Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 10

10 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Riesling. I’ve been waiting for this Advent moment. In his delightful book “Reading Between The Wines”, Terry Theise proposes that Riesling is the greatest of all wine grapes, stating that nothing else so perfectly captures the essence of the land. Riesling is said to repress its own very nature in favour of serving as a pure conduit through which soil, climate, sunlight, farming practices, and the like can shine through: a changeling that mirrors the terroir. I’m not entirely sure about this, as I find Riesling pretty distinctive on the palate heedless of the wine region. Perhaps I’m being overly analytical. The sentiment is beautiful, and such a grape-land symbiosis likely fuels the ability to great Rieslings to provide a spiritual experience (if you believe wine can do such a thing… And I do).

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Alsace Rieslings typically have less floral character than their German counterparts, often showing rather firm and lean in their youth. In the best vintages this austere baseline eventually blossoms into wines that can seem rather rich and “big”, but able to reflect vineyard character as adeptly as their German counterparts. Alsace is the driest wine region in France, far away from maritime influence and with the Vosges mountains providing further shelter. This warm, dry climate allows grapes to ripen slowly, yielding good aromas but not at the expense of acidity. Many top producers consider Riesling to be the most noble of the Alsace noble varieties, albeit one that can be difficult to work with due to its late-ripening proclivities and aforementioned responsiveness to site variation. Unlike the soft and immediately aromatic Gewurztraminer, Alsace Riesling requires patience, a dedicated cellar master with a fine attention to detail in the vineyard but a corresponding savvy around what to leave well enough alone during the winemaking itself. Enter the Hugel family.

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The most famous producers in Alsace, the Hugel’s roots in this region run as deep as those of the vines they tend. Hans Ulrich Hugel settled in the Riquewihr in the 1600s, a region oft-cited as producing the “most noble” wines in Alsace. The estate has been in family hands ever since, with current generation Jean-Philippe, Marc, and Etienne operating according the “golden rule” of the estate: “the wine is already in the grape”. Meticulous sorting is the first step in a process that seamlessly melds technical precision and a respect for tradition. These guys use gravity presses only, with no violent pumping of the juice, and own many oak casks that are over a century old. However, in the quest to preserve all-important varietal aromas, temperature control is meticulous. The Hugels leave little to chance, but their touch is deft and gentle. I am an unabashed Hugel fanboy but will endeavor to preserve some scant degree of objectivity during this tasting.

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Cork Rating: 5.0/10 (Good graphics… Perhaps kinda blocky.)

As the moniker suggests, the Hugel Estate wines are made only from grapes that hail from the family’s own vineyards. The Estate Riesling derives from various plots that have been largely converted over to organic viticulture, with a predominance of distinctive marl soil in and around Schoenbourg. Marl is a clay-limestone admixture typically associated with bold minerality in both red and white wines. Here the goal is to preserve regional character using minimal mechanical intervention, temperature-controlled vats, a single racking followed by settling to clarify the wine over winter, and lastly a gentle filtering before a pre-release rest in bottle. There is indeed an undercurrent of chalky, fizzy minerality here, one that integrates with bright lemon, lime, grapefruit, and tangelo citrus to yield a smoothie-like effect. This is not pleated layers but rather a dollop of sunny yellow peach, green papaya and mango, dandelions, golden apples, and accents of almond, carnations, and white tea. “Dollop” may not do this adequate justice, but this wine does make a unified, powerful impression skewed towards bright fruits and a burgeoning floral bouquet rather than stark rocks. Very harmonious; one does not have to search too deeply or dredge around too much to appreciate the  generous character. I’m looking for more acidity, however. Soft and broad, perhaps needing a touch more elegance not to mention less time in the bottle… I’d like to try this a year ago. But then again, not every Riesling should be the same.

88 points

 

 

 

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