There is no other wine-producing region in the world that produces such tremendous food-friendly wines that are as value driven. Unfortunately, the wines are relatively unappreciated by the bulk of the wine drinking population. Our mission today is to change this dynamic. Our guest today is Etienne Hugel, the 12th generation owner of Hugel wines. He is not only among the most charming men in the industry, but also his family makes extraordinary wines available at three different price points. We will discuss the primary varietals in the region and give you several different applications to incorporate these wines into your daily lives.
We can be sure that the wines from Alsace are consistently excellent because the regulatory region from France, the AOC, has rather strict guidelines. Furthermore, the area is relatively small and has a very close knit growing community. When compared to other wine producing regions of the world, these wines are a tremendous value. One should expect to pay under $23 for the entry level wines with very good, upto $40 for the next tier and between $45-$80 for most of the Grand Crus (best vineyards). There are a few wines like Trimbach’s Clos St Hune that will command prices above $100, but they are the extreme exception to what is, in general, a region that produces elegant wines at a very fair price.
Alsace has several components that ultimately shape the wines. The region borders Germany on the Rhine river and is separated from the rest of France by the Vosges Mountains. This narrow strip of land produces a long growing season where the grapes reach great natural acidity (which enables them to age for years) and to ripen fully. The wines from this region are produced dry unless they are dessert wines. Those wines are either Vendage Tardive or Selection de Grains Nobles. Indeed Etienne Hugel’s ancestor Marc Hugel wrote the rules by which VTs can be produced.
We are fortunate to have Etienne join us from his home in Alsace. His family has been rooted in the region since 1639. He addresses how Americans still have not embraced these wines. He recommends that people look for the yellow Hugel label and to try their Riesling, the Gentil and the Cuvee Les Amours. Please go to his website www.hugel.com. This may be the finest website in the wine business. It is produced in 7 or 8 languages. The site also contains beautiful pictures of the region, the vineyards, the cellars. Furthermore, there are beautiful tasting notes on all the available wines that were written by Serge Daub, World’s Best Sommelier 1989. These comments are spot on and will be very helpful in guiding your purchases.
Etienne explains that the region has charming Medieval towns, a strong Germanic influence in architecture and cuisine, and yet remains very French. Alsace is the bridge between German and France. These strong influences have made for a single, richer culture. His family is also a part of the First Families of wines. You may learn more about this club @ www.pfv.org.
The three wines he recommends are:
We close with Etienne by discussing Vendage Tardive wines. These represent less than 2% of his production when they are made. These late harvest wines are produced when “botyritis” or the “noble rot” has set in to concentrate the sugars.
Here are a few fundamental facts about each of the 4 Noble Grapes or Varietals.
Riesling is characterized by slight floral aromas, a mid palate gunmetal sensation and universally crisp acidity. The wines are bit austere in youth. However, in maturity these show great complexity.
Pinot Gris shows a touch of peaches and apricots in its youth, a bit of smoke, but takes on some biscuit qualities in ripeness. I love its fruit density. Only in Alsace, does it take on a slightly spicy quality. Look for Pinot Grigio grown in Italy in places like Alto Adige or Pinot Gris from Oregon for interesting comparisons.
Gewurztraminer will show spicy aromas often reminding me of lychee and grapefruit. In Alsace, these vines will receive the long growing season they need to slowly yet deeply ripen. These are spectacular selections that provide tremendous value and remarkable food pairings.
Muscat is like biting into a fresh green grape or green melon. The wine often has low alcohol. The freshness of these wines has considerable appeal.
The other grapes in the region are Pinot Blanc (now the most widely planted varietal in the region), Chasselas, Auxxerois, Sylvaner and Pinot Noir. Edelzwicker are fun blends of these grapes. A “Gentil” is a blend that must have 50% of the Noble Grapes.
These wines can work beautifully with a broad selection of food items. As an apertif, they work quite nicely. Raw vegetables, pates, oysters, top neck and little neck clams, periwinkles and crab are delicious with these wines. I have seen them paired quite successfully with Nuevo Latino dishes with lighter proteins. Also consider all fresh fish items. Finally, the world of swine is perfectly suited here. The world of salumi offers perfect pairings. Sausages and brats are equally delicious.
As Dan joins us we address a somewhat challenging concept, why do some wines last longer than others? Simply put wines with a pronounced acidity will age nicely. Think of acid as the skeleton upon which the body of the wine hangs. Without it, the wines will be flabby. While Alsace wines do provide increased complexity with age, they also provide quite a bit of drinking satisfaction upon release.
In addition to the beautiful wines from Hugel also consider a few others.
2. Domaine Weinbach
3. Marcel Deiss
5. Domaine Zind Humbrecht