Hugel & Fils – an Alsace producer that is reliably dry and constantly yellow

Hugel’s tasting room in the middle of Riquewihr. They’ve been located at this address since 1902. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (my own photo from 2007).

Hugel & Fils is a classical Alsace producer located in Riquewihr. Their distinctly yellow labels say “Depuis 1639”. The one who founded the company this year was Hans Ulrich Hugel, the initials of whom can still be found in their logotype, based on a sign located outside their house since the 17th century.

Jumping ahead in history, it’s impossible not to mention Jean “Johnny” Hugel (1924-2009) who for decades was the most prominent spokesperson for Alsace wine abroad, and an important figure in the quality increase of this wine region in the postwar period. He was the driving force behind establishing separate designations for late harvested Alsace wines, Vendange Tardive and Sélection des Grains Nobles. These designations were formalised in 1984. He also participated in the early stages of establishing the grand cru classification in Alsace, but left when that work took another turn compared to his wishes.

The own vineyards of Hugel consist of 27 ha (67 acres), and are located in the Riquewihr area, of which about half is grand cru vineyards. On top of that, grapes are purchased from 100 ha vineyards owned by contracted growers in a dozen villages. Annual production is about 1.3 million bottles, and about 90% is exported, which is a very high proportion.

Riquewihr seen from above, from the top of the Schoenenbourg vineyard, where Hugel grows their best Riesling. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (photo Adam Baker, 2006, originally from Flickr).

Hugel and grand cru

Just as several of the other traditional Alsace wine houses that both have their own vineyards and use purchased grapes, Hugel has shown a certain skepticism towards the grand cru system. They don’t use the grand cru designation or vineyard namez on their labels, although their best wines only come from their own grand cru vineyards.

There are wine writers who have opined that this is because the grand cru classification favours the vinyard owners rather than the wine merchants/négociants, and that the latter prefer to focus on their own designations or brands, and their own ability to choose the best grapes to their own top wines. Hugel themselves have always pointed out that their skepticism stems from their opinion that the grand cru system wasn’t given a strict enough implementation when it was created, and that vineyards that wasn’t really top class were merged into more well-known neighbours under the name of the latter. On their website, they mention Sporen, the source of their best Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, as an example. Until the 1970s, Sporen consisted of 4.84 hectares in the real estate register, while the grand cru classified vineyard of today covers  23.70 ha. The criticism of Hugel is credible since Jean Hugel was deeply involved in the early parts of the efforts on the grand cru system, but then left the work.

A certain difference in opinion in recent years can be noted, because nowadays they always mention that the vineyards are grand cru, although they don’t indicate this on the labels.

Reliably dry wines

Hugel is one of the Alsace producers where the wines that are traditionally been dry, really are dry. Therefore, the level of sweetness/dryness in a Hugel bottle never comes as a surprise, although they never use a sweetness scale on their labels. On their website, they do however have very detailed descriptions and fact sheets for their wines, including an archive that stretch a number of vintages back in time, so anyone interested in detailed information can find what they want.

Although reliably dry in the regular part of the range, Hugel has a strong tradition of producing wines with residual sweetness, but then under designations indicating that the wines i more or less sweet: Vendange Tardive and Sélection des Grains Nobles. So those wines that aren’t dry are clearly indicated to be something else.

Labels of the three dry levels of the Hugel range – Hugel Classic, Tradition, and Jubilée – and a Vendange Tardive. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons (my own photo, 2009).

The range consists of the following levels:

  • Dry wines at three levels of quality:
    • Hugel Classic – the entry level wines. The labels indicates the grape variety or the name of the blend and “Hugel” (but not the phrase Classic, but this is what they call these wines themselves). Produced from purchased grapes from the Riquewihr area.
    • Tradition – the mid-level wines. The label indicates the grape variety and Tradition “Hugel” in a dark field. The grapes are partly from their own vineyards, from the Riquewihr area.
    • Jubilée – the top-level wines. The label has a wider gold border at the top saying Jubilée Hugel. The grapes come from grand cru vineyards: Riesling from Schoenenbourg, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer from Sporen, and Pinot Noir from Pflostig (exists in two versions, one regular and one from a specific part of the vineyard with the additional name “Les Neveux”).
  • Off-dry to sweet wines exist under the two common designations and one of their own. The grapes come from the same vineyards as the Jubilée wines.
    • Hommage à Jean Hugel. The label carries this text in a wide yellow border on the top. In terms of grape maturity, residual sweetness and price, these wines are between Jubilée and Vendange Tardive. The wines fulfill the minimum requirements for a Vendange Tardive, though. They were produced in the vintages 1997 and 1998 to celebrate Jean Hugel’s 50th vintage and his retirement, respectively, and I’m unsure if any more vintages will appear.
    • Vendange Tardive. Riesling VT isn’t too sweet at Hugel, while Pinot Gris VT and Gewurztraminer VT has a higher sweetness.
    • Sélection des Grains Nobles. Also an “extra heavy” SGN with the additional designation S is produced in some vintages.

Hugel is a member of Primum Familiae Vini, an association of twelve family-owned and high-class wine producers.

Wines tasted at the Alsace Wine Day

Hugel was present at the Alsace Wine Day in Stockholm at the end of January this year, and the tasting notes below originate from that tasting.

Alsacedagen 20140127 Hugel

2012 Gentil “Hugel”
A blend of 41% Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc, 23% Pinot Gris, 20% Riesling, 14% Gewürztraminer, and 2% Muscat.

The nose is discretely perfumed with apple and mineral. The palate is dry with mineral and good acidity. Discrete style and fine balance, 86 p.

Gentil is Hugel’s own designation for a blend that includes a high proportion of the “noble grape varieties”. They used the designation already at the beginning of the 20th century, but this wine was (re)introduced in the 1992 vintage. An official designation for blends from Alsace is Edelzwicker, but despite the prefix Edel-, which is German for “noble”, a Edelzwicker can consist of any grape variety allowed in the Alsace appellation, in any proportion. This means that most wines carrying this designation contains nothing or very little of the “noble” varieties that are easier to sell on their own – which of course doesn’t make these blends bad wines at all. The Hugel designation is therefore meant to indicate a better wine, that in the 2012 vintage contains 59% of the four noble varieties. At least earlier, they also did a “vineyard Gentil” from the grand cru vineyard Sporen, simply called “S”, but that wine is not included in the current wine list on their website.

2011 Pinot Blanc “Hugel”
50% Pinot Blanc and 50% Auxerrois. The label also says “Blanc de Blancs”.

Nose with apple and a very discrete perfume note. The palate is completely dry with a rather stony and noticeable minerality, good acidity, and a fresh style, 86 p.

It may sound strange that a wine labelled Pinot Blanc only contain 50% of the grape variety Pinot Blanc. The reason for this is that “Pinot Blanc” from the Alsace appellation actually is allowed to contain Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir vinified white, and Auxerrois in any proportions! Usually, only Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are found in the blend, since Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are more easy to market when bottled separately. The only way to explain the connection between the label and the blend allowed is that the common designation used to be Pinot d’Alsace, meaning that “Pinot Blanc” indicates a Pinot blend that is white. Auxerrois is more spicy and has lower acidity than (real) Pinot Blanc. A plus for Hugel for telling the blend on their fact sheet, since many producers don’t tell what’s in their Pinot Blanc bottles.

2012 Riesling “Hugel”

Nose with apple, peach, rather ripe fruit, discrete perfume notes, and some mineral. Dry palate with apple, citrud, and a high acidity. Very firm and classical style, young, 86(+) p.

2007 Riesling Jubilée
From the grand cru vineyard Schoenenbourg.

Nose with ripe peach, noticeable perfume, a hint of honey, a hint of petroleum, and “smells sweet”. Dry on the palate (but not bone dry), good concentration, apple, mineral, and a high acidity. Drinks well now, but could develop more, 90 p.

2012 Muscat Tradition
60% Muscat Ottonel and 40% Muscat à Petits Grains.

Nose with a specific sweet marmalade candy note, elderflower and fresh grapes. Completely dry on the palate with apple, some mineral, and medium acidity. 85 p.

2011 Pinot Gris Tradition

Nose with ripe apple, a hint of apricot and a very discrete spice note. The palate is completely dry and medium bodied, with apple, spice, and definitely a good acidity for a Pinot Gris. 87 p

2012 Gewurztraminer “Hugel”

Nose with lychee, rose petal, and apple – a distinct nose but discrete for a Gewürztraminer. Dry but not bone dry on the palate, good concentration, apple, discrete spice notes, some mineral, good acidity for a Gewürztraminer. 87 p.

Hugel 2009 Jean Hugel

In memory of Jean Hugel, who passed away in 2009, the neck labels of the 2009s have a different design.

2009 Gewurztraminer Jubilée
From the grand cru vineyard Sporen.

Nose with ripe yellow fruit, rose petals and perfume. A distinct nose but discrete for a Gewürztraminer, and gives a somewhat sweeter impression than the previous wine. Rather dry (but more residual sweetness impression than the previous Gewurz), palate with typical notes, good concentration, peach and honey, 89 p.

2010 Pinot Noir

Light red colour. Nose with light-coloured cherries and some spice. Palate with sour cherries, quite tart impression, rather light tannins, and some mineral. Very light and in a tart style,  84 p.

2006 Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive
From the grand cru vineyard Sporen, 108 g/l residual sugar.

Nose with honey, some spice, and dried fruit including some golden raisins. The palate is sweet (“VT+”) with good concentration, honey, medium acidity, and spice notes. 90 p.

By the way, Hugel has the most ambitious website of all Alsace producers as well as a Youtube channel. Here a presentation with Etienne Hugel (adapted for their Swedish importer):

Swedish version

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This entry was posted in Alsace, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Hugel & Fils – an Alsace producer that is reliably dry and constantly yellow

  1. Pingback: Hugel & Fils at the 2015 Alsace wine day | Tomas's wine blog

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