Moldy grapes are better

botrytis infected grapes
botrytis infected grapes

Most of the 2018 fruit is in across the portfolio, and seeing all of the harvest action over social media is a reminder of how diverse and special these places are. In particular, there’s the ubiquitous “perfect cluster photo” phenomenon. For the vast majority of the wine world, it’s a shiny perfect looking uniform cluster. My feed is full of botrytis ridden desiccated clusters.

Speaking of botrytis, whether fermented dry, off dry, under flor or sweet, tons of brand new wines from Samuel Tinon, Oszkár Maurer, Demeter Zoltán, Bodrog Borműhely, Kikelet and Fekete Béla have just landed. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the new Gere Olaszrizling, Káli-Kövek Olaszrizling and Juhfark, and Szőke Mátyás Irsai Olivér have the brightness, salt, and aromatics to tackle the final weeks of summer and transition into the fall.

First, let me properly introduce Oszkár Maurer from Subotičko – Horgoškoj, Serbia. Oszkár is ethnically Hungarian, and the region, formally known as the Szerémség, was Hungarian for hundreds of years. Due to the sandy soils piled up between the Danube and Sava rivers, many grapes are still own-rooted and planted as far back as 1880. The nearby Fruška-Gora (Tarcal in Hungarian) mountains bring volcanic soils into the mix as well. He’s growing grapes like Szerémi zöld, Bakator, Mézes fehér, and Kövidinka (planted 1925) that we’ve rarely encountered anywhere else. His 1880s Kadarka is one of the oldest in the world. On top of that, he uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides and works mostly with only hand and horse. He’s a wealth of knowledge, incredibly driven, and we are just getting started with him.

Oszkár Maurer
Oszkár Maurer

Oszkár Maurer

2016 Kövidinka: Planted in 1925 in Nosza hills between Subotica (Serbia) and Szeged (Hungary), it’s winter hardy, resistant to botrytis, and ripens late. With Oszkár’s farming and sandy soils, there’s a nuttiness that’s not oxidation, and a sweetness that’s not residual sugar. Herbal and dry at 10% alcohol.

2016 Kadarka Újlak: The Újlak Dűlő is a 250 meter limestone and clay hill with slate at the top. The plant material is from a 1912 site and grows right along side with Furmint. Kadarka is thin skinned, late ripening, susceptible to botytis, drought tolerant, and can’t handle cold winters. Once coaxed to ripeness, it’s spicy, fresh, and aromatic at just over 10% alcohol. It’s a light chillable red without relying on whole cluster or carbonic for fruit and lightness.

2017 Mézes Fehér: Planted near the volcanic Fruška-Gora mountains, the nearly extinct Mézes Fehér grape, literally ’honey white’, is certainly an appropriate name. Picked with about 20% botrytis, it was then on the skins for a couple of days, and then pressed off into barrels for 16 months. Bottled unfiltered, it looks like bourbon and smells like a hot toddy. It’s retained remarkable acidity, has plenty of structure, and is just over 1 g/l RS. Dry botrytis from 2017. Nothing else like it and delicious.

There’s also a major historical linkage between Maurer’s region and Tokaj. At one point, they were arguably considered equally in terms of quality and prestige. For a variety of reasons (changing borders, Turkish wars etc…) many from Maurer’s region then moved to Tokaj. Before I get too long winded, here’s a quick breakdown:

Zoltan Demeter and Samuel Tinon
Tasting Aszú with Zoltán Demeter and a selfie of Samuel Tinon

Demeter Zoltán

2013 Eszter Föbor 500ml: Aka a sweet Szamorodni. 200+ g/l RS, honeyed spice, sweet acidity, and magically refreshing. It’s almost like it finishes dry while simultaneously coating your palate. The sheer concentration and energy Zoltán puts into this (both his own and the grapes) is one of the reasons I keep returning to Tokaj.

2010 Aszú 500ml: Only 2 cases imported. With only a few more grams of RS than the Eszter, the extremely high extract, acidity, and age make this something completely different and compelling. Show stopper. I don’t have much to say other than please try this wine.

Samuel Tinon

2017 Olaszliszka Hárslevelű: The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Latin for Olaszliszka Friends of Wine) is the combined efforts of local winemakers to reaffirm the historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka. Sourcing from vineyards like Csontos, Határi, Meszes, and Palandor that date as far back as 1641, members of the association are combining their fruit to produce one single “village” wine. Tinon’s rendition is like drinking a margarita with a mezkal floater. Lemon lime, salty, bright, and a hint of smoke.

2009 Dry Szamorodni 500ml: Still one of the greatest and most surprising finds vintage after vintage. This is a late harvest pick fermented dry under a yeast veil until dry. Never fortified, single vintage, and this is the benchmark producer. If you’re into sherry and Vin Jaune, you’re professionally obligated to venture into dry Szamorodni ☺

Krisztian, Janos, Stephanie
Krisztián Farkas, János Hajdú of Bodrog Borműhely and Stéphanie Berecz of Kikelet

Bodrog Borműhely

2016 Botrytis Selection Furmint: This is a rare creature and a one off so far in our relationship with Krisztián and János. Coming mostly from the Halas vineyard (next to Lapis, closer to the creek), this Furmint was harvested like a Szamorodni (fresh and botrytised), but for one reason or another, the spontaneous fermentation went nearly dry (around 2 g/l RS). But unlike a Dry Szamorodni which is aged oxidatively and often under a veil of yeast, this was topped up and kept fresh. This is a rare balancing act of botrytis and a fresh wine coming together naturally.

2015 Lapis Furmint: The Lapis Vineyard is near the town of Bodrogkeresztúr and looks down onto the Bodrog River and its floodplains. The 0.7 ha that they farm is 155m up and in a breezy spot making dry wines possible. If there were to be reclassification of the Tokaji vineyards, this would be a strong contender for a Great Growth. This is also a great example of how just three years of aging adds creaminess without losing freshness. Sweet smoky aromatics and salty acid goodness.

Kikelet

2016 Origo: This is a brand new project for Stéphanie. Over time she’s come to believe that the best way to capture the “Kikelet,” meaning “spring,” is to blend Furmint, Hárslevelű, and Kövérszőlő when possible. Her style is already more or less based on short macerations, no crushing, and not racking until bottling. This 2016 was fermented in barrel, aged 5 months, and then kept fresh under screw cap. This “Origo” is a pure look at the origin of what she loves about her terroir and the kind of acid and soil driven wines she loves.

2016 Lónyai Hárslevelű: In contrast to the Origo blend, she never blends anything with Lónyai. This is a stand alone site. Tarcal is usually defined largely by loess soils, but it is of course more complicate than that. There is also chalk, dacite, and perlite that make vineyards like Lónyai susceptible to erosion but not as water retentive as clay. The acids here are sour and need aging, but once they balance out, it’s one of the most elegant and intense Hárslevelűs in the region. Built to age, ideally we drink this 3-5 years after vintage.