Following on from last week's exceptional tasting of Ruinart Rose, I managed to inveigle myself into yet another truly fabulous vinous experience courtesy of the Hugel et Fils estate in Riquewihr (my recent plea that ‘I don’t do this sort of thing every day’ is starting to look rather thin, I confess). This was a truly special experience: the tasting was held in the magnificently-aspected "Li Room" at the Shangri-La in the Shard (34th floor), and not only did we have the pleasure of three generations of the Hugel family to present to us, but we were also tasting, for the first time, the family's first new wine in over 20 years. Schoelhammer is a tiny plot within the larger Schoenenbourg vineyard, right in the centre at mid-slope and planted exclusively with Riesling. Schoenenbourg was recognised as far back as the 1600s as the best vineyard in the region, and the Schoelhammer plot, a mere 30 rows across 6300m², has always been considered an exceptional site – traditionally it was included in the flagship Jubilee blend which took the best grapes from the Schoenenbourg. With the 2007 being the first vintage bottled separately, this is a landmark for the Hugels and boy oh boy, was it worth waiting for...
In order to set us up for tasting this ‘new’ (albeit almost 8 year old) wine, we tasted three fine current releases across the Hugel range of Rieslings: the Classic 2013, Tradition 2011 and Jubilee 2010. We then moved onto the main event before the main event, as it were: the three Rieslings made in the first year that each member of the family present worked in the estate. For Jean Frederic, this meant the 2009 Riesling Jubilee; for Etienne, the 1983 Riesling Reserve Personelle; and for Andre, two magnums from the last case in existence of the Riesling Reserve Exceptionalle 1953. These would be followed by the inaugural tasting of the 2007 Schoelhammer.
This event was more than just a mere tasting, however. It was a rare and special experience to sit with some of the great and the good of the wine trade (still not sure how I got in) and hear, from all three generations still alive and working at Hugel, of the fascinating and complex history of Alsace, the estate, the vineyards, the family. This was a precursor the announcement of the ‘tweaked’ label design and, more significantly, the change of name from ‘Hugel et Fils’ to ‘Famille Hugel’ – a name which feels entirely appropriate given the spread of family members throughout the business. All in all, it felt like one of those moments, high up above London on a stunning Spring afternoon, which we would all remember clearly and fondly – a moment of quite private magic. It was a privilege to be there.
The tasting began with me pouring most of the contents of a rather over-filled bottle of Shangri-La water all over my lap. A great start. Things could, and surely would, just get better from there.
Riesling Classic 2013
Tropical and citrus - guava and passion fruit blended with grapefruit. Pear drops. White flowers. Vibrant, immediate mineral. Mouthwatering. Lime up front. Then flint, white chalk, followed by passion fruit. Acidity maintained. Finished bright and long, with piercing freshness. Mineral comes back at the end.
Riesling Tradition 2011
Flint and lemon on the front end. Deep, slate character. Touch of guava. More viscous mouthfeel, soft, rounded and subtle. Toasty lemon, lemon biscuit, and then the slate comes though. Drying minerality. Green olive skin. Subdued power.
Riesling Jubilee 2010
Introverted. Requires coaxing. Deeper, richer than the previous two - more baked apple, lemon pie, honeysuckle, lime and coconut. Gorgeous rich lemon tart, incredibly bright, fresh and vibrant. Acidity holds everything together and is the lifeblood of this wine. Lifted and tight. Less slate and mineral, more purity of zesty fruit.
Riesling Jubilee 2009
Brighter than the 2010. Also more mineral - wet slate and flint. Rich tropical fruit lies hidden beneath fresh lemon and grapefruit. It's very complete but there is a lot to be given up here. Beautiful harmonious palate. Ripe and clean with beautiful mango and melon, almost a hint of wild raspberry, fresh lemon, pith and skin - bitterness balances with tropicality. Acidity holds up the rich fruit flavours into the long finish. Citrus comes and goes, slate pops up now and again. Complex. Excellent.
Riesling Reserve Personelle 1983
Smoke, ginger biscuit and fruitcake. Immediate acidity is remarkable - fresh and bright. The richness of mid palate is baked lemon, mineral - real slate character, drying and persistent. Like fruitcake without the sweetness! Bready, yeasty, rich but bone dry. Like a great dry amontillado. Fascinating.
Riesling Reserve Exceptionalle 1953 (magnum)
Colour is golden but not browning at all. This has been recorked twice. First nose makes you double take - fresh mint, straight from the garden! Smoke, wet chalk, yeasty. Toffee. Spice. The faintest hint of toasted lemon. Incredible rich palate, still fresh and balanced, with vibrant acidity through lemon and straight into toffee, cooked mango, orange zest, baked bread. Acidity holds it up. Finish continues with ginger biscuit and sourdough. Slate and chalk comes through. Finish is amazing, dry, vibrant, savoury. A second magnum which seems a little better, or certainly clearer and less oxidative - it's fleshing out like a Gewürztraminer - becoming more floral, peachy, bitter, full. This is a sensation.
Riesling Schoelhammer 2007
So tight and closed for a wine at 7 years. Lemon, marzipan, tangerine, pear drops and white flower. Starts to show minerality with time and swirling. Wet chalk, shortbread. Dense, real weight, incredible concentration. This is incredibly tight and focused - so much potential here but very inside itself right now. Lemon, grapefruit, sherbet gives up a hint of residual sugar. Incredible energy but you will have to give this a decade at least. You will be glad you did. The finish is rich and thick unyielding, vibrant, bitter, complex... You can see why they waited so long to release a new wine when it's this good. Like a new Elbow album – you always have to wait a while, but it’s worth waiting for.
Huge thanks to Andre, Etienne and Jean-Frederic and the folk at Fells for setting this up and inviting us to this unforgettable event.