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.
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.
Image of Jean Hugel courtesy of hugel.com.
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