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

Reflections from a Final Meal in Budapest

“Munchausen, I know you Christians are judges of good wine. Here is a bottle of Tokay, the only one I possess, and I am sure that never in your life can you have tasted better.” – The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1785 I was recently reflecting upon my last meal in Budapest that I happily consumed just over a week ago. Despite being fed whipped pig fat, goose cracklings, paprika laden stews, kolbász, pickled everything and so on 3-4 times a day for 11 days, I still felt compelled to order basically the same thing when finally given the chance to order for myself. I even upped the ante a bit and went right for rooster testicles and cocks comb stew with an Irsai Olivér Fröcs (aka Spritz). There was so much delicious fat, bright raw onions, smoke, garlic, paprika, and fermented flavors over the course of the dinner that it was difficult to think about drinking anything other than Hungarian wines. Maybe a volcanic Canary or Etna here or there or perhaps some Chenin or Riesling, but after you had a Tokaj Aszú with over 300 grams of residual sugar, 12 g/l total acidity and 7% alcohol that … Continue reading Reflections from a Final Meal in Budapest

Basalt buttes, a massive lake, and volcanic traditional method. 3 New arrivals from Hungary

There are a slew of brand new producers from Hungary landing in the coming months. For many, this will be their very first time in the United States. This is of course an exciting and somewhat terrifying proposition. How will a Kéknyelű from Badacsony be received? Traditional Method sparkling Furmint from outside of Tokaj? Hárslevelű with Benedictine roots planted on a Basalt volcano? I have no idea and I can’t wait to get started. Upon our last visit to the Hungarian appellation of Somló we were fortunate enough to run into Zoltán Balogh from Apátsági Winery. Their estate and cellar were originally owned by the Benedictine Pannonhalma Archabbey. After WWII, the land was expropriated and redistributed during Communism. It was brought back to life in 2001 with 5 people (including the grandson of the last winemaker before the war), 3 hectares, no herbicides, no pesticides, and using large oak fermenters. Their 2013 Hárslevelű exemplifies what Zoltán admires about the appellation as a whole, “When you have Somló acid, why not find balance with sugar.” A concentrated and alive wine. Speaking of acid, but without skin contact and botrytis, Somló is also home to Kreinbacher. While they do make some still … Continue reading Basalt buttes, a massive lake, and volcanic traditional method. 3 New arrivals from Hungary

The Growing Importance of Eastern and Central European Wine Regions

When each month feels like uncharted and often terrifying water selling wines from the Balkans, Central Europe, and now as far as the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, it’s refreshing to look back at the progress made. Having just done so, it turns out things suddenly looks slightly less terrifying. We’ve continued to grow as a company, as a portfolio, and continued our proud tradition of steep learning curves. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve seen the market for these wines grow. We owe this growth to your support. As one form of proof, our slice of the wine world has garnered some promising press we’d like to share. All of that hand selling hasn’t gone to waste… The New York Times (Tokaji Aszu Wines Are a Taste of Hungarian Sweetness) and PUNCH (An Uncertain Future for the World’s Most Iconic Sweet Wines) recently covered Tokaj and Samuel Tinon in particular. Imbibe Magazine (East Goes West: Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads) (PDF) did a wonderful focus on Central Eastern European wine featuring Fekete Béla, Kabaj, Vylyan, Piquentum, Štoka and Orgo. Vogue even singled out both Štoka (Champagne’s Cooler Cousin: 5 Pét-Nat Sparkling Wines to Try Now) … Continue reading The Growing Importance of Eastern and Central European Wine Regions

#WineWednesday Spotlight #3: 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling

I don’t pride myself on wine parlor tricks like blind tasting, but I’d bet my first or second born on picking out a glass of just about anything from Hungary’s Somló appellation. There is such a visceral reaction to the salt, botrytis and weight in these wines. My olfactory memory is rarely this loud and clear. This is particularly the case with the 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling. It’s also strange that this grape is perhaps one of the most widely planted in Central Europe. In Croatia it’s called Graševina, Welchsriesling in Austria, Riesling Italico in Italy, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia. Why so unique in Somló? Maybe it’s because in 1752, local laws stated that if you were found adding water to wine, expect 25 lashings as the minimum punishment. If you were found to be labeling wine as Somló but using other fruit sources, you would be banned from making wine permanently and might even have your property confiscated. Perhaps this historical legacy, or that Hungarian Kings bought vineyards here, or that insurgent Hungarian troops fighting against the Habsburgs would solute the vineyards as they marched past, but what is certain is the unique community of growers here. Perhaps … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #3: 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling

The fall wines nobody will be asking for but everyone will be happy you poured

It was finally cold enough this morning to start thinking about sweaters and heaven forbid a beanie after a seemingly nine month summer. There are also a few wines that have been waiting for the weather to change as well. Namely, from the Istrian Peninsula where Italy, Croatia and Slovenia all meet along the Adriatic. I also added something from the Posavje and the Kras regions for good measure (both less than 2 hours by car). As the seasonal and justifiable urge to reach for Cru Beaujolais, white Burgundy, white Rhone, Cab Franc, Champagne and Riesling etc… grow closer, the following wines offer an equally justifiable transition to something new. Acid, salt, smoke, earth, tart fruits and bubbles can all be found here, they are just hiding in different places and complimented by flavors unique to this little slice of the Northern Adriatic. Moreno Coronica 2013 Coronica Gran Malvasia Istriana, Istria, Croatia The history of the indigenous variety Malvasia Istriana dates back to possibly before the Venetians. Over 30 types are still grown around the Mediterranean. Moreno Coronica’s Malvasia is considered a benchmark in Istria. In lieu of Garrigue, Croatians champion ‘Freškina’ (sent of the sea). Imagine the smell of … Continue reading The fall wines nobody will be asking for but everyone will be happy you poured

What to drink in Budapest’s Central Market Hall

In a rare moment of not being late and or lost en route to a winery, we had the fortune to eat and drink our way through the Central Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) in Budapest this past spring. Built in 1897 and comprised of three enormous levels (10,000 sq meters), it looks like a combination of a train station and a massive Church devoted to everything I want to eat and drink. It’s one of the finest markets in Europe. Taking into account that all of our new Blue Danube Wine arrivals from Austria and Hungary were grown within 2-3 hours drive from the market, I’d like to use the adage of what grows together goes together to introduce them. Starting in the basement level, it’s readily apparent that you’re entering ground zero for fermented fruits and vegetables. Pickle art is definitely a thing, and many venders grow their own produce. Much like a Viennese Heuriger grows and makes its own wines, the co-fermented field blends like Peter Bernreiter’s 2014 Gemischter Satz, 2014 Grüner Veltliner and 2014 Heuriger Liter all have the brightness and aromatics for furthering fermented consumption. A little further West along the Danube is the small town of … Continue reading What to drink in Budapest’s Central Market Hall