Tasting Wine with Etienne Hugel and Planet Grapes

Planet Grapes has been having a busy year (much to my delight). They’ve had winemaker visits from Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof (marvelous German Riesling), a visit from the “Bad Boy” of Bordeaux Jean Luc Thunevin, and numerous other wine events that knocked my socks off. On June 6, I had the opportunity to attend a guided wine tasting at Planet Grapes featuring five Hugel wines alongside six Planet Grapes dishes, hosted by Etienne Hugel himself.

Etienne Hugel is part of the 12th generation of winemakers for Hugel et Fils (Hugel and sons, which they are re-branding to Famille Hugel soon–his daughter may soon come on board). He is also hilarious, and full of the charming, quirky personality that comes with so many who love wine. He led the wine tasting with finesse and a slideshow. During the tasting, I was lucky enough to be seated next to him, so I was able to pick his brain!

A few things I learned

Hugel makes French whites, which are typically dry, flavorful white wines that go best with food. At the end of the event, Planet Grapes gifted participants with a wine glass and Hugel presented each attendee with a pair of Hugel chopsticks. Hugel is the “chopsticks’ favorite wine,” which means that almost anything you eat with chopsticks would go well with a Hugel wine. Think sushi, dimsum, even curry!

Hugel is known around the world, with 108 countries selling their wines (including Planet Grapes in the Philippines of course). Hugel was the first to export wines to Asia, starting with Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore in the 1950s.

All Hugel grapes are hand-picked and slow-pressed to bring out the best, most flavorful wines possible. The wines focus on longevity, challenging the notion that white wines don’t age. They use oak barrels to age their wine, only changing them every 100 years or so. They use natural Diam cork to eliminate the risk of cork taint.

Quick tip: Hugel bottles are narrow on top and wider on the bottom, making the wine warmer at the top and cooler at the base. Etienne recommends removing the cork halfway at first, then tipping the bottle upside down a few times to equalize the temperature.

Hugel vineyards are located in the “golden triangle” of Alsace, where the temperature is cool and dry (a rare combination, ideal for making wine). The slower the grapes ripen, the more flavors evolve, so the cool weather helps a long growing season, while the dryness avoids must and mold. In fact, their town contains numerous old wooden houses that are still in great condition thanks to the dry weather.

If you get a chance to visit Hugel, their tasting room is open 7 days a week, because everyday is a great day for wine.

The Wine

Hugel Jubilee

2013 Hugel Gentil

This is a sociable wine, meant to be kept in your fridge in case friends stop by unannounced. It’s the only Hugel wine that is made from a blend, and it succeeds in being both flavorful and aromatic. No single varietal overpowers the blend. The wine has plenty of citrus and acidity, with some spice and hints of pomelo.

2012 Hugel Riesling

I smelled almonds in this wine. It’s refined and elegant, with a medium nose of pears and high acid. There was a hint of lemon meringue that would be perfect with fish. In fact, this is a food-worthy wine that should be enjoyed with seafood such as sushi, sashimi or even hakaw. There isn’t much sweetness, but the acidity is balanced by flavor.

2008 Hugel Riesling Jubilee

This wine is made with fruit from top vineyards and is a little sweeter than the Hugel Riesling (although still a dry wine). It’s almost subtle as it chances from light to powerful with each sip. There is a long finish of cinnamon and vanilla, with more fruit on the mid-palate. According to Etienne, this wine can age and improve for another 20 years. It’s incredibly complex, with light aromas followed by a minerality and some hints of mandarin oranges. This was the favorite of the evening among my table-mates and I.

2011 Hugel Pinot Gris Tradition

The Pinot Gris surprised me with nutty aromas of pistachio and maybe some hints of peanut/almond/walnut. It had some green vegetable flavors on the palate and both bellpepper and Asian pear mingled to create a unique Pinot Gris experience. It wasn’t the harsh type of dry Pinot Gris, but it would still do well with something like a chicken mushroom risotto.

2012 Hugel Gewurztraminer

This one was a hit as well, with lychee aromas and tropical fruit (rambutan?) on the palate. It has surprising acid that was slightly overpowered by the fruit flavors, but that might be preferable for the Philippine palate, which has a tendency towards anything sweet. I think there were hints of guava in there too somewhere.

The Food

Planet Grapes appetizers at Hugel eventI’ve always loved the food from Planet Grapes. It gets overshadowed by the wine sometimes, but even if you don’t drink wine it’s a great place to go for a nice lunch.

The dishes we tasted alongside the dry white Hugel wines included black cod steak, salad (I love their mix), squid balls, quail eggs, Thai spiced crab cakes, dried salted fish and their Turon trilogy. Check out the full, mouthwatering menu here.

Want to Work for Wine?

I attended this event as Planet Grapes’ copywriter and consultant. They have amazing work perks, especially if you love wine. Planet Grapes has great leadership, a fun company culture and awesome wine. Visit their careers page for job openings or to send in your resume.

P.S. The opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and do not represent any of my clients’ views.

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