The Bott Frigyes Kékfrankos is not the first wine from the Kékfrankos grape that SommSelect Sommelier David Lynch has offered but “this version from southern Slovakia,” he writes, “is one of the most elegant and perfumed expressions of the variety we’ve ever come across.”
Although the Kékfrankos grape is familiar—more so if you use its Austrian name, Blaufränkisch—the Južnoslovenská growing zone, home of Bott Frigyes, is not. Running up to the southern border of Slovakia, following a stretch of the Danube River just before it turns south towards Budapest, the Južnoslovenská (“southern Slovak”) region is well-represented by this Bott Frigyes red. Had we tasted it blind, I might have guessed top-level Oregon Pinot or maybe Cru Beaujolais from Morgon, but as it was we broke out our wine maps and hunted down Južnoslovenská in a fit of inspiration. It makes me wonder what other revelations we might be missing in this wide world of wine. If you try one bottle outside your comfort zone this year, let this be it. It is that good!
Follow the Hungarian connection and David’s recommendation: it’s a wine to enjoy this season with a comforting and saucy Chicken Paprikash. And read David’s article here.
90 points. French vintner Stéphanie Berecz worked at Disznókó before marrying a Hungarian and starting to produce wines from his family’s vineyards in 2002. Hárslevelu has become one of her specialties, as this wine shows: From a vineyard rich in loess, in Tarcal, it’s silky and broad, with a linden-leaf fragrance. The acidity feels a little edgy, highlighting some of the bitterness of the phenolics, which gives the wine the cut to match a fatty fish, like halibut.
Lónyai vineyard lies within the commune of Tarcal in Tokaj where Stéphanie Berecz and her husband Zsolt live. Its soil, made of deep loess mixed with volcanic rocks, brings a bright acidity and aromatics to the wine. It’s a very distinctive Hárslevelű built to age. Find it on our webshop and try it with a Paprika Fisherman’s Stew.
Organic. Great gruner! Walks the line nicely between a fresher, apero-style white filled with lemony zip, and a riper gruner with notes of camomile and spice on the finish. Lots going on here so let it warm a touch to benefit from the unique aromatics. Grape variety: Gruner veltliner. Residual sugar: 2.5 g/l. Serve at: 8-12 C. Drink now-2023. Food pairing idea: aperitif, white fish with herbs and lemon butter.
The wine is sourced from organic vineyards made of loess and alluvial soil near the Danube River in Kremstal, Austria. It’s complex without being too heavy. Try it now.
“In Leningrad, back in 1990,”writes Wine & Spirits Executive Editor Tara Q. Thomas, “the Georgian bars were the place to be.”
Nowadays, bars are everywhere in Tbilisi, the country’s capital, and the wines you have in your glasses “are anything but thick, semisweet reds. They come in all shades, from pale and fizzy to dark amber to bright red. They include such a panoply of grape varieties that keeping track of them makes my head swim. After 69 years of Soviet rule, the new reality, when it comes to winemaking, is that there are no rules.”
There’re indeed no rules for the Wine Thieves, a negociant company founded by three friends Avto Kobakhidze, Givi Apakidze and Zaza Asatiani except get “The finest Georgian wine ‘stolen’ for you.”. The three friends bottle and sell the wines of small family wineries with no resource to market their own production themselves.
Tara Q. Thomas gave 92 points to Wine Thieves’ amber-colored qvevri-aged Rkatsiteli:
92 Points. Avto Kobakhidze and Givi Apakidze worked with a grower in the village of Kachreti for this rkatsiteli, fermented and aged in qvevri with skins, and stems for about six months. Marigold-yellow, it’s a meaty, earthy wine with a beeswax density to its texture. While the initial impression is tannic and dark, a vivid acidity emerges, bringing freshness to the roasted-orange flavors. It’s large-boned and vibrant, a white wine that will hold its own next to game birds or a creamy mushroom pie.
The 200th anniversary of “Silent Night” is the perfect occasion to taste Austria’s sweet wines writes author Anne Krebiehl MW for the Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Trockenbeerenauslese, also called TBA, (meaning literally “dried berries selection”) is Austria’s richest, sweetest wine and is made from individually selected botrytis-infected berries. Rosenhof’s Chardonnay TBA is one of Krebiehl’s recommendations:
A smokiness lies thickly above the apple fruit notes of this heady TBA, glossing everything with a darker, brooding presence. That same smoky darkness hovers on the palate, but here the spiky, bright spur of lemon freshness breaks through triumphantly, lending drive and precision to the apricot and Mirabelle plum fruit that spreads its lusciousness across the tongue. This is rich, concentrated, intense and beautifully unusual.
For a perfect Austrian Christmassy experience, Anne Krebiehl suggests having a glass of Trockenbeerenauslese with Vanillekipferl, crescent-shaped buttery Christmas cookies with a nutty, almond flavor. Silent Night playing in the background of course.
The book Wine Grapes refers to Juhfark (Yew-fark) as “perhaps the least modern or internationally appealing of Hungarian varieties.” Sold! We now have five very different Juhfarks. Overkill? Knee-jerk buying? Blind faith? All plausible in tandem with loving to drink them.
With hindsight, these selections also represent a learning curve. Not a curve based on quality, but rather on adding or subtracting elements from this grape to better understand what the hell is going on. There’s nothing else like it Hungary or a distinct relationship to another known grape. When we first started with Fekete Béla in 2012, I couldn’t find evidence of another Juhfark ever on the market.
Somló, where the vast majority is grown and where most of ours come from, has over 1200 individual growers, just over 40 commercial producers, and the whole place is about half the size of the Jura. Not an easy maze to navigate. Now we’re encountering the grape more and more along Hungary’s Lake Balaton, Neszmély, and Etyek-Buda appellations along with southern Slovakia and Austria’s Styria.
For me, winter is arguably the best time to drink Juhfark. Part of that is that I mostly visit Somló in the dead of winter, but also because it can handle heavy foods and still be refreshing. Juhfark can range from 16% with RS to approaching acidified mineral water. The trick is taming the beast, but there’s no escaping the tart funk meets amplifying all things volcanic.
Equally important, it’s a great grape of distinction to raise for a toast and thank you all for another year of support, risk taking and my deep appreciation. Keeping this all in mind, I’d like to quickly break down these five Juhfarks:
The Tornai family has been working with vines on the crumbling basalt slopes of Somló since 1946. The 2015 is mostly fermented reductively in stainless steel and then blended with a small portion fermented in 500L Hungarian oak. Zero botrytis, zero extended maceration, and zero extended élevage. As with all Somló wines, there’s no escaping the salt, smoke and hard water, but there’s brightness, and the tart funk that makes you keep returning to Juhfark. A great introduction to the grape.
2017 Káli-Kövek Juhfark is grown near an old basalt mine (Hegyestű) only a few kilometers from the nearly 50 mile long Lake Balaton, better known as the ”Hungarian Sea.” The Mediterranean like influences from the lake coupled with volcanic soils have been yielding high quality wines here since the Romans. Almost entirely free run fermented in Hungarian oak, it then ages for 16 months in oak. Again, zero botrytis, zero extended maceration, and barely any press fraction, this almost drinks lighter than the Tornai, but the acidity, kiss of residual sugar and volcanic layers highlight how much stuffing this grape can hide in 12% alcohol.
The 2017 Kolonics (Kolo-nitsch) Juhfark brings us back to Somló. Planted in the deep basalt crumble soils of the Aranhegy dűlő, the vineyard is peppered with chestnut and walnut trees. The fruit is quickly picked, destemmed, and then basket pressed into 1500L Hungarian oak and Acacia barrels (many over 60 years old) for fermentation and aging. Here there is some botrytis, but no extended skin contact or long oxidative aging. Far more dense and structured than previous two, there’s still fresh aromatics and fruit woven into the salt and smoke.
The 2016 Apátsági Juhfark is almost picked like a late harvest and somehow comes out technically drier than the previous two wines. Perhaps it’s the farming and the moldy walls in the cellar that keeps the native yeasts going, but whatever gets so much ripe and botrytis ridden fruit to get this dry and layered is incredible. It smells like it’s going to be sweet, but then the texture and acidity make an abrupt course correction. The frost of 2016 devastated much of the harvest, so what we have are the carefully selected survivors. Less quantity but super special.
No Juhfark discussion can omit one of the icons of Somló, Béla Fekete, aka Béla Bácsi (Uncle Béla). I’d mention him even if we didn’t import his wines just for context and a benchmark in his school of thought. Now approaching 94 years old, this 2012 Juhfark marks the second to last vintage he made from start to finish. Nearing the end of an era. Picked almost overripe, no sorting out botrytis, slowly pressed, fermented and aged in 1000L Hungarian oak for 12 months, then an additional 3 years of aging in tank. This is liquid stone, spice, and everything nice. Historically the wines of Somló could be found at the pharmacy curing kidney and liver failure, anemia, digestive trouble and a variety of other ailments. Béla is the living proof in the Somló pudding.
This has been a cursory look at the grape, people, and places at best, but one of the grapes that keeps me excited about wine and constantly learning something new.
Blue Danube California Sales and Hungarian Portfolio Manager Eric Danch discusses the state of the California market, the appeal indigenous grapes, and advice for Hungarian wineries with hungarianwines.eu.
How about the beginning? How did you become a wine expert?
The beginning is a combination of living abroad for a few years (Copenhagen and Rome) and then spending 6 years working for a 3-hour European cabaret meets Vaudevillian circus called Teatro Zinanni in San Francisco. We always had dinner and wine after the show and the wine always tasted better with a good story. After working a few harvests in California as I mentioned earlier, I was very lucky to be introduced to Blue Danube Wine Co. All of these experiences share a synergy of different cultures, storytelling and personalities adding context to delicious food and wine. Hungary in particular has these qualities in spades.
We are a website to promote Hungarian wines, and of course we are the most curious about the acceptance of our wines in the USA. What are your experiences? Do your customers look for indigenous varieties?
Indigenous grapes have been the focus of Blue Danube from the very beginning. While Hungary can of course produce lovely Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and so on, we’ve been more attracted to the grapes scream Hungarian the loudest. Whether it’s the salt and brightness from volcanic soils, the spiciness of the reds, or the amazing balance of acidity and sugar, we’ve found that most US consumers are open to places they don’t know and grapes they can’t pronounce. We’ve been able to put grapes like Királyleányka, Hárslevelű, Kéknyelű, and Kövérszőlő by the glass for instance. If the story and deliciousness is there, these wines do very well.
“We wine geeks get our kicks from scarce grapes of which tiny amounts are grown, but sometimes so excited are we that we forget to consider whether the grape in question is any good or not,“ writes Budapest-based wine journalist Robert Smyth in the Budapest Business Journal after attending a wine tasting event held at the Hungarian National Museum.
But some indigenous grape varieties are truly exciting:
Imre Szakacs-Orha, an ethnic Hungarian himself, held an exciting masterclass on the Fetească Neagră grape, known in Hungary as Fekete Leányka, but it’s difficult to find. He showed a broad selection of wines made exclusively from the grape, coming from far and wide across Romania. This ancient variety is thought to originate from around the village of Uricani in the Prut River valley in Iasi county, in the historical region of Moldavia.
One of the most exciting offerings, for my money, came from an ethnic Magyar – Géza Balla, with his Sziklabor 2015. It was elegant and smooth but also deep, spicy and earthy with delicious black fruit. I recall visiting the winery, which is located in the Minis (Ménes in Hungarian) wine region, near Arad, not far from the Hungarian border, when Balla was waiting for his first harvest of the grape. It has turned out to be a great decision to plant it in the granite- and diorite-based soils.
Balla Géza farms around 120 hectares on the Western foothills of the Southern Carpathians in Romania, focusing on traditional grapes from the region such as Fetească Regală, Mustoasa de Măderat, Kadarka, Burgund Mare (aka Kékfrankos), and Fetească Neagră. The soils are granite, diorite, and mudstone, and the climate is strongly influenced by the River Mureș. His Fetească Neagră (it means “black girl” in Romanian) is naturally fermented with intensively fruity and spicy flavors, a lively acidity and round tannins.
Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey over at exoticwinetravel like to share their favorite food and wine pairings. For sure, you don’t always need a fancy dish to enjoy a delicious wine. Simple ingredients like fresh pasta and veggies cooked with pungent olive oil and spices can just be perfect:
Today’s lunch is a quick fix (so no fancy plating) of fresh #tagliatelle in tomato & leek sauce and a load of bird’s eye chili flakes. Top that off with a generous amount of some piquant and slightly green olive oil.
The @vinobrkic fresh #Žilavka is one of the best wines I’ve found for pairing with a spicy, sweet, and sour sauce. The wine offers freshness that calms the heat in the mouth and enough fruit power and floral notes to cut through the intense sauce. The acidity of both are balanced and leaves no bitterness behind. The creaminess from the wine follows through to the end.
Grown on the sun baked limestone plateaus of the Citluk wine district in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the fragrant Brkić Žilavka is full of distinctive Mediterranean flavors and summer fruit aromas, a pleasure to drink indeed!
Follow Charine and Matthew’s exotic wine adventures, their meetings and tastings with producers and watch their amazing videos here.