James the Wine Guy continues his tasting exploration of Hungary’s volcanic appellation of Somló with this review of Fekete Béla’s distinct Juhfark: This wine variety is completely new, beautiful, gorgeous yet distinctive, knowing this wine as a indigenous grape variety from Hungary, the only place you can find it in the world and very few acres, under 200 acres from what I understand.  What I like about these Juhfark variety wines is that they are really nuanced, there’s significant minerality to these wines and yet very approachable. So what I like about this wine is its distinctive mineral statement, fantastically beautiful, confident, and something that I think is so original and memorable. Watch the video:
The Region Tokaj, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been long renowned for its intoxicating sweet wines. It is located at the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains, at the confluence of the Bodrog and Tisza Rivers. The rivers provide the right mix of moisture to infect the ripe grapes with Noble Rot, a type of fungus responsible for concentrating all the sugars in the grape. The most popular grape grown in the region is the native Furmint, which is enjoying a renaissance as a quality dry wine, something not seen very often just 10 years ago. There are several other widely planted indigenous white varieties in the region such as Hárslevelű and Kövérszőlő. The Winery The history of the estate dates back to György Füleky who was the founder of the First Tokaj Wine Growers’ Society. The 18th Century Baroque winery sits at the center of the town of Bodrogkeresztúr and went under a serious modern renovation in 2011. Founded in 1998, the Füleky estate owns 25 hectares of some of the best historical vineyards in the region. Making dry, late harvest and Aszú wines, the distance from the Bodrog River in tandem with the marshlands is key. Things to … Continue reading Visit a Winery: Füleky in Tokaj
“I must tell you: Hungarian paprika is the best. This is not arrogant nationalism. This is a fact.”—Flora Gaspar My paprika education and enjoyment started and continues with Flora Gaspar at Da Flora restaurant in North Beach. Flora is someone I like to reserve at least two hours for even when I only have a few wines to share. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Hungarian history, language, food, and culture are based on decades of personal experience and heritage. That’s the first hour. The second hour is dedicated to her opinions about the first. She tackles all of the things that make wine and food so endlessly engaging. I’ve shamelessly plagiarized her insight and stories to further your Hungarian indoctrination. And although her restaurant (everyone should go) just turned 20 years old, importing Paprika under her Red Fangs label is just getting off the ground. To tie everything together, Flora has shared some of her favorite Paprika laden recipes, paired them with two Hungarian wines I will be bombarding you with in the coming months, and of course the opportunity to purchase some Red Fangs yourself. Before we get to the wines, recipes and the stories behind them told by Flora … Continue reading Hungary’s Red Gold: Red Fangs Paprika, Kékfrankos and Kadarka
In preparation for the 3rd Annual Great Tokaj Auction, Tom Gardyne of The Drinks Business, asked Eric Danch to explain the current state of Tokaji wines in the US market. Q. What’s demand like for Tokaj at present? Difficult question. It’s like asking what was the demand for Grüner Veltliner in the late 1980’s. Once people became comfortable with Austrian wine, the range of styles, and how to navigate the umlaut, it became a standard on every serious wine list. As for Tokaj, even though for the past 500 years the traditional wines like Aszú, dry Szamorodni, Sweet Szamorodni, late harvest, and Eszencia warranted the world’s first wine appellation system (over 100 years before Bordeaux), the quality dry wines are just over a decade old. That said, there is no doubt that unique grapes are planted in unique places coupled with an incredible producer renaissance. This is what’s exciting about Tokaj right now and people are taking note. We should also remember that Tokaj was once in high demand and a muse for Leo Tolstoy, Pablo Néruda, Balzac, Flaubert, Diderot, Catherine the Great, Goethe, Peter the Great, Bram Stoker, and Voltaire to name a few. No reason that kind of … Continue reading Tokaj Today
Sometime ago, we drew your attention to this region of Volcano Gods and now we return to delve deeper and celebrate success. We are pleased to report that Istvan Spiegelberg has won the prestigious Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2014 award. “His latest releases, particularly this late-harvest juhfark, are catapulting him into the realm of Hungary’s greatest vintners.” noted Wine & Spirits Magazine referring to the 95-point rated 2010 Juhfark Szent Ilona. Somló is celebrated for its volcanic past and distinctive mineral-laced wines. The region is almost exclusively white wine territory with a long tradition of extended barrel aging. This lends an oxidative quality to the wines which aids in their ability to improve with bottle aging and stay fresh longer than the average white wine once opened. These are voluptuous, full-bodied whites enjoyed with dishes we may normally reserve for red wine, like red meats. Another tell-tell sign of wines from this region is riper fruits coupled with high acidity and smoky minerality. The five authorized grapes of Somló are Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, and Tramini. Istvan Spiegelberg and Fekete Bela are our “dynamic duo” of producers in Somló, keeping traditions alive and garnering attention outside of … Continue reading Dynamic Duo Of Somló
All jokes aside, Juhfark is a grape name that is not heard too often. Meaning “sheep’s tail”, the grape is pretty much only grown in the tiny Hungarian appellation of Somló. Juhfark grape bunches grow in a distinctive cylindrical shape which recalls to mind a sheep’s tail, hence the name. The grape is early to break bud and tends to be quite high yielding. Juhfark used to be extensively grown throughout northern Hungary for this reason but soon fell out of fashion. When allowed to produce such high yields, the berries produce a neutral, high acid, uninteresting wine. However, the volcanic soils of Somló have proven to be Juhfark’s best terroir, allowing the grape to express a sense of place and varietal. As of 2008, only 358 acres of Juhfark were planted in all of Hungary, primarily in Somló, but the small amount of wine that is produced today from this grape is truly something to experience. Juhfark acts as a direct link to experience the terroir of Somló. The nose hints at green apple/pear with a floral yet herbal character. But on the palate, the fruit disappears and the star of the show becomes the unique smokey, ash, and … Continue reading Juhfark-ing Around
Are you a wine lover who is like me obsessed with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire? Wine is a major theme in the series and is often associated with the most important plots: a wineseller attempts to poison Daenerys with a cask of of fine Arbor red; King Robert who only loved three things: war, women and wine, is mortally wounded by a boar while hunting drunk; at his wedding, Joffrey’s wine is poisoned and he dies after drinking from his wine goblet. Now, did you know that pairing wines with each of the 9 main houses of Westeros has become increasingly popular on the internet? Check this version based on regions and climates or this one based on wine labels and the houses’ sigils. And don’t miss the Game of Thrones Wine Map. So I couldn’t resist. Here is my Blue Danube version: House Stark The Starks are lean of build and long of face. They live in Winterfell in the North, a castle warmed by natural hot springs, evidence of some volcanic activity. Their wine is the 2011 Bott Csontos Furmint from the Tokaj region. The wine grows on volcanic slopes where the soil … Continue reading What if the Westeros Houses were drinking Blue Danube Wines?
If you like Tokaj, or if you want to learn more about Tokaj, you should check I’ll Drink to That!‘s latest episode. I’ll Drink to That! is a podcast that releases new interviews of sommeliers, vintners, importers, retailers, and wine journalists every Tuesday and Friday. Episode 164 features an interview with Tokaj guru Samuel Tinon during his recent visit to New York City. Born in Bordeaux in 1966, Samuel Tinon comes from a wine producing family in Sainte Croix du Mont, a sweet wine appellation on the Garonne River across from Sauternes. After his wine studies in Bordeaux and Montpellier, Samuel traveled to Spain and Chile. In 1999, he had the opportunity to work in Hungary in the Tokaj region. He didn’t know much about Hungary but there is a strong connection between sweet wine making in Bordeaux and Tokaj. He was the first French winemaker to arrive in the region, just a month after the departure of the Soviet Army. Interview Highlights How he started his winery In 2000, when his contract with Oremus ended, Samuel decided to buy some land, grapes, and a tractor in the village of Olaszliska, but had no money. To finance his venture, he … Continue reading I’ll Drink to That! Exclusive interview with Samuel Tinon
Danubia is a border-less wineland situated geographically and philosophically between wine’s contemporary western position and its ancient Eastern origins. The mighty Danube River spans not just geography but also culture and time, defining landscape and the tastes of our Danubian wine loving predecessors. We dub it Danubia: unity through diversity. Nothing else in the world tastes like these wines. From steep terraced limestone vineyards overlooking the Adriatic, to basalt volcanoes whose wines once promised male progeny, to the world’s first classified vineyards where botrytis meets flor, these are the flavors of Danubia. Join us in DANUBIA and meet our fabulous winemakers that will be visiting the US this month: Grand Liquoreux Master Samuel Tinon will be presenting his remarkable Tokaji wines in New York. He will be joined by Skradin winemaker star Alen Bibić and natural wines pioneer Miha Batič, who will also visit Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. For the new Miloš generation, Ivan, Franica, and Josip, this will be their first US trip. They will bring their most respected Plavac wines to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and finally New York. This will be a rare opportunity to armchair travel to Central … Continue reading The winemakers are coming, meet them in Danubia!
Finally! Some recent rainstorms and snow falling over the Sierra Nevada gave us a small peek at winter weather as well as cravings of cheese fondue accompanied by one of those crisp and mineral Alpine wines that go so well with hard cheese. But winter with its rich food is also a great time to expand our wine horizons argues Jon Bonné, wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Beyond the Alps, he recommends exploring Slovenia, a country bordering the eastern section of the Alps as well as neighboring Hungary and Croatia. What the wines of these regions share, he writes, is “a bridge between that lean mineral cut of the mountains and the richness and exoticism of ripe, fleshy grapes.” These countries have been growing grapes for centuries and offer an incredible diversity of native grape varieties that are just coming to international awareness: spicy Furmint, the dominant grape in Tokaj, Muscat-like Irsai Olivér also from Hungary, crisp and floral Rebula, called Ribolla Gialla in nearby Friuli, aromatic Malvasia Istriana from the Istrian Peninsula at the north of the Adriatic sea, and many more. Check out Jon Bonné’s recommendations, you’ll find some of Blue Danube’s best selling wines: the … Continue reading The SF Chronicle: the whites of Central Europe are ideal wines for winter