Wednesday I was fortunate enough to attend a staff wine tasting of Hugel wines at the Wine Society. I actually went in on my day off just for the that, which should be an indication of how interested I am in the wines of Alsace and in Famille Hugel wines in particular.
The Hugel family has been producing wine in Riquewihr in Alsace since 1639, which is remarkable continuity when you consider how many times Alsace changed countries and official languages during the same period (six times since 1639, by my count). The Hugel family features prominently in Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup, which, if you haven’t read it, is an collection of accounts of how the French tried to preserve cellars, vines, vineyards and the vintners themselves from the Nazis during World War II. We’ve just finished reading the book ourselves and will post a full review soon, but while many of the stories blur together in the Kladstrups’ descriptions, what happened to the Hugel family really stands out. Two Hugel brothers were conscripted into the German army and one, once he had managed to survive the Russian front and return to liberated Riquewihr, felt he had to go back to Germany and fight again as a soldier in the French army. The two brothers were actually on opposite sides of the fighting at the same time during a battle near Lake Constance. It’s frankly the sort of thing you’d find unbelievable if you saw it in a film. If you’re interested in reading more about the Hugel family during World War II, you can read excerpts on the Hugel website or in Wine and War.
Three generations of the Hugel family were in England this week for wine tastings and to announce the rebranding of the company from Hugel & Fils to the more inclusive Famille Hugel, as well as the launch of the family’s first single-vineyard wine called Schoelhammer. Schoelhammer is made from grapes from just 30 rows of south-facing Riesling vines, and the first release is from the 2007 vintage.
The energetic Etienne Hugel, Directeur General at Famille Hugel, and his son, Jean-Frederic, took charge of the staff tasting at the Wine Society and lead us through the fascinating stories of the family, its vineyards, and the great wines they produce. It’s always a pleasure to talk with producers who are so expressive and in love with their wines and grapes. The father and son team had us nodding and laughing, all the while learning from them in a most pleasant way.
We tasted a variety of Hugel wines, each of them impressive in its own way. The tasting notes below are mine, but the links will take you to the product page on the Hugel website.
Gentil Hugel 2012 (The Society’s Vin de Alsace 2012)
This wine combines noble grapes of Alsace: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Sylvaner. The result is a refreshing wine with a crisp, lively aroma and bright, but not biting acidity. It has good length and generous juicy fruit. Blending the qualities of these disparate grapes also makes this wine a good all-rounder with food.
Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel 2012
This wine is quite dry and the sort of wine I enjoy most when I have it with food. It seemed to me to have a slightly shorter length than the Gentil. The acidity and the aromatic qualities of this wine would pair particularly well with fattier poultry such as duck and pheasant, or with game.
Gewurztraminer Tradition 2012 (The Society’s Exhibition Gewurztraminer 2010)
Etienne Hugel called this the family’s most curry-friendly wine. In fact, anything with any sort of spice will go extremely well with this. This wine has all the characteristics you associate with a fine Gewurztraminer: the aromatic qualities, the hint of spice, the freshness and delicacy. It’s as good an example of a classic Gewurztraminer as you are likely to find.
Riesling Jubilee 2009
This is one of the most expressive Rieslings I’ve had in a while. There is so much on the nose, with a fine flintiness and acidity. It’s well balanced with ample fruit and floral aspects that promise much for years to come.
Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, Hugel 2007
Etienne Hugel says this sweet wine is perfect with blue cheese. There’s acidity to lift the wine, so it avoids being cloyingly sweet, and while full of perfume and fruit flavours, it shows restraint. The 2007 we tasted was excellent, but we also tasted a 1998 that was divine. It was almost a pity I had to leave and get on with the rest of my day off.
The Hugel family is set to appear in a feature article in Decanter magazine next month, if you’d like to learn more, or the Famille Hugel website is full of additional information and truly beautiful photos. You can also follow Famille Hugel on social media.