Posts Tagged ‘Hugel’
The noble Riesling grape variety is probably German in origin. According to Wine grapes, the name has many German synonyms and may be mentioned as far back as 1435. Certainly the variety is suited to Germany’s cold winters, hot summers and long dry early autumns. With its hard wood and late budding, it is equipped to survive the winter and it makes the most of the long ripening season to reach both sugar and phenolic ripeness. In a cool climate it needs shelter and the warmest, best drained sites.
It is no surprise then that with 22,400 hectares Germany has by far the biggest plantings in the world, followed by Australia (4,400), Alsace (3,382) and Austria (1874). After that it is small amounts in eastern Europe, South Africa, Italy, Spain and so on. For the wine lover, what makes it such an exciting variety is its ability to express the individuality of the place in which it is grown and, when treated well, its sheer quality. A fine wine supper was the ideal setting to try a selection of mainly very high quality wines as Riesling is a brilliant food wine – expressive but not overwhelming, the acidity constantly refreshes the palate.
Let’s start with our modest New World selection. Wine of the evening for value for money was undoubtedly, Zarcillo, Riesling 2012, 13.5%, £6.25 from the Wine Society. Grown in Chile’s southerly Bío-Bíó Valley it showed some real intensity on the nose, limes and exotic fruit, and then ripe apples with balancing acidity on the palate. If one is going to be critical the palate lacks the sheer excitement of most of the wines in this tasting, but then it is half the price or less than virtually all of them.
The only disappointment of the evening was Klein Constantia, Riesling, South Africa, 2010, 11%, £9.25. The wines in this tasting were so good, in a range of styles, that ‘OK’ was not really good enough. Green and grassy on the nose this was a cool climate style with ocean winds reducing the heat of the Cape. The fruit is predominantly lime with some length on the palate. By contrast, The Contours, Riesling, Eden Valley, Pewsey Vale, 2006, 13%, £14, showed all the qualities of a top new world Riesling with its fine and bold floral and mineral notes on the nose. While the Eden Valley is cool compared to the rest of Barossa, it is still a reliably warm climate and the wines tend to develop those characteristics ‘diesel’ or ‘petrol’ (choose your own fuel) notes relatively early on in their development. According to the winemaker, 2006 was a perfect year and it really showed in the floral and citrus (lime) palate and weighty palate.
From the New World to Riesling’s home in Germany. Our first choice was the classic Mosel expression of Riesling, producing low alcohol, off dry, high acidity, feather light, fruit-filled wine for which the word ‘terroir’ could have been invented. These wines do only come from the steep, blue-grey slate sun traps of the Mosel river and its tributaries. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, Mosel, J J Prüm, 2011, 9%, £18, is of course named after the famous ‘sun dial’ vineyard. It showed ripe apple and blossom aromas followed by textbook minerality, the fruit being yet more evident on the palate, the residual sugar not only offsetting the rapier acidity but conveying the fruit on a long finish. Outstanding. The wine is not cheap but then each vine has to be staked to an individual pole and worked by hand on a steep slope.
German example number two also comes from a famous, named vineyard: Rudesheimer Rosengarten Riesling Rheingau, Kabinett, Leitz, 10%, £13. This is a classic Rheingau site, again on steep slopes this time of slate and quartzite. With an average vine age of between 35 and 40 years, Leitz have worked hard with green inter-row cropping, low yields and very late harvesting to produce something exceptional even at Kabinett level. Here the fruit notes are more forward on the nose and really shine on the palate where the acidity is again noteable for its freshness, but the palate is more rounded despite the still low alcohol level and apparently drier finish. Finally we had a German example with some bottle age: Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken, Abtei St. Hildegard, Rheingau, 11.5%, 2002. Medium minus intensity green-gold in the glass, powerful nose of pleasant petrol/ mineral but then honey and apple on the palate. Over the years this had developed a fully integrated harmoniousness which is difficult to describe. We could go off into a mystical flight with Hildegard (twelfth century saint whose Abbey this comes from) but we will leave it there …
But it is not just Germany that can do great Riesling in Europe, there is Alsace and even Austria too. Our Austrian example was of the highest quality, with a modest nose at the moment but remarkable concentration on the palate, which is only going to get more complex, with mouth-filling volume. From the Wachau region, this was Riesling Smaragd Loibner Steintal, Pichler, 13%, £33, expensive (Austrians are prepared to pay top prices for their best wines) but very impressive.
The Alsatians in our tasting are better established without the same strong domestic market and so are better value – despite all being Grand Cru. Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg, Kuentz-Bas, 2008, 13.5%, £23 showed impressive elderflower and ripe apple and melon, plus some rich lees-related flavours. Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg, Blanck, 2000, 13% was wittily described as a lawnmower wine: petrol fumes, honey, weight in the mouth, and honeysuckle flowers from having run into the flower bed. Finally there was the more prosaically labelled Riesling ‘Hugel’ 2005, which was all honeyed fruit, some fine residual sugar and very good length. Hugel have been a voluble critic of Alsace’s overgenerous distribution of the Grand Cru desigation to less than great vineyards and so they don’ t use the term, even though the fruit here comes from the Schoenenbourg vineyard.
While all these Alsace wines are either dry or off-dry, there are also medium sweet and sweet styles too. The wines above with prices given were bought for this tasting, the ones without prices were brought my fellow tasters including the very generously shared: Hugel, Vendage Tardive 1996, 12%. Harvested on 14th and 17th November seventeen years ago, this comes from tiny yields (22hl/ha) and has nearly 25g of residual sugar – sweet but not overly so. While the classic botrytis notes were not that pronounced, the wine still tastes young with brilliantly sharp fruit. Again, from the Grand Cru Schoenenburg vineyard but not labelled as such.
Our selection was bit old world oriented – no Great Southern from south west Australia, no New Zealand and so on – but nonetheless the potential of this grape variety was there for all to taste.
The blind tasting Bring a Bottle Club has had one successful evening of Alsatian wines this year already and many us had also been to a Josmeyer tasting of great quality. So it was perhaps tempting fate to have a third go at this subject – and so it proved. While it was as usual a very enjoyable evening, there was an above average number of faulty or just less than convincing bottles – a rather characterless Pinot Blanc, a prematurely aged Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir which took a long time to come around in the glass, and two sweet wines with question marks. But it was by no means all suffering – there were also enough good examples – and fine dimensions of some wines – to remind us of the qualities of this great region.
Wine number one was a real blind-tasting puzzle – its’ white and from a famous producer, it even has some regional character in the richness of its palate but it just won’t conform to any of Alsace’s four ‘noble’ varieties or local specialities. And that’s for a good reason as it is a Vin de Table and made predominantly from … Chardonnay! Fresh, ripe apple fruit, honey, cinnamon on the nose and then ripe fruit and off dry on the palate. Good … and, for Alsace, eccentric.
Next up were a trio of wines with something in common. The first was clean but rather lacked character, delicately floral with some orange and spice notes and light on the palate. The second just didn’t seem right – something of a geranium note (lactic bacteria acting on sorbic acid apparently), and then rather mushroomy with a rich palate buried somewhere in there. The third showed the glory that can be Alsace – remarkable concentration, rich palate, some fine orange rind notes on account of bottle age, balancing acidity and excellent length. These turned out to a trio of Pinots, the first Blanc (which should have been fatter and more luscious), the final pair Gris. The real surprise was the failure to shine of the first wine from the usually highly reliable Josmeyer: Les Grand Voyageurs, Pinot Blanc, 2009. The casualty came from Kuentz-Bas, Pinot Gris 2007 and the compensating quality from Zind-Humbrecht: Pinot Gris, single vineyard of Rotenberg, 2000.
The last of the (more or less) dry whites were a contrasting pair, both aromatic but apart from that very different. The mild mineral or petrol notes and ripe apples and lime proclaimed the first to be Riesling (but then we were waiting for this to show up!), while the other really did do the textbook rose petal, tropical fruit, super rich palate, lowish acidity and full body of Gewurztraminer. The weight of the wines was markedly different, the Riesling coming over with a touch of lightness with its characteristic acidity, while the Gewurz was markedly off dry and full. But unlike lesser wines it managed to combine richness and a full body with a supreme drinkability, no mean feat. As you can see on the bottles: Riesling, Jubilee, Hugel, 2005 and Gewurztraminer, Grand Cru, Eichberg, Domaine Bruno Sorg 2008.
The Red Lion, Overton’s, superb chicken and mushroom dish accompanied the sole red of the evening which had to be and indeed was Pinot Noir. I have tasted this
wine and vintage before when it was full of crystal clear red fruit, while this was strongly vegetal and smoky, with rather unresolved grippy tannins. After a half an hour in the glass the fruit began to emerge, sweet and true, but overall this was something of a scratchy effort: Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Noir, Heimbourg, 2005.
One of the features of Alsace is its great sweet wines, either late harvest or indeed Sélection de Grains Nobles, even later harvest, higher must weight and usually botrytis affected. We were treated to one of each style of a similar age but showing very differently – even in the colour which you can just about see despite the really poor light. Those orange shades on the first of the two were a bit strange.
On the left, we have Clos Saint Imer, La Chapelle, Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer Goldert, 1999 with the orange tinge, marmalade oxidative notes, a decent level of acidity but little obvious Gewurz character. On the right, we have Cuvée Anne, Domaine Schlumberger, Grand Cru Kessler, Gewurztraminer, Selection de Grains Noble, 1998, the real deal with the lusciousness you are hoping for from SGN Gewurz, honeyed notes and a slight cardboard note which mainly dispelled with time in the glass.
With thanks to all who contributed these wines – we learnt quite a lot, we suffered a little and we had a splendid evening!
Outside of the New World with its focus on the characteristic qualities of single grape varieties, Alsace has got to be the easiest wine to taste blind. Aromatic Gewurz, steely Riesling, more neutral but classy Pinot Gris and the odd glass of Pinot Noir (which has the decency to be red), this is going to be a doddle isn’t it? Let’s see how we got on at the late February Bring a Bottle Club.
Andover Wine Friends’ March monthly tasting was ably introduced by member, Lefty Wright, with knowledge and a light touch. The tasting was arranged around the characteristic grape varieties of this northerly region, and Lefty’s commentary interspersed with local detail and reminiscence. Here’s the line up, nearly all sourced from the Wine Society.
Corked bottles continue to be a real problem. Some years ago I visited a fine new winery in Campania, Southern Italy, and over lunch in the spectacular winery restaurant had a corked bottle. I didn’t think about it anymore until at dinner we ordered the same wine in a local Naples trattoria and it was corked, as inviting as a wet blanket. The waiter replaced it without fuss. He asked asked if we wanted something else instead and we said ‘no’, we would like another bottle of the same. However, the next bottle was corked too. That was three in a row of the same bottle, so clearly there was a batch problem. We then accepted the offer of different bottle and believe it or not, it was also corked … we drank that one and looked forward to the day when this problem is either solved or all everyday bottles are under screw cap.
Another member of one of our local tasting groups, a professional, tells the story of being served a corked wine in an expensive, wine-themed restaurant and then being told by the wine waiter that the wine was as it should be … He offered to pay for both bottles if a second was the same as the first, or, if it wasn’t, the restaurant should foot the bill. Something had obviously gone wrong with staff training on that day!
It is one thing if an everyday wine turns out to be spoiled but quite another when the wines are of a high quality and have been lovingly stored for years. A minor nuisance and the possibility of a bit of embarrassment in a restaurant is replaced by a genuine loss. At a recent blind tasting, out of ten bottles no less than three were seriously defective, two corked and one prematurely oxidised. One was the bottle I had taken, F Cotat’ s Sancerre called (appropriately enough, Les Monts Damnés) but the real loss was a mature red Burgundy of some real quality, 1996 Nuits St Georges, Chauvenet. A bottle of Condrieu was badly oxidised. This is pretty high rate of attrition, if unusual, but it shows there is a real problem.
However, wine lovers are a pretty forgiving lot and our memories of that evening will be of the splendid and varied wines that we did taste, not the 30% which on that particular evening were defective.
Four aged whites showed how difficult it is to spot white wines with bottle age. First up was a Fumé Blanc 1989 from Robert Mondavi, part of the then fashion in California to mimic the barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc of the Loire. What was striking about this wine was its continuing acidic youthfulness, despite its 21 years, even though the tell-tale gooseberry smell of Sauvignon Blanc had gone. No tertiary development but citrus fruit. An evening of coincidences continued with a wine from the same year but in a completely different, and in this case recognisable, style: Schloss Schönburg’s Schlossgarten, Geisenheim, Riesling Spätlese, 1989. A deep amber yellow in colour (just about visible in the middle picture above), this had a slightly petrolly nose with characteristic excellent acidity to offset the sweetness. Third up was the late Johnny Hugel’s Tokay Pinot Gris ‘Hugel’, from the preceding year, 1988. Unlike the Riesling Spätlese from nearby Germany, which will have been ‘stopped’ in its fermentation to preserve sweetness, this wine is produced from late harvested grapes, producing a richer, more alcoholic wine, with marked honey notes on the nose.
The final white was another treat, a mere baby of ten years but from a Grand Cru Alsace vineyard. Cave de Turckheim’s Gewürztraminer from the Brand vineyard, 2000. At this age, and with this highly distinctive grape, fruit flavours are still to the fore: lychees and flowers, followed by a lovely, luscious texture, quite substantial.
The reds opened up with a birthday wine. Some of us are slightly nostalgic about our 40th birthday and can just about remember it. I certainly didn’t celebrate it with a bottle from the year of my birth, but then you wouldn’t as I am not a ‘good year’! By contrast, Ch. Leoville La Cases 1970, from St Julien in Bordeaux, was mildly clovey, medium weight, with acidity to the fore despite its age, with smooth tannins. Happy Birthday, David! You are wearing a lot better than the label on the bottle.
The final two wines were split by supper. First the rarity from South Africa, Rust en Vrede, Stellenbosch, 1999, an estate blend which is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. Clearly a warm climate wine, with lots of burnt, toasty notes, dense fruit, even a bit of sweaty leather (in a nice way of course) and rich. Bringing up the tail was the baby of the bunch, Casavyc’s Morellino di Scansano 2007, which foxed most people with its densely textured, complex and slightly olivey cherry-to-plum fruit. Its made mostly from Sangiovese but grown in a warm climate in Southern Tuscany, plus the local varieties, Ciliegiolo, Malvasia nera and Alicante. It comes from a very young winery which Janet and I visited in the summer (click here) and stood up well in this exalted company. So who remembers the corked bottles now?