#WineWednesday Spotlight #122: Santomas Refošk

Santomas Refosk
Photo: Jim van Bergen

Wine enthusiast Jim van Bergen has an entertaining wine blog that driven by his passion for finding wines that his readers will enjoy, want to share, and love to taste. In one of his latest posts, he highly recommends Etty Lewensztain’s PLONK Wine Club as a holiday gift:

Etty is a sommelier who sources delicious world wines at under $30/bottle. She curates artisanal, small-batch, sustainably grown, organic and biodynamic boutique wines from around the globe for PLONK. Etty’s club is designed for both the new wine lover who wants to learn about wine, as well as those like myself – jaded oenophiles who know what they like but like trying new and exciting things, and LOVE finding new, small-batch producers who are making their way in the world offering tremendous values. . . . . Why do I like her approach? Well first, I liked her wine choices. They’re great!

He particularly enjoyed the Santomas Refošk 2015, included in one of the club shipments:

Color is deep garnet, with an opaque center. The nose offers dark red fruit, heat, eucalyptus, and forest floor. On the palate, I received full-bodied sour cherry, red plum, with strong tannins and mouthwatering acidity. Final notes of small stones, sodium and red currants. This is a fascinating wine; I immediately wanted another sip. For a second time, getting that memory of the fruit and a hint of bitterness on the moderate finish, I wanted this with pizza or adjaruli khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) but it would work with a myriad of flavors. It actually complemented both a wurst and dark chocolate so beautifully, but any flavorful or savory dish would complement nicely. At $22/bottle I’d like to open this with friends and some snacks just to discuss. This is a wine-lover’s delight, for sure- but a foodie wine as well. I’m going to need to find more Slovenian wines!

Well, we have many delicious Slovenian wines in our webshop. Check them out, and if you like reasonably priced artisanal wines from around the globe, check out Etty Lewensztain’s PLONK Wine Club.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #121: Brkić Mjesečar

Brkić Mjesečar

Every year, wine professional Pamela Busch makes a list of the most memorable wines she had over the past 12 months. One of them is the Brkić Mjesečar:

I’d wanted to try these wines for a while and finally had the opportunity at a Blue Danube Wine tasting over the summer. Josip Brkić is, from what I’ve heard, the only natural winemaker in Bosnia Herzegovina. Using biodynamic practices and indigenous grapes, he’s making very pure and effusive wines and Mjesecar, a skin-fermented white wine made from Zilavka, is exceptional. You can read more about it here. I hope his efforts will inspire other growers in BH to go down a more natural path. This year I’ve had a number of wines from the Balkans that have been on par with great wines from the rest of the continent, and hope this is just a glimpse of what the future holds. The former Yugoslav countries went through a horrendous period in the 90’s, and if the winemaking is one sign that things continue to improve for people in this part of the world, I’ll drink to that.

Mjesečar means the Moon Walker in Bosnian and it is Josip’s first wine made in a complete biodynamic way. All the farming and winemaking work is done according to the phases of the Moon as you can see on the wine’s label.

For Josip, producing a new wine is like giving birth to a new life. You should try it, the wine is magical.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #120: Danieli Mukuzani

A Gentleman In Moscow,’ By Amor Towles & Danieli Mukuzani

“If I may,” the Count interjected. “For a serving of Latvian stew, you will find no better choice than a bottle of the Mukuzani.”
Leaning toward their table and mimicking the perfectly parted fingers of Andrey, the Count gestured to the entry on the list. That this wine was a fraction of the cost of the Rioja need not be a matter of a discussion between gentlemen. Instead, the Count simply noted: “The Georgians practically grow their grapes in the hopes that one day they will accompany such a stew.”
The young man exchanged a brief glance with his companion as if to say, Who is this eccentric? But then he turned to the Bishop.
“A bottle of the Mukuzani.”

‘A Gentleman In Moscow,’ By Amor Towles

One of our customers called us recently, asking if we had any Mukuzani. “I’m part of a book club and we’re reading ‘A Gentleman In Moscow.’ We’ll be making a Latvian stew and we’ll like to serve a Mukuzani with it.”

For sure, wines from the Saperavi grapes from the Mukuzani vineyard are considered by many to be the best of the Georgian red wines. Mukuzani is aged in oak casks for a longer time — at least three years — and as a result of its longer aging, it has more complexity than the other Saperavi wines.

Just as he’d suspected, it was the perfect dish for the season. The onions thoroughly caramelized, the pork slowly braised, and the apricots briefly stewed, the three ingredients came together in a sweet and smoky medley that simultaneously suggested the comfort of a snowed-in tavern and the jangle of a Gypsy tambourine.
As the Count took a sip of his wine, the young couple caught his eye and raised their own glasses in a toast of gratitude and kinship.

Drink like Count Rostov at the Hotel Metropol on Theater Square in Moscow. Pair your Latvian stew, a tasty pork stew with apricots and prunes, with a bottle of Danieli Mukuzani, the perfect pairing for the season!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #119: Patricius Katinka Late Harvest

Patricius Winemaker Peter Molnár presenting his wines in Los Angeles last month

Today’s #WineWednesday Spotlight is a festive contribution from our friend Michael Trainor over at @awordtothewine. Michael recently met Patricius Winemaker Peter Molnár and tasted his wines with the Blue Danube team at Night + Market Song restaurant in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

“The first thing I did when my daughter was born, I dipped my finger into Tokaj and placed a drop on Aszú on her tongue so she would know where she came from.” -Peter Molnár, Patricius Tokaj Estate Manager and Winemaker.

Last month I had an amazing dinner with the best of company at Song @ntmrkt with @orshi.kiss @edanch @bluedanubewine along with Peter Molnár from @patriciustokaj.

Patricius Tokaji
Photo: Michael Trainor

Each of Patricius wines were unique and delicious. However, the Katinka and Aszú offer a very special experience. I don’t want to sound corny and I don’t typically purport to be spiritual. For whatever reasons even just a tiny sip of Tokaji invigorates me. It’s the cure for both emotional and physical ails. These are spiritual wines and it’s important for all of us to have Tokaji on hand, for healing as well as pleasure.

Celebrate the holidays with a sip of fungal gold from Peter Molnár’s magical Tokaji wines!

Boldog új évet, happy new year!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #118: doqi Rkatsiteli Qvevri


“It’s no surprise Georgia produces good wines – it’s been at it a really long time,” writes Bryan Flewelling, wine director for three restaurants in Portland, Maine after tasting a selection of Georgian wines vinified in the same way they were 8,000 years ago.

The standouts of the tasting were both produced by the Doqi winery, located in the wine region of Kakheti. One was an amber, or orange, wine made from Georgia’s most important white grape, rkatsiteli, and the other was a red wine made from Georgia’s most important red grape, saperavi. Both are vinified in the traditional Georgian quervi, large earthenware pots that are buried underground to stabilize the fermenting temperature throughout the winter months.

The Rkatsiteli Quervi was the color of lightly steeped tea, the result of extended skin contact. When red grapes are crushed and the skins are left in contact with the fermenting juice, they turn red – most of you know this. When white grapes are crushed and the skins are left in contact with the fermenting juice, a practice that’s infrequent, the wine turns amber. It smelled of spice and honey and yellow raisins. I know that sounds dessert-like, but it’s not. Imagine honey without the sweetness if you can. And, because of the long skin contact, the finished wine picks up some tannins, which is unusual for a white wine. Different and fantastic are my descriptors.

“If, occasionally, you need to inject a bit of novelty into the familiar aspects of your life,” concludes Bryan, “then these wines will be the perfect infusion.”

Check them out and read the full article here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #117: Kikelet Furmint

kikelet furmint
Photo: Exotic Wine Travel

Exotic Wine Travel is the joint project of Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey. They write wine travel books and share travel tips, videos, stories, and exciting finds from lesser-known wine regions on their website exoticwinetravel.com.

They also have a weekly column, As Drunk By, where they feature interesting wines they encourage wine lovers to seek out.

The Kikelet Furmint, tasted at Könyvbár & Restaurant in Budapest, was the featured wine in one of their latest columns. It was one of the wines that stood out that evening among 13 wines that they tasted over dinner:

The Kikelet Birtokbor Furmint 2014 is an exemplar of dry Tokaji. The grapes of this bottling underwent long, spontaneous fermentation in old oak barrels. The wine expresses a floral and fiery overtone, accompanied by a core of green apple, flint, almond oil, and lime. Great fruit intensity on the palate with a tertiary hint of spiciness. The high acidity in this wine cleanses the palate and makes it rather food-friendly. A chicken soup or a kind of broth with this wine would be nice. It’s a marvelous effort for a wet and rainy vintage that resulted in small quantities.

We just received the 2016 vintage. It’s a great year, and it’s available on our webshop. Don’t wait, it will sell out quickly!

Also, if you want to learn more about new and exciting wines, check out Charine & Matthew’s website and explore with them some of the most exciting, lesser-known wine regions.

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.
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. .
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?