes. Dense lemon yellow. Fine, delicate nose. Lightly honeyed with pale, citrus aromas. Semi-luscious on the palate, with light peach and citrus flavours. Silky and elegant. Sweet and creamy fruit developing, but then the next sip doesn't carry it through. A nice smooth, cappucino flavour shows up in the finish (oak?). Rather simple in the final analysis.