Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Bar-Roque: Stéphane, His Mom, Two Hugels and Me (and Fifty Guests...)

The Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society reconvened at Bar-Roque Grill on the 11th of January to welcome back to Singapore Etienne Hugel, 12th generation proprietor of Hugel et Fils, and his freshly minted wife, Kaoru Hugel, the Asia ambassador for Govino (the award-winning, durable, shatterproof, stemless wine glasses).  

As well as celebrating the Hugels' return to our sunny island, we gather to toast their recent marriage as well as the Society's first anniversary.  With the support of Hugel's exclusive importers Monopole, Etienne had eight vintages specially shipped over for this auspicious occasion, a super treat for members.  And to top it all off, we had La Mère Istel, Sabine, helping her son Stéphane in the kitchen!  This is apparently a very potent alignment of factors, because we had 50 attendees, the first time we have broken the half-century for a Society gathering.  The English batsmen would have been proud!

Pictures in this post are courtesy of Professor Roland Yap.

The Alsace Corkscrew Man, by Ralph Steadman
What better way to start than a welcome aperitif of 2012 Gentil (a blend of Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc, along with a majority percentage composed of Alsace's noble grapes: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat), served in Govinos and consumed on Bar-Roque's terrace bar?  Of course, no aperitif is ever served at Bar-Roque without its signature tartes flambées.

There is something, a little je ne sais quoi about the tartes flambées today.  They taste crisper, more vibrant, more alive!  It certainly isn't the alcohol because I'm still on my first glass of Gentil.  Co-owner / GM Kori Millar tells me later that for today, they have added more gruyère cheese to the base, and the tartes been left in the oven for longer to properly crisp up.  OK, je sais maintenant.  Delicious.

After introductions, we herd the crowd back into the restaurant proper.  We commence formal proceedings with a vertical of Hugel's Jubilee Rieslings, from the slopes of the beautiful Grand Cru Schoenenbourg (NB the background photo to this blog was taken from the Schoenenbourg when I visited the Hugel vineyards in 2011).

For me, the 2001 was the wine of the flight, drinking beautifully now with aromas of toast and dark honey and a finish that just seems to linger.  The 2005 is already very forward; I'm not sure if it is the warm vintage, or perhaps bottle variation, but I would drink up over the next couple of years.  I have followed the progress of the 2007 over the last three years, and it has blossomed from an awkward, blushing teenager to a beautiful, but still slightly insecure, young woman.  A couple more years will see it reach its marvellous potential, and it has the acidity and legs to carry it for another decade after that.

First Course: Salt-Baked Tarakihi Fish, NZ Clams, Choucroute, Fingerling Potatoes

Stéphane used daikon and cabbage as the base for his homemade choucroute.  The fish is moist and sweet, firm yet flaky, while the daikon choucroute melts in the mouth, a very different experience to the traditional cabbage.  I found the clams slightly overcooked, however, the sole disappointing note in an otherwise good dish.  And it goes without saying that the Hugel Rieslings were most congenial companions!

Main Course: Veal Bouchée a la Reine a l'Alsacienne, Spaetzle with Bacon and Mushrooms

Stéphane's rendition of a mutant vol-au-vent / veal blanquette in a pastry case.  Along with chunks of carrot and champignons, Stéphane reduced a bottle of Hugel Gentil into the sauce, making it "a l'Alsacienne".  He used Sabine's spaetzle recipe, which omitted the crème fraîche used in his usual recipe.  The resulting noodle is firmer, and therefore more capable of absorbing a sear from a hot pan and developing lovely caramelised flavours.  Satisfying and comforting, and a great mop for the blanquette.

Cheese Course: Two Types of Munster, Caraway Seeds, Mixed Greens

Two varieties of Alsace's signature cheese, the munster, were presented, a fresh munster-géromé (the people of Lorraine may complain at this cheese being described as Alsatian, but they can bring that complaint up with the Lorraine Society), and a ripened munster from Alléosse, the renowned affineur in Paris.  The basic géromé has a softer crust and a more tart, creamy centre.  After affinage, the crust become more solid, and the pâte takes on the riper, more pungent notes for which classic munster is renowned.  

To accompany this most Alsatian of cheese plates, a sprinkle of anise-y caraway seeds, and the spicy, fruity 1998 Gewurztraminer Hommage à Jean Hugel.  A tribute to Etienne's late uncle Johnny, the wine, a very limited release, was vinified to mark his official retirement.  The fact that Johnny didn't hang up his boots (in practice) in 1998 is no reflection on the wine, which is drinking beautifully at the moment.  All things considered, including the fact that gewurz generally lacks ageing potential and that the Hommage does not enjoy the preservative effect of high residual sugar as would a late harvest wine, this wine has matured tremendously well.

Late-Harvest Riesling Tasting, Followed by Sabine's Dessert Platter

Black Forest Gateau, Apple Pie, Kugelhopf Pain Perdu and Alsatian Cheesecake
Etienne very kindly brought along three special late-harvest Rieslings: the 2009 Vendanges Tardives, and the 1999 and 2009 Sélection de Grains Nobles.  The VT was amazing, fresh yet ripe and balanced.  The 1999 SGN was also excellent, but paled in comparison to the 2009 SGN, which was for me, the most profound Hugel wine I have ever had the pleasure to taste.  More layers than a kueh lapis, more complex than a complex number, with a finish as persistent as a hectoring mother-in-law.  Tired similes aside, this wine was frankly amazing. According to Etienne, only 700 bottles of this nectar were made, so to have three bottles flown to Singapore just for the Society was an absolute honour.

Last Words

Photo Courtesy Bar-Roque Grill
After dessert was served, Sabine took the mike for the first time, said something in French that I didn't quite catch (not too hard, actually), and concluded with a resounding war cry: VIVE L'ALSACE!!!  This was greeted by a resounding ovation and a throaty roar of approval from the 50-odd attendees.  When Sabine says it, she means it, and that is one of the reasons I love Bar-Roque so much.  Stéphane and Sabine's passion for food, for the food of their region, runs so strongly in their work.  I was here recently with another large wine interest group, and while the food was still excellent, it did not have the zing, the gusto of today's presentation.

Sabine, Stéphane, me, Etienne and Kaoru: another year, another job well done!
Photo courtesy Lisa Lider
As for Etienne and Kaoru, what a magnificent showing of Hugel wines (and Govinos, which faithfully served us for certain sessions of the afternoon)!  This was perhaps the most significant line-up of Alsace wines presented in Singapore for a long time, and I can say on the Society's behalf that we are indebted to Etienne, not only for his generosity, but also his belief in us and the Asian market.  The Society owes its existence in no small part to Etienne's counsel and inspiration, and his undying efforts to promote an unpopular region in a mature but still materialistic and name-oriented market.  And for our part, I hope that Etienne's efforts start to pay off soon, for while Hugel is known as one of the big, commercial players in Alsace, the wines across their range, from the négoce offerings right up to their wonderful SGNs, are definitely worth seeking out for anyone who loves a good rapport qualité-prix in their wine.

Mille mercis, doomo arigatoo gozaimashita, Etienne and Kaoru!  Another year passes by, we get no younger, some of us get arguably wiser, but your friendship and support continue to mean the world to all of us!

Hugel wines are distributed in Singapore by Monopole:
Please check out Hugel's website: and Etienne's Facebook ( and Twitter (EtienneVT)

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