Géza was one of the first winemakers of Romania who realized, immediately after the revolution, the importance of the quality of the whole range of his wines. Visiting Bella Géza’s Princess Winery is a refreshing surprise. This bright, modern winery, founded in 1999 and designed to welcome the large number of wine tourists who visit every weekend, nestles at the foot of a range of hills overlooking the river Mures.
Dr. Géza Balla is an Hungarian-Romanian from Minis, a old wine district in western Romania on the Hungarian border, that was part of the historical region of Transylvania.
Fluent in both languages, his wines reflect the two cultures. He is found equally at home amongst Romanian wine producers as well as being a member of the prestigious Hungarian Wine Academy. Of his 105ha, he produces 80% red wines, 20% white and somewhere in-between some rosé wines. A few international varieties are present (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) but the focus is on the traditional varieties of the Carpathian basin: Feteasca Regala, the local Mustoasa de Măderat, and the red Feteasca Neagra.
Balla Geza is one of Romania’s top producers whose mission is to put the country back on the wine map and restore the prestige of the Minis appellation which was once as famous as Hungary’s Tokaj. This intriguing bottling is made of the native Romanian grape Mustoasa De Maderat and resembles the floral aromas and plush, peachy fruit you might see in Alsatian Pinot Blancs. Slightly pink in hue due to some time spent on the skins, this was fermented with wild yeasts and brought up in stainless steel.
Géza, concludes Elizabeth Gabay, is restoring the reputation of the Minis wine region, “giving his range of wines a Romanian, or dare I say it, Transylvanian, character and not a vampire in sight.”
You can read Elizabeth Gabay’s whole article here.
Simon and the Savor The Experience team will take you first to the hilly vineyards of the cross-border wine appellation called Collio in Italy and Brda in Slovenia (Italian and Slovenian words for ‘hill’), visiting small artisan wineries and learning about the region’s traditional orange and natural winemaking.
In addition to Brda and Collio, the tour takes you to Slovenia’s lush Vipava Valley, the stoney Karst region, and ends with a day trip to Croatia’s Istrian peninsula.
Besides meeting with the winemakers and tasting their production, you’ll be able to experience the delicious local cuisine and artisanal products such as olive oil, prosciutto, vinegar, cheese and truffle.
Austria is now home to some of the best organic winemakers. We’re proud to represent the very gifted Ilse Maier of Weingut Geyerhof and Dorli Muhr of Muhr-van der Niepoort.
Thanks to the leadership of Ilse Maier, Weingut Geyerhof in Oberfucha, Kremstal, has been organic since 1988. Ilse Maier’s family has lived in the wine village of Oberfucha since the 16th century and for Ilse, it became vital to preserve the biodiversity surrounding the village, not only for the vineyards but also for the wildlife and farm animals.
In the vineyards, Ilse and her son Josef are working hard to keep the vines healthy and the soil loose and nicely moist underneath. They farm without using any pesticides, insecticides or weed control material. Clover is planted in every other row to naturally increase nitrogen in the soil, compost is used to nourish the plants, and the local wildlife is welcome.
To save the grasslands around the village from overgrowth, the family is even raising cattle, which provide meat and milk and also manure for the fields. Maria Maier, Ilse’s daughter in-law, comes from a beekeeping family. She has started beekeeping in the vineyards. The bees are healthy and thriving thanks to the absence of pesticides in the surrounding fields.
Geyerhof produces distinctive Grüner Veltliner wines from different vineyards, all reflecting a diversity of terroirs. StockWerk, from granulite and tertiary gravel is low in alcohol (11.6%), lively, light and fruity. Rosensteig, from a vineyard on a slope near the Danube with alluvial soil and gravels, is mineral, spicy, with very good acidity. Steinleithn, from a stony and mostly infertile vineyard, is aromatic, elegant and concentrated.
Geyerhof also makes a delicate, low alcohol, red Zweigelt from a cool site and a vibrant Riesling from a rocky vineyard on the northwestern edge of the estate.
In Carnuntum — a old wine-growing region east of Vienna named after a major Roman city on the Danube — the Muhr-van der Niepoort estate is transitioning to become certified organic. Austrian Dorli Muhr, together with Portuguese Dirk Niepoort, resuscitated her family vineyards and she is now working on re-establishing the historic limestone-rich Spitzerberg as a prominent wine district.
The protected nature preserve of the Spitzerberg is an extension of the Little Carpathians mountain range with poor, limestone soils. Although grapes have been growing on its hillsides for centuries thanks to its well-drained soils and its dry climate, hot summers, cold winters, and the influence of the nearby Danube River, its vineyards has been sadly neglected for most of the recent decades.
This terroir is particularly well suited for growing the late-ripening Blaufränkisch and Dorli Muhr has shown that it can produce fresh and elegant red wines, with mouth-watering acidity and fine tannins.
At Muhr-van der Niepoort, farming is organic. All work is done by hand and some grapes are even stomped by foot. The grapes are not treated with any sulphur and no cultured yeast is used. The wines mature in neutral oak.
The Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg, made from selected old Blaufränkisch plots, is an elegant, terroir-driven wine with fine tannins and a long after-taste.
95 Points for the Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg 2013 in Wine Enthusiast Magazine: “Very pure and lifted notes of red cherry are held tightly within a taut frame: the nose gives almost nothing away. The palate provides another glimpse of that hauntingly delicious, almost sublimated cherry note. There is something aromatic and pure, unforced and honest about this disarming wine. The structure is subtle but firm, the elegance borders on the Pinot-esque, thus the wine is slender but profound.”
The Samt & Seide (Velvet and Silk) , from vines between 10–30 years old, has a rich smooth texture, fresh fruit aromas, and a lively acidity.
93 Points for the Muhr-van der Niepoort Samt & Seide 2015 in Wine Enthusiast Magazine: “Pure notes of crushed blueberry have a wonderfully tart edge, almost like wild little huckleberries. The same, pure and intense fruit spreads across the textured body where fine and ever so slightly rustic tannins crunch pleasurably. This wine shows the juicy, almost voluptuous ripeness of 2015 without ever losing freshness or tone. This should come with some sort of pleasure warning. Simply delicious. Drink 2018–2025.”
“A lot of dry Furmint is tart, lemony, and not that interesting, but this one is a revelation: it is dense and soil-expressive without sacrificing the variety’s trademark freshness,” writes the SommSelect Wine Team.
Sourced from dry farmed vines growing on basalt-rich volcanic soils, the Apátsági Furmint 2015 is their Sommelier Selected Wine of the day:
Today’s dry and delicious Furmint, from the tiny region of Somló in western Hungary, is the first dry Furmint we’ve offered but hardly the first one I’ve tasted—just one of the very best. It is a game changer: Lots of dry Furmint is dominated by high acidity—acidity which makes the variety so successful and ageworthy as a late-harvest sweet wine—but this one has serious depth, rich texture, and soil character reminiscent of top Alsatian whites. There’s profound minerality from Somló’s basalt-rich volcanic soils and lots of aromatic complexity. It grabbed our attention, and it deserves yours; Somló and Apátsági may be unfamiliar names now, but wines like this are going to change that.
To accompany the wine, they recommend a chicken paprikash, a comforting dish with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and fragrant with sweet or hot Hungarian paprika and sour cream. It’s a great fit that complements the high acidity and minerality of the wine. Enjoy!
Using traditional techniques, the winery team ferments the white Mtsvane grapes on the skins with native yeast in amphora vessels (called qvevri) for nine months. holes are drilled in the amphora, and once fermentation is complete, the vessels are unplugged and the wine is gravity-fed into amphora below for an additional 16 months of aging. The resulting wine is bottled without filtration or sulphur.
The versatile style of these orange wines allows them to easily transition from course to course. “There’s certainly enough tannin in this wine to go with stek,” said Jay James. “I kind of feel like I need one at the moment!” Tasting Notes: negroni-like aromas of driend Turkish apricots, orange peel, and hints of blonde tobacco. Tannic with flavors of burnt caramel and a slight hoppy quality on the finish.
Beka Gotsadze lives in Asureti, an ancient village in the foothills of of the Greater Caucasus, about 30 minutes away from Tbilisi. Beka is a creative architect who designed a two-level Qvevri cellar high in the mountains where it is cool year round. The first level is for fermentation, the second for aging. Beka drilled holes in the bottom of the fermentation Qvevri to allow for gravity flow into the aging Qvevri. Then all Qvevri were wrapped with silicon tubing attached to a cold water spring. Each can be individually adjusted to cool the Qvevri during fermentation. Warm water is then pumped to an indoor swimming pool.
Beka is a perfectionist and constantly analyzing his wines, adjusting the parameters where necessary. His intention is to express the best of each wine.
“Crazy delicious, indeed,”writes Bon Appétit’s wine editor Marissa A. Ross. “And while I love French wines, Italian wines, and Spanish wines— honestly, all the wines—today Central European countries are the ones driving wine, and its culture, forward. They are fresh, invigorating, and mind-bending, proving that wine is constantly evolving and there is always something new to explore.”
She recommends seven wild wines from Central Europe including the Lapati Kidev Erti Chinuri, one of her recent favorite bottles:
This wine is buzzy in all the ways. Not only are Georgian pét-nats few and far between in the States, but this sparkler of the native white Chinuri grape evokes images of honeybees bustling around fresh citrus blossoms. Cloudy-dandelion in color, the Lapati Kidev Erti Chinuri smells and tastes like orange trees in the spring with wafts of cantaloupe, honey, and fresh laundry. With sudsy bubbles and bright acidity, pop it and you will be singing along with the chorus of Kendrick Lamar’s “Yah” in no time. Buzzin…
This Georgian buzzy bubbly is a natural white sparkling wine made by two French natural wine makers Vincent Jullien and Guillaume Gouerou, who founded Lapati Wines in Georgia in order to make natural wines using the traditional Qvevri wine-making method.
For this wine, they used Chinuri, a native Georgian grape variety mostly planted in the Kartli region in central-to-eastern Georgia. The grape produces elegant dry whites and performs exceptionally well in sparkling wines. Also the name Kidev Erti is actually a pun: it means “one more” in Georgian but also sounds like the French “qui divertit”, “what entertains” in English.
It’s still Furmint February and what better way to celebrate this fiery grape than with a glass of Tokaji from the region’s most gifted female winemakers, Judit Bodó from Bott, Stéphanie Berecz from Kikelet and Sarolta Bárdos from Tokaj Nobilis?
“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.” http://exoticwinetravel.com/kikelet-furmint-birtokbor-tokaji-2014/
“I had previously had some sweet wines from Tokaj and had a sense of how good they are (though I didn’t fully appreciate how diverse and complex they can be). But I had only had a few dry wines from Tokaj–and that was my primary reason for visiting the region.” writes wine blogger John Brooks over at The WineO in a post called Tokaj: Sweet, But Not Just Sweet.
His first visit was Bott Pince where he met Judit Bodó, who made a powerful impression on him.
For those who have visited a number of wineries and tasted with a number of winemakers, you know that the experience you have affects your perception of wine. That rosé you drank with the winemaker on a beautiful afternoon at a harborside café in the south of France is probably not one of the world’s great wines, like it seemed at the time. So I wondered if the fact that we were so charmed by Judit made us love the wine. No worries–I’ve tasted it since I got home and still love it. While most Americans may not know the wines of Bott, insiders do–and respect them. Hungarian-Canadian master sommelier John Szabo, who has studied and written about the region, is a big fan. Tellingly, so are the other winemakers we talked to in Tokaj. I have not found Bott wines on the shelves in any of our shops in DC (Hungarian wines don’t have the presence they deserve) but they can be ordered directly from the website of importer Blue Danube Wines.
Read the rest of John’s visit on his blog and try a dry Furmint like the Bott Határi Furmint, one of Judit’s best dry wines. The Furmint grape from the famed Határi vineyard produces rich dry wines full of minerality, acidity with a mouth coating texture. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to curry dishes, sauerkraut, or simply enjoy it as an apéritif.
The Hungarian Vintner of the Year award is the most prestigious award a vintner can receive in Hungary and this year, Mátyás Szőke is the first vintner from the Mátra wine region to ever win it in the award’s 27-year-old history.
“Wine is a unique product,” says Mátyás. “It has a soul, a personality, a history. It develops and becomes stronger and wiser in its bottle, and it eventually dies. Fruit rots, flowers wither, food goes bad, but wine is the only thing that is like a human, even in its passing.”
Mátyás has been producing wine since the 1970’s. He continues to manage the vineyards and sales while his son Zoltán, an university trained enologist, makes the wine and runs the cellar. The estate produces a wide range of mainly dry white wines from native and international varietals that are served in numerous Hungarian Embassies and featured in many of the best restaurants in Budapest.
Back in 2012 we attended the 3rd ever Furmint February tasting event in Budapest founded by Dániel Kézdy. There were 55 producers attending. At that point, I couldn’t name more than 10 producers and had tasted far less. It was equal parts significantly humbling and exciting. This year, there are 104 producers attending. The growth is clear and it’s quality driven. In 2012 Blue Danube had 2 producers with Furmint, now we have 15 and counting.
Furmint February and Furmint Day (Feb 1st) are also not limited to this tasting, but a celebration of Furmint all month, all over Hungary, and beyond. It should be said that Furmint is also produced in Slovenia (Šipon), Slovakia, Germany, Croatia (Šipon/Moslavac), South Africa, Serbia, Romania, Austria (Mosler), Crimea and even a little bit right here in California just to name just a few. However, the commercial hub and linkage to national wine identity is most pronounced in Hungary. Hungarians sing about Tokaj in their National Anthem where Furmint is the most planted grape.
Additionally, I also believe that Furmint captures the volcanic nature of Hungary. Above and beyond the thermal baths and killer mineral water, volcanic terroir runs through most of the country, not just Tokaj. A rant I’m fond of stumbling into is while there is well deserved hype over volcanic appellations like the Canary Islands, Santorini, Sicily and so on, Hungary (and others in the volcanic Pannonian basin) are rarely a part of that conversation.
Furmint, with its naturally high acidity, ability to attain high sugar levels, and ability to find balance with botrytis, is an ideal grape to embody the salt, smoke and density from these volcanic soils. Add to this that Furmint can do this as a dry, off dry, sparkling, oxidative, flor aged, reductive, and make perhaps the best botritzed sweet wines in the world and there’s reason we have 15 producers and counting.