#WineWednesday Spotlight #68: Fekete Hárslevelű

This week, we have a festive contribution from Kit Pepper of Kit’s Underground Wine & Spirits: Buying a fresh truffle has become an early-winter ritual for us in the past few years, an annual challenge to find a way to spotlight this one ingredient. Winter truffles (Perigord) were plentiful this year, so we once again took advantage of a friend’s wholesale account to play around. Truffles have a legendary pong—even a bubble-sealed fresh truffle will start to get you funny looks on the train, and stink up your fridge. But what no one tells you is that the aroma is most of the story—most foods increase in flavor intensity when you chew them, but truffles are ephemeral. Soak up the aroma and enjoy the stained-glass effect of the slices, because there’s no crescendo of flavor in your mouth, only a fragile mushroom texture. Delicate, earthy wines are the classic match for truffles—older Burgundies (white or red), old Champagnes or Piedmont reds. But I’m attached to the volcano wines of Somlo, and mushrooms aren’t unknown in Hungary . . . and on the basis of that flawless reasoning, we gave the job to Fekete Bela’s Harselvelu. The creamy weight of the … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #68: Fekete Hárslevelű

Sansigot: A Story of Grape Rescue on the Island of Krk

Historically, politics and wine make a bad pairing—and the combination certainly hasn’t favored the survival of indigenous grape varieties. Think of the vinepulling and planting schemes around the world that largely promoted high yields or courted commercial trends. Communism, in some countries, presented a different challenge: populations migrated to the cities or left altogether, viticulture languished, and vine varieties dwindled to a select few. The Sansigot grape, traditionally grown on the island of Krk just off the Croatian coastline, was one of Communism’s casualties until Ivica Dobrinčić of Šipun winery set about reviving the diversity of grapes that once grew on the island. Sansigot is a black variety that, before the 1950s, made up about 20 percent of black grapes growing on Krk. It has also grown on the tiny island of Susak to the southwest, where it is described as yielding “deeply colored, full-bodied wines” (Robinson, et al, Wine Grapes). On Krk, Sipun and one other winery make a varietal Sansigot that is light-bodied, with a delicate floral aroma and low tannins—a difference Ivica attributes to the separate location and new winemaking technology. During Communism, industrialization was the national priority, with the result that people moved to the cities … Continue reading Sansigot: A Story of Grape Rescue on the Island of Krk

Kabaj Tasting at Terroir, NYC

Jean-Michel Morel, proprietor and wine maker at Kabaj. “Taste it with your eyes closed,” says Jean Michel Morel as I swirl his Amfora 2006 in my glass. We are at the Kabaj tasting for trade and press, held Thursday at the restaurant Terroir in Tribeca, NYC. Jean Michel and Kabaj’s sales manager, Tomo Ceh, were there to pour eight wines made in the hills of Goriska Brda hard against Slovenia’s border with Italy. I closed my eyes and tasted the light amber wine in my glass. The aroma was rich, of honey and sweet pollen. The wine was smooth, with ample body and a lactic topnote, like the smell of a great cheese shop, as well as a noticeable oxidation which, with the healthy acidity and slight tannin of the wine, gave its body rigor. Beneath was an elusive floral quality and light smoke. If I hadn’t known this wine was white, with my eyes closed I might have assumed it was a red with a little age on it—and that was Jean Michel’s point. The truth about Amfora. “It’s red wine—only the color is white,” he says. The 2006 is the middle vintage of three white blends he is … Continue reading Kabaj Tasting at Terroir, NYC

Blue Danube Visits VieVinum 2010

our travel group: Jeff (A Cote, Oakland), Frank & Stetson (BDW), Santos (Bacaro LA), Pamela (CAV, San Francisco). For three days every other year, a wing of the Hofburg imperial palace in Vienna turns into the national wine cellar, as hundreds of Austrian wine producers (and some from other lands) come to pour their wines for an international gathering of trade, press, and colleagues. A small group of five supporters of Blue Danube Wine and specifically of Austrian wine was there to investigate. It is difficult to imagine the Habsburgs roaming these rooms, now that they are lined with tables and packed with people talking of Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch, the merits of screwcap closures, and the conditions of the 2009 vintage. There are so many attractions that one needs to plan carefully to absorb as much as possible, even in three days. The rooms are mapped to a regional theme, making it easy to taste as many Wachau whites as possible, then slip into Wagram and try to identify general differences. One can plan a journey from table to table in Burgenland, tasting only wines from the St. Laurent grape, or try to define the characters of the two … Continue reading Blue Danube Visits VieVinum 2010

The Batič Approach to Organic Wine Making

memories of a warm Welcome at the Batič estate. Miha Batic’s great-grandfather made wine on his property in the old Austria. His grandfather made wine on the same property in Italy; Miha’s father, in his turn, in Yugoslavia, and now Miha makes wine with him in Slovenia. As Miha explains it, the rulers and their rules don’t matter so much as the land in the Vipava Valley that has been cultivated by his family since 1592. For him, as he explains his family’s wine to 60 appreciative guests at a tasting dinner in New York, it always comes back to the land, to nature. The Batic winery lies on 18 hectares of land on the westernmost edge of Slovenia, 15 miles from the Italian border. Grapes are planted on the slopes edging the valley, where the dry breeze of the Mediterrean climate meets the Alpine chill. The Vipava Valley is historically known for its white wines—and Batic makes ageworthy Pinot Gris, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon—but Old World–style reds are produced as well: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Indigenous varieties are blended with international in the Batic cuvée Bonisimus: Pinela, Rebula (known as Ribolla a few kilometers away … Continue reading The Batič Approach to Organic Wine Making

Highlights of Old Dubrovnik

One of the many architectural beauties in Dubrovnik. Old Dubrovnik (or “Ragusa” as it was called in the Medieval ages) is a wonderful town for the history buff, who can wander for hours with a guidebook looking at buildings, and the amateur photographer, who can capture the details of atmosphere and architecture without regard for the madding crowds. We arrive early to roam atop the fortification walls (admission $10/person), which only those in relatively good stair-climbing shape should attempt, sunscreen in hand. We make more than half the three-hour circuit on the wide and undulating brick path, enjoying views of aquamarine sea and cannon portals on the outside (Bokar Bastion and Lovrijenac Fortress shown below) and time-worn lanes on the inside. Then we climb down to have a cappuccino and toast, and read the Herald Tribune. For lunch, we meet Vido B. and his wife. Vido is a former machinery engineer in long-distance shipping—once the major industry in these parts—and now a politician. He tells us a bit about the life, how it stopped being much fun because improvements in the speed of loading and offloading meant you wouldn’t be spending more than eight hours or so in any port, … Continue reading Highlights of Old Dubrovnik

Food and Wine on the Road to Dubrovnik

Ancient fortifications built to protect Ston where the Peljesac peninsula connects with the main land. Marija and Anita pick us up in the morning for our drive to Dubrovnik, the last coastal destination on our journey. On the way out of Orebic, we stop at the old Riviera Hotel to pick up some rootstock for Marija. The old hotel, which looks like a Communist-era castle but is probably earlier, has been bought by a man from Texas and his Croatian wife. They’ll remodel it into ten or eleven luxury suites, and there is already a winery in the cellar, where we taste a very promising pošip from a tank that will be blended with the same wine matured in barrels. Next to the hotel they’ve planted zinfandel vines, which will begin producing in another four years or so. A little later as we drive through the countryside we stop unannounced at Frano Milos’s winery, where we hurriedly taste three wines while he waits for an American tour to arrive. Frano is a curly-headed artist, perhaps in his early forties, and very charismatic—as testified by the magazine articles posted in his tasting room, showing him in GQ-esque poses. His work also … Continue reading Food and Wine on the Road to Dubrovnik

Marko Polos Hometown, and the Wine He May Have Drunk

Approaching Korčula by Ferry. After gazing longingly for two days at the picturesque walled town of Korčula across the water from our hotel balcony, we finally hop on the ferry and head back to the island with Boris. He has arranged for his former boss, at Marco Polo Tours in Korčula town, to give us a tour of the old city. This charming, professorial man in a houndstooth jacket clearly loves his native city. He leads us up the steps to the old walled city—steps that used to be a drawbridge over the moat. On the outside of the city gate is a relief of St Mark’s lion—the lion of Venice. For some 400 years, until about 1800, Korčula was a part of the Venetian empire, at the same time that Orebic, across the water, was the farthest outpost of the Dubrovnik Republic. Just inside the main gate is the early Renaissance St. Mark’s Cathedral, with more lions guarding the portal, and two Tintorettos, among other treasures, inside. As we walk through town, we’re told that the streets were laid out in a fishbone pattern in order to control the passage of hot and cold breezes through the city. Marko … Continue reading Marko Polos Hometown, and the Wine He May Have Drunk

Hvar Island – Home of Zlatans Grand Cru

Seaside Tasting Room of the Zlatan Plenkovic Estate on Hvar. (Photo courtesy Leith Steel) A vineyard assistant named Nevin drives us the four hours south from Krk to Split in the rain, where we slog to the catamaran that will take us to Jelsa, on the north side of Hvar island, in 90 minutes. Jelsa is a gorgeous town with a riviera look—there’s obviously plenty of money here, at least in tourist season. We’re on Hvar to visit the single winery in all of Croatia, called Zlatan Otok, that produces a Grand Cru wine. Zlatan Plenkovic, the owner, is not available to us, but his son Marin (who is finishing his studies to take up a position at the winery) takes good care of us for the twenty-odd hours we’re here. He drives us from Jelsa over the top of the island to the south side, where the winery is, via a single-lane tunnel with rough rock walls carved through the mountaintop. Marin pauses about 100 meters into the tunnel and points to a room off to the side where stainless-steel tanks are visible through the doorway—they store some of their white wine here without need for refrigeration (because of … Continue reading Hvar Island – Home of Zlatans Grand Cru

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

Niko Bura in the middle of an extensive tasting at his kitchen table. Niko Bura is a Croatian garagiste, with his setup on the ground floor of his house, and he is one of this region’s leaders in quality. Niko is making wine in the vineyard, not in the winery. Indeed, we met him this morning tilling the soil between newly planted vines on the family’s Dingač hillside. Niko himself is soft-spoken, clearly proud of his artist daughter, whose painting hangs on the wall of the small tasting room, and appears on the label of Bura Galerija, a light cabernet sauvignon that was first released this year, made from grapes grown in a prime valley location. He is also experimenting with marsellane, a cross between cabernet and grenache. It will be three or four years before the first bottling. The wine called Bura, of 100% Dingač plavac mali, was first produced in 1995. This year saw the release of the first bottles of Mare, from Postup plavac mali and named after its maker, Niko’s sister Marija. MARE 2004, Postup. For this vintage, the grapes were partially raisined due to lack of water on the hillsides. The wine is an unfiltered … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)