I had the good fortune to visit with Jean Hugel at his winery in Riquewihr with my family in September 1986. We tasted many of Hugel’s wines including his famous late harvest dessert wines, and this wine in particular. In 1986 it was superb, rich, unctuous, sweet and incredibly well balanced, and by Jean Hugel’s own words this wine would last at least 50 years and 1976 was probably the best vintage for his SGN wines in the last 100 years. I will be writing another blog in future about that visit with Jean Hugel in 1986, so for now let’s focus on the wine tasting.
Since 1986 I have tasted the 1976 Gewurztraminer “Hugel” Vendange Tardive SGN twice, once in 1995, and again in 2005 to keep track of the wine’s aging process in order to be sure I do not keep my remaining bottles too long. The wine in 1995 was very similar to when I had tasted it in 1986, but it seemed not to be as rich, thick, and sweet. In 2005 there was no real difference from 1995, still every bit as vibrant, showing no signs of aging or breaking down.
On January 2nd 2016 I decided it was time to try the Gewurztraminer again, the wine was now 40 years old and I had not tasted it for almost 11 years. On my previous two tastings in 1995 and 2005 the bottles I had opened were from the Fut 67 vat, this time I opened a bottle of Fut 28. In 1976 Hugel made Gewurztraminer SGN from three different vats, including 28 and 67, and according to Etienne Hugel who I exchanged emails with recently, the Fut 28 is richer than the Fut 67. The label clearly indicates which Fut or vat the wine is from, see the photos below:
Fut 28 has an 8,800 liter capacity, and is a huge old wooden vat that occupies center stage in the Hugel winery, and dates back 350 years, see the photo below dating to 1986 where Jean Hugel is conducting a guided tour of his winery in front of his beloved Fut 28:
In the bottle the fill was excellent, no sign of evaporation or seepage. White tartate crystals lay on the bottom. The cork came out smooth and moist, and carried the first aromas of the wine to my nose, promising great delights to follow. On the first pour into the glass the wine displayed a deep rich orange gold colour, on swirling the wine in the glass the thick viscous legs that trickled down the glass left no doubt that the wine would still be great.
On the nose the wine gave off aromas of orange and chocolate mocha, liquorice, cinnamon and roses. On the palate the gewürztraminer spice was clearly evident, although it had mellowed and settled into a more refined mix with the orange and chocolate flavours since I had last tasted it. When tasting a sweet gewürztraminer wine from Germany or Alsace, you will sometimes find the balance between sweetness and acidity is off a little, maybe even a little clumsy, because of the spicy nature of the gewürztraminer grape. It can result in an awkward off balance feel on the palate and in the aftertaste. In this case the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN has superb balance, in fact the wine has indeed lost some of its sweetness since I last tasted it 11 years ago, and if anything this has improved the overall balance of sweetness and acidity. The result is a very fine glass of wine, perfect harmony, balance, not overpowering, finesse, elegance and maturity.
The mouth feel is great, a smooth satin feel indicative of continued great viscosity and richness. The aftertaste must last for a good minute, but that is hard to tell because I found it difficult to resist the next sip. We were five tasting the wine and everyone was enchanted with the wine, and alas it was gone far too quickly. I found myself inhaling the aroma from the empty bottle, which continued to entertain my nose long after the wine was gone. It is five days later when I am writing this blog, I had corked the empty bottle and every time I remove the cork again the bottle continues to give off that same aroma of orange and chocolate mocha, reminding me yet again of that fabulous tasting experience.
The Hugel family have been producing Alsatian wines since 1639, for 377 years 13 generations of the Hugel family have grown and produced some of the finest wine in Alsace, indeed some of the finest wine in France. Their Gewurztraminer 1976 Vendange Tardive Sélection de Grains Nobles Fut 28 was produced from gewürztraminer grapes grown at their Sporen vineyard located southeast of Riquewihr. I am happy to see that this wine has settled comfortably into middle age and shed just a little of its luscious sweetness. This enhances the harmony and balance nicely. Even though this wine may continue to provide memorable tasting experiences for another 20 years, I want to ensure I will be around long enough to enjoy my remaining bottles, so I will schedule my next tastings of this spectacular wine for every 5 years now instead of the usual 10.
Etienne Hugel tells me the winery has no recent tasting notes on the 1976 Gewurztraminer SGN Fut 28 because it is becoming so rare. So if you are passionate about dessert wines, and If you can locate and purchase any of this wine at auction, you should do so, and take comfort in knowing that this wine is still in top condition, a little less sweet than when originally bottled, but still full of fruit and perfectly balanced, showing no sign of decay, aging with style. I would rate this wine 94 on 100, drink now to 2030, but check it every 5 years like I intend to do.
If you want to learn more about Hugel SGN dessert wines go to their website at www.hugel.com , and click on “The Wines”. Then click again on “Famille Hugel Selection de Grains Nobles” and you will be taken to their tasting notes and videos on all their recent vintages of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris SGN wines. The notes and videos are produced by Serge Dubs, rated World’s Best Sommelier in 1989. You will find no less than 10 recent vintages of Gewurztraminer SGN reviewed, including the SGN “S” vintages of 2000, 2007, and 2010. The SGN “S” designation indicates years of particularly ripe and concentrated grapes, an extra indication of quality and longevity. You will also find tasting notes on no less than 8 vintages of Pinot Gris SGN, including the SGN “S” vintages of 2000 and 2007, and tasting notes on no less than 5 vintages of Riesling SGN, including the SGN “S” vintages of 2000 and 2009. The tasting notes are of great value to a buyer, and motivating enough to make me want to look for some of these more recent vintages.
These are all rare wines and most will last 20 years or longer under good storage conditions. Do not expect to find these in your local wine or liquor store, if you do then you are very lucky and should buy them immediately. If you are a collector, then the best place to find these wines is at wine auctions. I will have more to say on wine auctions in future posts.