Jean Hugel died a week ago today, at the age of 84. As the head of an estate in Alsace that dates back to 1639, Johnny Hugel, as he was called, helped lead a renaissance in Alsace after World War II, advocating, indeed working earnestly for the creation of a Grand Cru program based on vineyard quality and on a classification system for the region’s sweet wines.

Coincidentally, last week I came across a small cache of wines from Alsace in a friend’s closet, where they, among other bottles, had been resting, right there on the floor. Vintages ranged from 2001 to 1998. I brought home a few to try and was not only mainly gratified with the results but, with a couple of wines, actually stunned.

On Thursday, I opened three of the bottles, starting with the Hugel “Hugel” Gewurztraminer 2001. This was a few hours before I learned that the patriarch of the Hugel family and its centuries-old estate had died.
Here are my notes on the first three wines:

>Hugel “Hugel” Gewurztraminer 2001. Medium straw-gold color; rich, spicy, honeyed bouquet, green apple, peach and pear, lychee and mango, touch of honeysuckle; round and flavorful,
stone-fruit, quince, achingly dry, electric with crisp acidity; a model of purity and intensity, beautifully structured; mid-palate, minerally races like a tide, layers of shale and limestone. A revelation. Great winemaking. Drink through 2010 or ’11. Excellent.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

>Jean-Baptiste Adam Reserve Riesling 2000. Radiant medium gold color; nose a little funky, a little ashy, some pear and peach, hint of petrol; pulls together nicely, solid structure and length, acidity could do a better job here; tremendous minerality. Lacking in the middle, a bit of a void. Enjoyable, but doesn’t quite hold up. Very Good.
Imported by Chapin cellars, Springfield, Va.

>Domaine Barmes Buecher Rosenberg de Wettolsheim Pinot Blanc 2000. Radiant pure gold color; LHM, what a nose! green apple, peach compote, spiced pear, smoke; mouth-filling, very dry, acidity so resonant that it’s almost visible; baked apple and lemon balm, stone fruit, yellow plum; backnotes of ginger and cloves; formidable minerality. A brilliant wine. Excellent, close to Exceptional. Remember, this bottle was not stored in a wine cellar but in an ordinary closet; if you have any of the wine in a cellar, you’re lucky indeed. Drink (well-stored) through 2012 to ’15.
North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.
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I opened the next trio of wines from Alsace yesterday; the results were not as pleasing, but, after all, this is an exercise not merely in trying some older wines — these were all from 1998 — but older wines stored in far from perfect circumstances. The lesson is: If the bottom of a coat closet is the coolest place in your house, keep wine there, by all means, but don’t keep it too long.

>Trimbach Pinot Blanc 1998. The Trimbach family has been making wine in Alsace since 1626, even before the Hugels. This brassy-gold example, however, was around the bend, displaying petrol, caramel and treacle, limp acidity and general tiredness.
Imported by Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines (now Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines), New York.

>Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc 1998. Medium gold with slight green highlights; fairly clean and fresh, yellow plum, pear and quince; losing body and tone, but acidity still crisp and vibrant; touch of spice; not bad, but certainly drink quickly. Very Good.
Imported by Maison Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Cal.

>Kientzler Riesling 1998. Bright yellow gold; roasted peach and pear, ginger, orange marmalade; quite dry, in a way that drains energy from stone fruit flavors, still, pretty tasty; not much vibrancy or resonance, clearly at the end of its days, yet not undrinkable, even enjoyable. Very Good.
World Wine Imports Inc., Atlanta.
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Image of Jean Hugel courtesy of hugel.com.
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