The Red, White, and Botrytized from Hungary, Austria and Romania

Hurricane delays and late container planning be damned, new arrivals from Hungary, Austria and Romania have finally landed in California. From out west in Sopron and Carnuntum, down in Somló and Lake Balaton, further still to Szekszárd, heading back northeast to Tokaj, and finally all the way over to Romania’s Minis region, these wines are a validation that the farming, winemaking and understanding of terroir are getting better and better year after year.

The Reds: Wetzer, Muhr-van der Niepoort, Heimann, Eszterbauer and Balla Géza

Peter Wetze looking at map
Peter Wetzer finding his Sopron vineyard on an old map

Only 10 years in, but using maps from the 1840s to find the best vineyards, Peter Wetzer’s 2016 vintage is our Hungarian foil for Cru Beaujolais. It doesn’t taste like Beaujolais, but the balance of spice, earth and structure makes the same person happy. Just about an hour north in Austria’s Carnuntum, the 2015 Samt und Seide from Muhr-van Der Niepoort has more limestone than Sopron’s slate, and is proof of how reflective of terroir Blaufränkisch can be.

Further south in Szeskszárd near the Croatian border, we finally have some Kadarka back in stock. Once the most planted red in Hungary and a muse to composers like Franz Liszt (Hungarian Rhapsodies…), it nearly disappeared during Communism. Producers like Heimann and Eszterbauer have been tirelessly working on clonal and massale selection to bring this grape back to life. Proof of Kadarka’s genetic diversity, the 2016 Heimann is impossibly light and flavorful and the 2016 Eszterbauer “Nagyapám” is dark yet light on it’s feet. Kadarka’s reach and diversity was once so vast, that it’s also called Cadarcâ in Romania. Located near the village of Păuliş, originally named “Wine Princess,” Balla Géza’s 2016 Cadarcâ (and his Fetească Neagră for that matter) is the darkest and most concentrated of the lot but still has the remarkable levity of the variety.

The Whites: Demeter Zoltán, Kikelet, Apátsági, Fekete Béla, Csendes Dűlő, Káli-Kövek, Patricius and Balla Géza

Gyula Szabo
Káli Kövek owner Gyula Szabó in the vineyard among cover crops

Starting along the northern shores of Lake Balaton, affectionately known as the “Hungarian Sea,” is where fertile soil, basalt fragments (crazy high amounts of potassium) and ripe exposures meet. In other words, bright, smoky and salty whites. On the western end in Badacsony, Csendes Dűlő has both a honeyed aromatic 2015 Hárslevelű and a razor sharp and salty 2015 Kéknyelű. A little further east and away from the water’s edge in the Káli Basin, Káli Kövek is making intensely layered Olaszrizling (aka Welschriesling). Both of his wines (2016 Rezeda and 2016 Köveskál) share a weight, roundness, saltiness, and wildflower-ness that scream Lake Balaton.

Zoltán Balogh standing
Apátsági’s Zoltán Balogh standing on a Somlói basalt wall

Just about an hour north is the hardened Basalt “witness peak” of Somló. Later picked, barrel fermented and aged, and balanced with oxidation and residual sugar, these are white wines where no red wines are necessary. The new 2015 Furmint from Apátsági is that impossible balance of picking late for concentration and still having plenty of acidity to keep the wine refreshing. From Fekete Béla (Uncle Béla), we got the very last restock of his 2012 Juhfark, Furmint and Hárslevelű. The 2013s will be ready in the Spring.

Horse plowed Szerelmi vineyard
Horse plowed Szerelmi vineyard

Back up in North-Eastern Hungary near the Slovakian border, we have some special and rare offerings from Tokaj. Benchmarks for both dry and sweet, Zoltán Demeter’s 2016 Birtok Furmint and 2016 Szerelmi Hárslevelű are the product of 20+ years of fine tuning the dry wines of the region post Communism. The Birtok (estate) comes from the Hold-völgy, Veres and Boda vineyards with a splash of aromatics from Szerelmi. The 100% Hárslevelű from Szerelmi, a mere 1526 bottle production, is something everybody should taste. Just on the other side of Tokaj Hill is the village of Tarcal and Kikelet Winery. Stéphanie Berecz has taken these loess heavy soils and made some of the most texturally elegant dry Tokaj we’ve found. Her 2016 estate Furmint has sweet acids, salt and length. We also got a small restock of her 2013 traditional method Hárslevelű from the 45 year old Lónyai and Kassai vineyards.

Harvest at Balla Geza
Harvest at Balla Gèza

Rounding out an otherwise entire lineup of dry volcanic wines, is Balla Gèza’s Mustoasa de Măderat. Light, bright, aromatic, and dry, this is one of those wines that can be on the table from start to finish and reset you in between.

The Botrytized: Samuel Tinon, Patricius, and Demeter Zoltán

Tinon Selfie
Samuel Tinon taking a selfie in front of Aszú berries

This is where things get a little preachy… Whether late harvest, dry or sweet Szamorodni or Aszú, our hope is that these kinds of wines can break free of the back of the dessert menu and work their way into pairings, as aperitifs, or with anything umami and fatty. For the light bodied non-oxidative approach, the 2016 Katinka Late Harvest from Patricius or the slightly more oxidate and rich 2016 Late Harvest from Zoltán Demeter are both amazing wines to start a dinner. The 2008 Dry Szamorodni from Samuel Tinon (aged until dry under a yeast veil, no maderisation or fortification) hints at both Sherry and Vin Jaune, but still has the honey and minerality of botrytis and volcanic soils. As for Aszú, the 2013 Patricius is again the non-oxidative approach while Tinon’s 2007 embraces it. Both have a concentration, vibrancy, and focus unique to Tokaj.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #116: doqi Mtsvane Qvevri

doqi Mtsvane Qvevri
Photo: Michael Trainor

Do the people of Georgia and Baltimore have anything in common? According to Michael Trainor @awordtothewine, they do. They’re both mentally tough and have a solid work ethic. For Michael, the doqi Mtsvane Qvevri 2014 is Baltimore’s perfect cultural fit: diverse, firm, salty, savory, yet with an elegant charm. It’s the wine to sip overlooking the harbor from Federal Hill:

Growing up in Baltimore City is akin to fermenting on the skins, seeds, and stems. Step up and you’ll find that diplomacy comes wrapped in a fist. We may have a blunt edge, but our honesty and big hearts charm.
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I’ve been thinking that childhood is fermentation for people. Fermentation in my neighborhood required that our mothers often filter our foul mouths with soap. I’m not joking. My friend’s mother made him wash his mouth out with soap. Unfortunately, he swallowed quite a bit too much and his mother had to take him to the hospital. I assure you this taught him nothing and his mouth was dirtier than ever afterwards. .
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doqi Mtsvane may have been made close 6,000 miles from my hometown, but drinking this wine I have to imagine that the people of Georgia have quite a bit in common with the people of Baltimore. They must be mentally tough and have a solid work ethic. The doqi Mtsvane Qvevri 2014 is the perfect cultural fit in Baltimore. Why? Because, this wine is diverse. It’s firm, yet has an elegant charm. It’s salty and savory. It cleanses your mouth. It’s liquid gold and transcends your local. doqi is delicious on it’s own and you could sip it while you’re working the corner or overlooking the harbor from Federal Hill. It could be consumed by in a dive bar or at a fancy dinner. Like the people of Baltimore, the juice was fermented on the skins and seeds.

Baltimoreans get yourself a bottle and grab your local favorites; crab cakes, Lake trout, chicken box, or Polock Johnny’s sausages. But honestly, my favorite pairing is still dumping a ton of @oldbay_seasoning all over a bag of salty/oily chips. We don’t get crab chips up in here (helLA) so I got to make my own.

Even if you’re not a Baltimorean, get yourself a bottle or try the brand new 2015 vintage.

And don’t forget to follow Michael on Instagram.

New Georgia

Iveri Bibineishvili
Iveri Bibineishvili (left) during harvest

In an attempt to spread our Georgian wings, we have added appellations, producers and styles. Bold, different wines of personality, tradition and irreverence that tease and challenge the palate in the best ways.

Chkhaveri Vineyard
Chkhaveri vineyard in December

First up is the tea and tobacco scented Bibineishvili Chkhaveri (impossible to pronounce) from Adjara in the south west, 5 miles from both Turkey’s northern border and the Black Sea. A numerically slight wine at 10.5% and dry, but it is compact, detailed and finely structured.

From the West where sometimes wine is made without skin contact, we have procured some lip smackingly snappy tsolikouri and a tsitska/tsolikouri blend from the Wine Thieves. Rather than stealing, this band of Georgian wine lovers and friends turned negociants are nurturing mevenakhe (vignerons) that make their best possible wines and market them under a common brand.

Paata Pataridze
Paata Pataridze

North of Imereti, from the mountainous wine region of Racha-Lechkhumi, cousins Paata and Shorena Pataridze are re-realizing their families historic role as winemakers. We imported half of the mere 350 bottles produced in 2016. The wine is mind-bogglingly smooth with delicate notes of forest fern, honey and the reddest of fruits. The 11g/l of residual sugar left after the fermentation naturally stopped, makes it an especially gentle drink.

Papari Valley is a young estate but we wager a very important one. The cellar and apartment of Nukri Kurdadze are located within the nearly 10 hectares of vines. The vineyards straddle an intersection where 3 of Kakheti’s greatest Saperavi terroirs intersect: Akasheni, Gurjanni and Mukuzani. 2/3 of their production is red and the remaining 1/3 is orange. The wines are archetypal expressions of native Georgian sorts made mostly in qvevri and never in oak.

Olaf Malver in the vineyard
Olaf Malver in the vineyard

Danieli Winery is the passion project of Olaf Malver Ph.D. and Eka Tchvritidze. Olaf is a Danish born Chemist, Eka a legendary Tushetian horse racer and trainer. Danieli “the Dane” is the baptismal name given to Olaf before he and Eka were married in an Orthodox monastery. Still in the early chapters of the Danieli project, their ambitions are to establish a world class estate based on Georgia’s noble grape varieties. The location they chose for their vineyards and winery is near the Alaverdi Monastery where they got married. The name of the nearby village Argoichki means “no hail.” Hail can be devastating in other parts of Kakheti in the late Spring, early Summer but Argoichki is in a parallel dead-end side valley, which creates a no hail zone. This terroir is famous for the Kisi grape variety, which is enjoying a resurgence after nearly disappearing during the country’s Communist period.

Lapati Pet Nat wines
Lapati Pet Nat wines

Qvevri pet-nat may sound absurdly hip but the ones made by French expatriate artists Guillaume Gouerou and Vincent Jullien are no joke. Together they have established a small but growing marani where everything is vinified in qvevri. More than half of the production is single fermentation sparkling wine. When disgorging, a substantial amount of pressure is lost. In order to mitigate the loss of CO2, much of the fermentation happens in glass. Consequently, some bottles become so pressurized that they explode. This is what the A-bomb labels make reference to. We also picked up a bit of their quite compelling carbo qvevri saperavi, Super-Ravi.

Before the new wave of Georgian wine, Aleksi Tsikhleshvili was working his vines and qvevri with an alchemist touch. However small his production, there is a palpable relationship between the man and his old-fashioned magnificent elixirs. The extended maceration whites are multi-dimensional and exotic while Jgia (also unpronounceable), an extremely rare red sort, is unusually pale and nuanced for a Kakhetian red.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #115: Miloš Rosé

Milos Rose
Photo: Marcy Gorgon

I served the Miloš Rosé 2016 for Thanksgiving last week and wow, this was one of the best pairings ever! Especially with the cranberry sauce, but also with the bitter greens, the gravy, the chestnuts, and of course the turkey.

This is a pretty hearty wine, made from old Plavac Mali vines grown on the steep terraced slopes of the Pelješac Peninsula, and it can really stand up to all kinds of richly flavored food.

This is also one of our friend Marcy’s favorite Rosés. She still remembers when we tasted it on the Mali Ston’s harbour with briny oysters:

A toast to the last day of summer with this beautiful Rosé from Miloš in Croatia. It smells like Croatia — of ancient vines in limestone vineyards caressed by sun and sea. Reminds me of the spectacular lunch in Ston we enjoyed with the Miloš brothers, our table filled with Ston oysters and other delights of the sea alongside many bottles of Miloš wine. What a day! #rosé #croatia #miloswinery #miloš #wine #bluedanubewine #plavacmali #bluedanubewine #rosèallyear

Milos Rose
Drinking Rosé with Ivan and Josef Miloš in Mali Ston

For sure you can drink this Rosé all year long. Plus now is oyster season so what are you waiting for?

#WineWednesday Spotlight #114: Kabaj Rebula

Kabaj Rebula
Photo: Patrick Ogle

The Kabaj Rebula “is not the kind you get when cross the Florida-Georgia border; the kind you buy for your Aunt Millie who puts it away in a cabinet never to be looked at again.” For writer Patrick Ogle over at Surprising Wines, this orange wine is for adventurous palates.

Giving white wines extended skin contact is something you see more of these days. It is a tough wine. It gives you the bird the whole time you are drinking it. Out of the bottle Rebula is tight even on the nose. It has an almost candied citrus peel nose with a bit of honey, but a honey with flowery characteristics (orange blossom). It smells like it is going to be sweet but instead it is harsh, woody, tannic (on a level you might associate with big red wines). You may get some citrus, or citrus skin, here but most fruit is buried initially.

Patrick Ogle recommends opening the wine several hours in advance:

When this wine calms down, when the tannins and woodiness retreat, you find that citrus and stone fruit blossoms. This starts several hours after opening (3 or more) but accelerates after 24 hours. It is still tannic but more forgiving. The spice becomes more prevalent and your patience is rewarded.

This isn’t a wine to sit down and drink by itself but it really works with garlicky spicy foods as well as dolmas and olives and similar snacks. It is a strong willed wine. Even on day five this wine is still going strong. The spice comes out more as does something of candied sorts of citrus fruit.

With autumnal notes of dried flowers, honey, hazelnut, citrus peel, and chai tea, the Kabaj Rebula is actually pretty versatile, complementing many Thanksgiving dishes from root vegetables to turkey to hard cheese. Happy adventurous Thanksgiving!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #113: Muhr-van der Niepoort Samt & Seide

Wild fowl and Muhr-van der Niepoort Samt Und Seide
Photo of the Wild Fowls: Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Roasted stuffed wild fowls and Muhr-van der Niepoort Samt & Seide is one of the pairings that Wine Enthusiast Magazine recommends for your Thanksgiving dinner. This tasty and earthy dish is a recipe from Hedi Klinger, chef and owner of Gasthof Klinger in Upper Austria.

These little bird roasts, with their gamey flavors, billowy stuffing and salty bacon, need a medium-bodied red that can stand up to but not overpower, them. A traditional Austrian selection like Muhr-van der Niepoort’s 2014 Samt & Seide Blaufränkisch, and a New World counterpart like Brick House’s 2014 Gamay Noir from Oregon, both show lovely cherry fruit, a spicy touch of pepper and lip-smacking freshness that will illuminate all the flavors without weighing them down.

Purity, finesse, elegance, that’s how The Wine Advocate describes the 2014 Samt & Seide:

Wine Advocate Review of the Muhr-van der Niepoort Samt & Seide

The 2014 Blaufränkisch Samt & Seide is the “super-second wine” of the Spitzerberg “Grand Vin” and comes from up to 40-year-old vines. The wine opens with a pure and spicy, very delicate and fresh bouquet of crushed stones, dried flowers and sour cherries. like the Cuvée vom Berg, this is another Alpine character and is fascinating in its purity and spicy freshness. On the palate, this is a more fruity, round and charming Blaufränkisch compared to the Blaufränkisch/Syrah Cuvée and shows nice juiciness and fine, in fact silky tannin structure without losing its purity, finesse and tensioned elegance. This is another remarkable red wine from the so called “difficult” vintage. Rating: 92

Samt & Seide is one of the Blaufränkisch wines produced by Dorli Muhr from the small Austrian wine region of Carnuntum. Her wines are all pure elegance. Check them out on our webshop.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #112: Apátsági Juhfark

apatsagi vineyard under the snow
Apátsági vineyards under the snow

“I was intrigued to see Matt Kramer’s article this summer highlighting four wonderful wine regions to visit: Santa Barbara, the Douro Valley, Ribeira Sacra and Tokaj,” explains wine lover and blogger John Brooks in his recent blog post The Charm of Somlo.

But on one of these trips, he found the lesser-known and tiny Somló appellation and the vineyards growing on this cone-shaped volcanic mountain:

Somló
Somló Hill in winter

The grapes in the vineyards on the hill at Somló include furmint and harslevelu–as do the vineyards in Tokaj–and olaszrizling, a soft and fruity grape known as welschriesling in Austria (unrelated to the better known riesling). But the signature grape of Somló is juhfark–Hungarian for “sheep’s tail” because the long and tightly clustered bunches which curve at the end bear resemblance to a sheep’s tail. Juhfark, which is only grown in any significant quantity in Somló, is considered something of a transparent grape–it takes on the characteristics of the place it is grown. In Somló, the juhfark grapes get good sun, producing a wine of richness–on a frame of strong minerality with the hints of saltiness that can be found in some volcanic soils.

Accompanied by Eva Cartwright, owner of the Somló Wine Shop, he visited several wineries:

zoltan and new truck at Apatsagi
Zoltán Balogh, manager of Apátsági

Among the best known of Somló’s producers is Apátsâgi (Hungarian for “abbey”). Zoltân Balogh bought the historic property from the former abbey and kept the name. Tibor Fazekas and his daughter Dora make the wines and were generous in pouring them for us. They’re rich, ripe and distinctive–combining that richness with the strong structure that underpins all the wines of Somló.

Apátsági’s 2015 Juhfark perfectly reflects Somló’s unique volcanic terroir. The wine is highly mineral, well structured, with a vibrant acidity and a rich, fruity taste. Plus it should pair wonderfully well with your Thanksgiving feast!

“We’ve been blessed to go to some special places in search of good wine,” concludes John Brooks. “Somló is a really, really special place.” You should read the whole story here.

If you can’t go there, check our webshop for more wines from Somló. Indeed, they’re special, stylish, and delicious.

Introducing our new Georgian producer: Bibineishvili Winery

bibineishvili luka
Luka Bibineishvili

The southwestern subtropical region of Guria/Adjara is known for tea, citrus and the cultish local Chkhaveri. This ancient pinkish-violet grape variety is originally a maghlari vine trained to grow up trees. Wine from Chkhaveri can be hypnotic, light but resonant, textured and tea-like. Exactly how Chkhaveri is suppose to be made or taste has been lost, but as far as Luka Bibineishvili is concerned, it’s “Aia Yi!”, which roughly translates as “This is it!.”

Chkhaveri Aia Yi!
Chkhaveri Aia Yi!

Chkhaveri is likely a pre-Christian Meskhetian variety. The ancient region of Meskheti had a highly developed wine culture and was possibly responsible for the invention of iron metallurgy. Before the Ottoman rule in the 16th century, wine from Meskheti was famous outside the region. Unfortunately, almost 100 known aboriginal species were lost to the Turks. Today, only 30 or so hectares of Chkhaveri exist made of small plots of less than 0.5 hectare. Production never stopped, the vineyards and traditions only moved into the protected highlands where old vineyards of forgotten sorts can be found in the forest.

Chkhaveri Vineyard
Chkhaveri vineyard

The Bibineishvili family farms 0.6 hectares, 0.4 planted to Chkhaveri, the remainder to Megrelian Ojaleshi, Tsolikuri, Tsitska and Krakhuna. The winery is located in the Adjaran village of Erge, 5 miles from the Black Sea and the Georgian/Turkish border. Cultivation is organic. The red soil is composed of light and medium loam interspersed with clay. The vines are trained high above the ground, some grown on pergola with overhead trellis, to moderate the humidity of the area.

Chkhaveri in December
Chkhaveri in December

Wine has been part of the Bibineishvili family longer than the family name. Made by Iveri Bibineishvili, the 2015 vintage marks their first commercial production, including 1500 bottles of the 2015 “Aia Yi!”. Chkhaveri is a late ripening grape that does not accumulate a lot of sugar and tends to have good acidity and modest alcohol level even when ripe. In 2015, “Aia Yi!” was harvested on December 12th.

Chkhaveri Wine
Decanting Chkhaveri

After a natural fermentation that included 3 weeks of maceration with skins and stems, the wine aged until March of 2017 when it was bottled. Chkhaveri’s color and particular character, coupled with the extremely late harvest and maceration, result in a light, phenolic, especially savory wine of dimension and length. “Aia Yi!” is burnished rosé, strangely perfumed, subtle and structured. This wine will continue to develop in the bottle for 5 or more years.

Artifact
Qvevri artifact

Introducing our new Georgian producer: Lapati Wines

lapatis parkling wine
Lapati sparkling wines

Lapati Wines is the joint project of French-born Guillaume Gouerou and Vincent Jullien. The two men met originally at the Art Villa Garikula, a Center for Contemporary Arts in Georgia. Vincent was there to realize his first experiments of natural sparkling wine with grapes from the villa and Guillaume was invited as an artist. They completed their Marani (traditional Georgian cellar) in Sagarejo, Kakheti in 2015 and currently produce about 3,500 bottles. Natural sparkling wines comprise more than half their production.

Vincent Jullien
Vincent Jullien in the cellar

About half of the grapes comes from their own vines in Kakheti and Shida Kartli. The remainder comes from growers who are also farming organically. They only buy what is necessary to allow them to fully fill the four one-ton qvevris they have buried in the marani. They intend to eventually increase the production but not beyond 10,000 bottles as they want to personally handle all aspects of production.

lapati saperavi
Saperavi Grape

The Saperavi Super Ravi (in French, the word “ravi” means “happy”) cuvée is made by placing whole clusters of Saperavi from the village of Mukuzani into two qvevris. After sealing the qvevris with clay, the wine ferments for 2 weeks with carbonic-acid gas. There is not much compression in a qvevri so this carbonic maceration is particularly gentle. After 2 weeks, the qvevris are opened, everything is destemmed, crushed, then the final juice goes to age into one qvevri. The 2016 vintage was bottled directly from qvevri in March of 2017.

lapati qvevri
Grapes in qvevri

Their naturally sparkling wines are bottled under the Kidev Erti label. It means “one more” in Georgian and sounds like the French phrase “qui divertit” literally, “what entertains”. The wines are indeed entertaining and irresistible. Both the pale Chinuri and rosy cross of red Tavkveri and white Gorula are from Shida Kartli vineyards and underwent the same vinification. Fruit harvested in mid October was foot trodden in a traditional satsnakheli (canoe shaped press hewn from a single tree trunk) and poured into qvevri. After 2 weeks the wines were bottled at sugar levels that would give 6 bars of pressure.

lapati riddling cellar
Lapati riddling cellar

Vincent suspects Georgian yeast produces more gas because they use Champagne glass and still have bottles that exploded through March when the pressure was greatest. These cellar bombs are what inspired the 2016 labels, which change annually to reflect something specific about the vintage. Ultimately, the wines were clarified and the pressure reduced during hand disgorging. A messy affair that includes a fair bit of loss justified only by the elegance and transparency of the resultant wines.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #111: Kabaj Merlot

kabaj merlot
Jean Michel Morel, Kabaj’s Winemaker

This month, the Kabaj Merlot 2012 is Wine & Spirits Magazine‘s critic’s pick:

kabaj critics pick

Jean-Michel Morel’s 2012 merlot is rich with ripe plum and black cherry flavors, but the wine never feels fat or jammy, thanks to the meaty tannins and savory notes of fresh-turned earth and roasted mushrooms. A distinct note of iodine lends a sanguine savor and enhances the wine’s Old World character.

The 2012 vintage is not available yet in the US. In the meantime, try the 2011. It’s a complex wine, more savory than fruity, very well balanced, and ready to drink now.