Tasting With Etienne Hugel In Sri Lanka


 

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I never though I would run into Etienne Hugel in Colombo.

It all started with an e-mail from David Ling in the Hugel office in Riquewihr, Alsace. “I did not want to waste any time in telling you that Etienne Hugel and his wife Kaoru are in Sri Lanka at this moment, visiting Rockland, so you never know, you might run into them!” David wrote. Surprisingly, an invitation to a ‘Wine Evening’ at the Galle Face Hotel that day, arrived almost at the same time, from Rockland – the local Hugel agents.

The Hugel family has been making quality wine in Alsace since 1639. Etienne is one of three members of the Hugel family—12th consecutive generation—currently running Hugel et Fils. I source Hugel wines for the members of the Harrogate Medical Wine Society and visit the producer whenever I am in Alsace.

The venerable Galle Face hotel has been undergoing renovations for nearly one year but has managed to retain its considerable charm. I watched the sunset from the Tea Terrace before going down to the wine cellar where the tasting was to take place. Amal de Siva Wijeratne, the charming, unassuming and immensely likeable managing director of Rockland was there to welcome the invitees, mainly from the local restaurant trade. A uniformed waiter poured glasses of chilled Hugel Gentil. Etienne walked down the stairs to the cellar and was for once speechless on seeing me. The shock wore off and we chatted about old times and drank more Gentil which Etienne has always been keen to promote.

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The Power-Point presentation was short and Etienne talked about Hugel et Fils and the three wines on show – Gentil, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, the wines sold by Rockland in Sri Lanka. The bone dry Gewurz. is appealing and not surprisingly, locals find it ideal with the spicy cuisine of the island. The wines were served with three cold and three hot snacks, lobster, crab, vegetables, spicy noodles, quail breasts and pink and tender cubes of lamb with a pumpkin sauce.

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I chatted with Dharshan Munidasa who runs three celebrated, high end Colombo restaurants – The Ministry of Crab, Kaeme Sutra and Nihonbashi, reputed to be the finest Japanese restaurant in Sri Lanka. We talked about food and wine and the Colombo restaurant scene. “My best selling sparkling wine is Chandon” he said. This is made by Moet in India. I tasted it a few weeks ago and did not find it appealing. “People drink a lot of Laurent-Perrier too with crab” he added and left before the tasting proper started.

Faizal Sherfdeen and his charming Japanese wife run Poppy Hana, another Colombo Japanese restaurant. Faizal asked me to visit their restaurant. “I don’t know much about wine but you will have great Japanese food with us” he said.

Amal, the Rockland CEO who visits London frequently, promised to meet me next time he is there. “If you bring members of the Harrogate Medical Wine Society to Sri Lanka, I will arrange a private visit to see Toddy Tapping, an Arrack distillery visit followed by an Arrack dinner” he said.

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Mr. & Mrs. Sherifdeen

The chatting, snacking and drinking went on late into the night. For most, it was a social event than a formal tasting. Etienne beamed. “I will be off to the Maldives in two days and then to Japan but will see you in Alsace in October when you visit Hugel” Etienne said before leaving.

Next morning I received an e-mail from Etienne with the photo (below) he got one of the waiters to take with his iPhone. “Here we go, in Colombo colours” he wrote. “Great we all connected.”

It certainly was.

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COMMENTS VIA E-MAIL

  • “Hugel wine in Sri Lanka with the fish and sea food would be really lovely.” – Dr. Stephen Cameron, Pick Hill, 1 March
  • “Fantastic read” – Richard Fox, Harrogate, 2 March
  • “Very Nicely done – thanks a lot.” – Amal de Silva Wijeratne, CEO Rockland, Colombo, 2 March

SEE ALSO “DINNER WITH ETIENNE HUGEL”

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