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Happy Hugel

From one of Alsace's oldest winemakers, the 2008 Hugel Gentil is pure, fruit-filled enchantment

"Rather than having on the back label this warning saying pregnant women should not do this, we should be allowed to say, 'Wine has this magic ability to make people happy and bring people together.'" This is just one of the many observations the irrepressible Etienne Hugel shared with me over a recent lunch in New York. Others touched on subjects as diverse as blogging, the French male's penchant for taking a mistress, and the popularity of Alsatian wines in Japan. Etienne's exuberance, however, is not limited to the arcane matter of back labels—it extends to every aspect of his family's successful wine business. The Hugels have been making wine in Riquewihr, Alsace, since 1639, and this longevity gives them a huge reservoir of institutional knowledge. They know which varietals to plant where, which vineyards do better in a hot summer, which in a damp September. When you combine this storehouse of experience with an unswerving commitment to quality, you begin to understand their success. Yes, everybody talks about quality, but the Hugels actually practice it. In 2006, for instance, their whole production was either declassified or sold off as bulk wine because they were dissatisfied with its quality. These attributes are particularly useful when it comes to the tricky business of blending different varietals. Most Alsace wine is sold as a single varietal—riesling, pinot gris, etc. But a small amount, known as edelzwicker, is a blend, and Hugel's version is a delight. Their Gentil 2008 ($17), this week's Wine of the Week, is pure, fruit-filled enchantment. It's a quaffable combination of bright, sparkly fruit, ripe melons and peaches, crisp citrus flavors, floral notes, and even a touch of slatey minerality. It's a real crowd pleaser and the perfect wine for a summer soirée—it will, after all, bring people together and make them happy. When to Drink: Now Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary Food Pairing: Fish, Asian foods, charcuterie, lighter pasta Grapes: Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Sylvaner Appellation: Alsace Region: Alsace Country: France Price: $17 Availability: Good Web Site:

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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