The Tart, Salty and the Nutty from the other side of the Adriatic: Summer Wines from the Balkans

15 wines is a lot to get through without losing you after this sentence. However, there is a salty, tart, and often nutty line that connects them all from the Bay of Trieste down to Southern Dalmatia. These are our table wines for the summer. For the past few years, we’ve brought the Martinčič Cviček liter in from Dolenjsko (in between Zagreb and Ljubljana in Slovenia). This tongue-twisting blend of red and white grapes must be between 8.5-10% alcohol and dry by law. Now we are finally adding two more liters to round things out – the 2016 Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch) and 2016 Modri Pinot Rosé (Pinot Noir). They are both around 11-11.5% alcohol, incredibly low in SO2, and are impossibly fresh and full of character. Chill all three down and let them come up at the table. Roughly 2 hours West and a bit south by car and you hit Istria (Istra in Slovenia). Dominated by Malvasia Istarska, Teran and Refošk, the diversity by soil and proximity to the Adriatic is immense. Keeping with the liter theme, the 2016 Santomas LNG Refošk is our Dolcetto by the sea in that it satisfies the pizza/pasta needs but still lends itself … Continue reading The Tart, Salty and the Nutty from the other side of the Adriatic: Summer Wines from the Balkans

No Escape from Balkan

After a long hiatus, new Balkan wines from Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina are finally here the second week of July. After looking over previous trip photos, putting together a fairly impressive Balkan playlist (currently listening to Dubioza Kolektiv), cooking some homemade Burek, and adding Ajvar to my morning eggs, I started to realize how much I missed these wines. The combination of salty, herby, oxidatively alive and zero to full tannins that both go with seafood sets these wines apart. We’ve even added some sparkling, sweet, Amfora, and some wines with 10+ years of age on them for good measure. Štoka Family Starting near the Italian and Croatian border in Slovenia, the Štoka family has been farming for over 200 years. The reds are sanguine, high acid, seemingly Marasca cherry infused and pungent despite being low in alcohol. They make you want rare meat, charcuterie and basically anything cured or pickled. If you over do it, please consider making some “Istarska Supa.” Moreno Coronica Directly south on western coast of Istria near the town of Umag is the Coronica winery. Moreno’s grandfather was Austro-Hungarian, his father was Italian, he was Yugoslavian, and now his children are Croatian. It’s … Continue reading No Escape from Balkan

Introducing Our New Producer Oszkár Maurer

After meeting Oszkár Maurer for the first time, my hands were sore from taking so many notes and my head was spinning. Serbia? Tokaj connections? Oldest pre phylloxera Kadarka vines in the world? Origin of Furmint? Far too much to cover in this newsletter, but here’s the pitch along with my hopes that as many people as possible try this limited wine. Oszkár’s Kadarka, planted in 1880 in sand, is from the Sremska region in Northern Serbia, but was historically the Hungarian appellation of Szerém. Before the Ottoman Occupation in the early 16th Century, this was one of the most famous appellations in Hungary. In the mid 1400s, it’s thought that settlers from here brought grapes like Furmint and Sárga Muskotály to Tokaj and knowledge for using Aszú (dried berries) for sweetening wines. Oszkár believes that the Szerém appellation was established as early as 1452. He’s a fervent student of wine history and lectures at home and abroad. Back in Serbia, he organically farms a number of grapes ranging from Bakator, Szerémi Zöld, Kadarka, and Mézes Fehér. Everything is done by hand or horse. Fruit trees grow amongst the vines and fallen peaches litter the ground. Bugs, rabbits, and life … Continue reading Introducing Our New Producer Oszkár Maurer

Mon Chérry…

Forced French puns aside, in the 11th hour brainstorming that usually precedes a newsletter to the trade, it occurred to me — cherries! Marasca cherries, which grow up and down the Dalmatian coast (including Slovenia and Southern Hungary) became famous all over Europe once distilled into Maraschino. Most of this production eventually moved to Italy after the destruction of WWII, but famous producers like Luxardo (1821) were all founded in Croatia. Cherry festivals can also be found all over Croatia and neighboring Slovenia. Whether you’re in Istria/Slovene Istria (Piquentum, Coronica, Santomas), Goriška Brda (Kabaj), the Kras (Štoka), Dolenjska (Martinčič) or Štajerska (Črnko), cherries abound. Sour, bitter and sweet, they also play a role in the cuisine as fresh soups, desserts, added to stews, jams, syrups, etc… Granted, I know I’m not breaking new ground by attaching cherry flavors to wine. It’s less about the wines tasting like cherries (although some really do), but a similar balance between bitter, sweet and sour. Whether it’s skin contact Ravan (Friulano), Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) and Sivi Pinot (Pinot Grigio), salty barrel aged Malvasia Istriana, bloody Teran, sweet and sour Cviček, bright and aromatic white field blends, or tart Refošk, there’s a kinship at play. … Continue reading Mon Chérry…

First Ever International #FurmintDay is February 1st

Back in 2012 Blue Danube attended a large tasting called “Furmint Február” at the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture in Budapest. 55 producers and 100% Furmint (Foor-mint). At this point, we had 6 wines made from Furmint in the portfolio. At this year’s event, there will be 94 producers and we have 25 wines made from Furmint in the portfolio. Too much? Most certainly, and we hope our lack of self-control inspires you to give this grape an extra push this month. Very few grapes continue to humble us as much as Furmint and they get better every year. It also turns out that Furmint is in good, albeit better known, company. DNA profiling has identified it as an offspring of Gouais Blanc and therefore likely a half sibling of Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir among others. It’s remarkable acidity, balance of residual sugar, and terroir driven nature certainly pulls from these genetics. Add to this a massive range of styles from dry, under flor, sparkling, and a whole magical spectrum of refreshingly sweet botrytized wines and it’s undeniably deserving of our attention. “Furmint is one of central Europe’s greatest white grapes. It’s more savoury than fruity, deeply stony in certain … Continue reading First Ever International #FurmintDay is February 1st

Hungarian Superstitions for Szilveszter (New Year’s Eve)

It’s important to mix superstitions and alcohol whenever possible. Hungarians have a bevy of both, but especially when it concerns Szilveszter. In no particular order, here are a few things to eat, do, avoid and then some fairly biased options for what do drink. •  Eat a lot of pork. Pig fat means prosperity. Please look up a recipe for ‘Kocsonya’ (meat jelly/aspic) if you want to really tackle this option head on. •  Lentils also symbolize good luck and wealth. Make a soup with plenty of paprika and sour cream. •  Another great soup is ‘Korhely Leves.’ This is basically a sauerkraut soup with a lot of smoked meat and paprika. Perhaps the greatest Central European hangover cure as well. •  Fortune telling. Put a variety of names (whatever gender(s) you’re into) inside raw dumplings, and then whatever boils to the surface first is your true love. •  Make calendars from 12 layers of an onion and pour salt over each layer. Whichever layer sweats the most means a rainy corresponding month. •  Don’t do any household cleaning. Even taking out the trash is bad luck. Don’t even wash your clothes. •  Give yourself a cold shower early in … Continue reading Hungarian Superstitions for Szilveszter (New Year’s Eve)

The Republic of Georgia – Everyone needs to go here

It’s a tall order to put together a concise sales pitch for the wines of The Republic of Georgia because the food, language, culture, grapes, winemaking, and even geography are all largely unknown to most of us. However, very few places have such a strong national identity tied to wine that is something more than just patriotism, it’s about hospitality, eating and drinking well, and doing so despite a nearly non stop bombardment of their land for centuries. Nestled between the Caspian and Black Seas, it has both subtropical and alpine climates, the tallest mountains in Europe (Caucasus), and yet is smaller than South Carolina. The biodiversity is insane with roughly 500 indigenous grapes and their Qvevri (Kartuli method) is one the most compelling techniques linking people with wine I can think of. It has even been added to UNESCO’s “List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” It’s a truly special place with hints of Iran, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Armenia and others, but has then melded, edited and created something unique. 8,000 years of unbroken winemaking using the same technique surely warrants giving these wines some attention. At the very least, please cook up some homemade Khinakli and Khachpuri, … Continue reading The Republic of Georgia – Everyone needs to go here

Bringing Tokaj to the US – Samuel Tinon

I just happened to be listening to an interview with British wine writer Hugh Johnson last week (a major investor in Tokaj in his own right) speaking about getting the Royal Tokaji Company off the ground in the early 1990s. One of the names he mentions as ‘saving the day’ concerning the inaugural vintage was Samuel Tinon. Samuel has been going nonstop in Tokaj ever since and was even the first Frenchman to permanently settle in the appellation post Communism. Although born in the sweet wine appellation of Sainte Croix du Mont in France, he and his wife Mathilde have chosen Tokaj for wine and for raising their three children. As patient zero for botrytized winemaking, Tokaj’s sweet wines were the favored drink and muse for Leo Tolstoy, Pablo Neruda, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Diderot, and Voltaire among many others. Samuel is equally convinced of the unique quality of the place, people and wines living there today. It’s also been nearly 20 years since he’s been to California. I’ll be dragging him around the Bay November 14th-15th and presenting seven new wines plus perhaps a few special extras. Ranging from dry/off dry Furmint and Hárslevelű to Dry Szamorodni and … Continue reading Bringing Tokaj to the US – Samuel Tinon

Beast of Brda — Kabaj is Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries 2016

For the third year in a row, Kabaj has been chosen as one of the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries for 2016. While the trade and consumer aspects of the event are of course vital, one of the best things about the Top 100 is simply getting producers from all over the world under one roof to taste each others wines. And year after year, this has come to reinforce how unique the Kabaj wines are and how they compliment the wider world of wine. At the same time, the Kabaj wines are often pigeonholed as simply orange, skin contact, macerated, and or amber rather than simply grape and place. A technique over terroir argument to some. While it’s technically true in that Jean-Michel embraces skin contact, oxygen, and patience rather than a fresh, temperature controlled reductive style, we could also just call his wines “wines” without further labeling. These are the traditional grapes, farmed well, handled clean and simple in the cellar, and barreled down and topped up until incredibly stable and delicious. As such, there are immense distinctions between vintages, vivid grape typicity, and the wines are alive and evolving. To be clear, there are plenty of … Continue reading Beast of Brda — Kabaj is Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries 2016

Atypical Wines From a Tough 2014 Istrian Vintage

2014 was generally a tough vintage throughout the Istrian peninsula, including the nearly 50 km Slovenian coastline (Slovenska obala) that runs north towards Trieste. Heavy rains in August and a cold summer overall meant lower yields for everyone. However, it was still a quality vintage if you farmed well, hand picked and weren’t tied to a recipe. Such was the case with the red wines from Coronica in Croatia and the Malvazija from Santomas in Slovenia. These are also the wines they each typically make the least of anyway. Coronica’s production is mostly white and Santomas is overwhelmingly red. Coronica Crno and Gran Teran Drive about 15 minutes southeast of the coastal city of Umag (50 km south of Trieste) and follow a small road named Koreniki and you will find Moreno Coronica. Even though the land is the same, Moreno’s grandfather was Austro-Hungarian, his father was Italian, he was Yugoslavian, and now his children are Croatian. Nevertheless, he has a stone tablet from 1764 with the family name carved into it that ties it all together. Moreno Coronica Even further back, the region’s long history also includes Romans, Goths, Franks, and Bavarians. The Republic of Venice also had a … Continue reading Atypical Wines From a Tough 2014 Istrian Vintage