Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 1991
The Gewurztraminer (or perhaps more correctly, Gewürztraminer) grape is not unique to Alsace, but this region of Eastern France does seem to be uniquely identified with the variety. The vine in question has a fascinating history, and is regarded as a perfumed (or musqué - a nod to its Muscat-like scent) mutation of the Traminer variety. Traminer, an ancient variety associated with the village of Tramin in Northern Italy, is considerably less aromatic, and hence its pink-skinned derivative, with its heady perfume of rose petals and lychees, was given the prefix gewürz, meaning perfumed or spiced, as anyone familiar with the wines of the Würzgarten vineyard, on the Mosel, will be aware. Those of us who have come to wine only in the last few decades may be surprised to learn that the name Gewurztraminer was only officially adopted in Alsace as recently as 1973.
The variety tends to yield wines that are rich and golden, sometimes tinged with a copper hue, and with a heady perfume which passes into a more complex aromatic profile tinged with notes of bacon and spice with age. They can be fabulous wines, although in a style that is certain not to appeal to everybody, especially as it is a style that can be difficult to get right. The variety is prone to low acidity, and so care is required to avoid making a wine that is flabby and lacks direction; blocking the malolactic fermentation helps. Less exacting examples are often lacking in depth, providing only an unappealing soapy nose and a lean palate. Nevertheless, better producers can make exciting wines with this variety, and it has an unappreciated ability to age if it has the style - especially an appropriate acidity and balance - as well as the substance to begin with. this is particularly true of the late harvest examples, a style to which the variety would seem to be well suited, as there is no great difficulty in obtaining high must weights. The only difficulty in my experience is obtaining an aromatic profile which has complexity without an over-the-top perfume.
This week's wine, the 1991 Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive from Hugel, is one of the better examples. These are half bottles that I picked up at auction quite a few years ago now, and they continue to move along at a glacial pace. It still has a pale, mid-golden hue, and there are a few tartrate crystals swimming about in it. It has a gorgeous nose - I had forgotten just how delicious these little bottles were - being lively, evocative and inviting, showing a seductive array of aromas including baked pears, crisp pastry and little notes of bacon. The palate is bright, direct and very well defined. It has a delicious flesh, rich but well framed with structure, with pepper and bacon in abundance through the midpalate, and gentle caramel and toffee notes at the finish. Throughout the palate there is a cleansing note of grapefruit acidity and a tinge of quinine. I find depth, purity and wonderful expression here. Lovely and complex, this is a delightful wine and it continues to drink very well despite the passing years. I am fortunate that I have another three half bottles remaining in the cellar yet, which on today's evidence should serve me very well in future years. 18.5/20 (3/3/08)