At Riquewihr – a miraculously intact medieval village with a pop-up picture-book prettiness – vines clamber up a steep south-facing slope, Schoenenbourg, acclaimed for its grand cru riesling, then spill over the lower undulating clay marls of Sporen – gewürztraminer country. Riquewihr is in the heart of Alsace and attracts thousands of tourists a day, many from Germany, which is just a few kilometres away across the Rhine. The Hugel (“U-ghal”) family has made wine at Riquewihr since 1639. Now in the hands of the 12th generation – marketing director Étienne Hugel, his production director brother Marc and their cousin Jean-Philippe, the financial director – Hugel exports 80% of its output to over 100 countries, including New Zealand.
“Our home market is dominated by cheap wines sold in supermarkets,” says Étienne. “Most of France’s top wines go overseas.” If you wander the cobbled streets of Riquewihr in October, past colourful, timber-framed 16th-century houses with overhanging gables and geranium-filled courtyards, the aromas of fermenting grape juice fill the air. Wineries are not confined to the edge of suburbia or an industrial quarter, as they often are in New Zealand. Hugel’s 200-to-300-year-old winery is practically on the main street, the Rue du General de Gaulle. There are no solitary houses in the countryside; apart from the daily vineyard routines, everyone lives, works and sleeps in the town. In the multitude of restaurants, food is reasonably priced – €18 (less than $30) for three courses of traditional Alsace cuisine. Wine is also good value – €6 (less than $10) for a glass of grand cru riesling.
Hugel Riesling 2010
From 30-year-old vines at Riquewihr, this is a powerful dry style of riesling with mouth-filling body and strong, peachy, slightly spicy flavours, ripe and rounded. From a notably dry low-cropping season, it should flourish for a decade. $36.95 (4.5/5)
Hugel Gentil 2010
Delicious now, this is a traditional Alsace blend of several varieties: pinot blanc and sylvaner for their refreshing character; pinot gris for body; riesling for finesse; gewürztraminer for spice; and muscat for grapiness. It’s a mouth-filling, vibrantly fruity bone-dry wine with a slightly earthy streak and great drinkability. $29.95 (4/5)
WINE OF THE WEEK:
Hugel Gewürztraminer 2009
Alsace in a glass. Exotically perfumed, weighty and well-rounded, it offers delicious peach, lychee, ginger and spice flavours, dryish and deep. $47.95 (5/5)