Famille Hugel: The 2015 Riesling Séléctions de Grains Nobles S and 2014 Riesling Grossi Laüe


Jean-Frédéric Hugel paid a brief visit to London to launch a brace of late-release Rieslings. One from the 2014 vintage, from their top site Grand Cru Schoenenbourg. While the 2015 has already been released, this is the first vintage in which Hugel finally uses the grand cru designation rather than their Alsatian dialect term Grossi Laüe. Hugel noted that “it is more and more this type of vintage that produces the most age-worthy wines,” referring to the cooler 2014. “We thought 2014 would be a wine that would need 10-15 years, but it is opening very nicely now.” It was aged for eight years, and half of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. It is a blend of four parcels: Stumpff, Hoppler Krumm and Schoenenbourg Derrière. Hugel reminded me that 2014 was the year when the arrival of an invasive alien insect, Drosophila suzukii, a Japanese spotted-wing fruit fly, made headlines. The insect homes in on reddish colors and is a pest not just for grapes but for fruit in general. It attacks healthy fruit by laying its eggs under the skin, destroying it in the process. “Gewurztraminer was a challenge; Pinot Noir was a disaster,” Hugel said, “while the white-skinned varieties were not affected.” He noted they benefitted from a cool, late harvest that brought “concentration from late picking with high ripeness and acid.” As vintages are often generalized, 2014 thus has a poorer reputation, but those who like cooler-vintage Rieslings will find much to appreciate here, especially the fine, bright acidity that marks these wines out of the ordinary.

Hugel said less about the 2015 Riesling Séléctions de Grains Nobles S. He was succinct: “This is a monster,” he said about this bold, sweet wine. He compared this 2015 SGN to similarly long-lived wines that the estate was able to harvest in the warm vintages of 2009 and 1976. Hugel noted the quality of the botrytis was very clean: “No fuzzy mould, just an even spread of high-quality botrytis, just enough to help with concentration and not leave trace on the final product. This is amongst the finest botrytis of the decade from a place called Engelskritt.” Indeed, the wine tastes far more of Riesling than of botrytis but has the concentration only this kind of benign kind of fungal corruption can bring.

Both are late but current releases.

Hugel switched to using the conventional Grand Cru nomenclature in 2015, making the 2014 Riesling from Schoenenbourg vineyards the last time he called it Grossi Laüe. An immediate lift of chamomile appears on the nose, fused with aromatic hay flowers and fragrant, ripe, yellow apple and the intense lift of dried lemon. All points to a beautiful evolution from this cooler year. The palate has an immense smoothness, an emollient texture that is absolutely aligned with a central, essential streak of 2014 acidity. The palate is slender, precise, taut and yet has Alsace richness. Beautifully straight and linear, very elegant, as befits this vintage. Very streamlined, aromatic and poised. 95/Drink 2023-2050.

The 2015 Riesling Séléctions de Grains Nobles S comes from the Engelskritt parcel in Grand Cru Schoenenbourg, on its gypsum, marl and limestone soils. The nose is immediately ethereal, clearing sinuses with its immense concentration of dried lemon peel and pure lemon oil, edged with freshly crushed wild thyme. More air and temperature allow hints of honey to come forth alongside lemon-edged, golden apple peel. The palate is luscious, with immense clarity and luminous acidity. It presents Mirabelle compote, the ripest fruit cut with racy citrus. There are edges of evolution: the merest hint of truffle and a lovely, stony limestone depth. This is a citrus-driven wine with herbal and citrus lift. The purity of the botrytis is astonishing; the finish is exquisitely long and absolutely balanced. Intense and bold, yet elegant. The 195g/L residual sweetness is countered by 8 g/L of acidity. 97/Drink 2023-2070.

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