Kadarka, Cadarca, Gamza

Based in the South of France, Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay has contributed on Provence and Hungary for winetravelguides.com and has updated the Provence sections for both Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine and Oz Clarke’s annual pocket wine book. An active educator, she works on the MW education program, gives masterclasses and runs a local wine tasting group. Hungary is increasingly looking to its vinous history and indigenous varieties. There is a growing number of winemakers, who, with the help of research institutes like the one at Pécs, are replanting varieties which were almost lost during the phylloxera epidemic. Kadarka is one of those varieties now seeing a revival. It also happens to be my current favourite variety. Recent research suggests that an ancestor of Kadarka, the Papazkarası variety found in the Strandja region of Thrace, on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, was taken westwards and planted around Lake Scutari on the modern Albania-Montenegro border. There, it was crossed with a local variety, Skardarsko, creating Kadarka. It would have stayed little more than a local variety if political events had not intervened. In 1689 the Ottoman army defeated the Austrians and, in fear of further attacks, the … Continue reading Kadarka, Cadarca, Gamza

Tokaj Part 2: Quality Over Quantity

This is the second article on Tokaj by Blue Danubian Eric Danch featured on GuildSomm.com. This one focuses on how a new generation is embracing the appellation’s pedigree while also improving farming and winemaking and then outlines the different wine styles of Tokaj. Tokaj-Hegyalja is the product of 20 million years of volcanic activity. This means that whether in the loess-covered south or the diverse range of rocks and clay locally called nyirok, the subsoil is largely tuff, guaranteeing that vines will struggle. Many of the most famous dűlői (crus) in the appellation are on the slopes of these formally active volcanoes, adding to their struggle with erosion, drainage, and exposure. As the aim was to supply industrial levels of production for consumption in the former USSR and the other former Bloc countries, growers quickly resorted to fertilizing, spraying heavily, and planting on the flats where large Russian-built tractors could easily operate. Vine density decreased, and famed terraces and steep sloped vineyards went fallow or were eventually consumed by the Zemplén Forest. Many forgotten vineyards are visible while driving through the region or walking up into the forest from existing sites. It’s a surreal sight. Today, producers are reverting to … Continue reading Tokaj Part 2: Quality Over Quantity

#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

Tokaj Part 1: Sweet Relevance

There is a new article on Tokaj by Blue Danubian Eric Danch featured on GuildSomm.com. It is the first of two installments and it provides some useful background on the appellation and outlines the history of one of Europe’s oldest wine regions: Hungarians are chronic storytellers. Perhaps it’s in their DNA, or the result of relying on oral history to preserve their national identity as kingdoms, empires, occupations, and wars have defined their land. Another identity-ridden Hungarian pastime is wine. The appellation of Tokaj-Hegyalja (“foothills of Tokaj”) in northeastern Hungary and southwestern Slovakia represents both; Hungarians even sing about the sweet nectar of Tokaj in their national anthem. Very few wine regions possess as much unbroken history, so significant a heyday, and such a decided fall into obscurity. As such, the focus of most Tokaj literature is about past greatness and hopes of reclaiming it. Much of what has been written also highlights King Louis XIV’s famous phrase, Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum (“Wine of Kings, King of Wines”), and ends with a discussion of the collectivized quantity-over-quality industrial production under Communism. While both are true and important in understanding the region, Tokaj is no longer static, looking backwards, or dreaming … Continue reading Tokaj Part 1: Sweet Relevance

#WineWednesday Spotlight #64: Csendes Dülö Hárslevelü

A contribution by wine writer and photographer Kevin Day who just published A First Taste Guide To Hárslevelü. The 2013 Csendes Dülö Szölöbirtok Hárslevelü was his first taste of the Hárslevelü grape: Not knowing my Szölöbirtok from my Hárslevelü, I twisted the cap and poured a glass with delightful bewilderment. Such is the fun of being an adventurous wine drinker. Here is his tasting note: Pale yellow-green color. Lovely and inviting nose that recalls lime zest as well as green apple, underripe pineapple rind and a general springtime scent of freshness and floral aromatics. Comes across as a bit spicy and peppery on the palate, giving the wine a distinct edge. Roaring acidity that makes it exceptionally food-friendly. Tingling sensation on the finish. Now, do you want to know 3 good reasons to try Hárslevelü? Check Kevin’s Guide To Hárslevelü. Looking for a Hárslevelü wine? Here is our Hárslevelü selection on our webshop.

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

#WineWednesday Spotlight #57: Pfneiszl Kékfrankos

I’m back from France after spending a couple of weeks moving my Mom from the south of France to Paris, and drinking mostly Provence Rosés — her favorite wine. So it was good to be back home and with the evenings getting darker and cooler, switch to autumnal reds: medium-bodied wines like Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Gamay from Beaujolais, Barbera from Piedmont or Blaufränkisch from Burgenland, which should include Kékfrankos from Sopron, Hungary, as the two regions were part of the same wine district when Sopron was the capital of Burgenland during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Hungarian Pfneiszl estate of Austrian Birgit and Katrin Pfneisl illustrates precisely this point. The Pfneiszl family was originally from Hungary before escaping from Communism and settling just across the border in Burgenland where their surname lost its “z”. It’s only in 1993 that the family was able to re-acquired its Hungarian vineyards, now managed by the two sisters. Under the leadership of Birgit the winemaker, the Pfneiszl vineyards and winemaking are now certified organic. The Pfneiszl Kékfrankos, which is also called “Újra Együtt” or “Together Again”, symbolises the reunion of the family with their Hungarian side. It also means getting together with friends … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #57: Pfneiszl Kékfrankos

#WineWednesday Spotlight #55: Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Halas

In the special fall issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine that featured conversations and tastings with 50 sommeliers, critics and wine educators, one of the articles was an interview of the Wine Director of Oakland’s À Côté restaurant Jeff Berlin by John Szabo MS: “Imagine the vineyards of the Côte d’Or being ripped out or abandoned, and then witnessing their rebirth” says Jeff Berlin, wine director at À Côté in Oakland, California. He’s describing the excitement he feels watching Hungary’s Tokaj region recover after a half-century of Soviet rules. In the interview, Jeff Berlin lists his favorite Tokaji wines including the Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Halas, produced by young winemakers János Hajduz and Krisztián Farkas: This wine, Berlin says, represents a riper, fruitier expression of furmint. The Halas vineyard, which once belonged to co-owner János Hajduz’s grandfather, is a warm, south-facing parcel that slopes down to the Bodrog River in the village of Bodrogkeresztúr, and its 50-year old vines grow in rich red volcanic clay. “These factors combine to make fat, happy furmint grapes and round, juicy mouthfuls of wine,” Berlin explains. “But the wine also demonstrates how the volcanic minerality and naturally high acidity of furmint can support a fuller, … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #55: Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Halas

#WineWednesday #52: Spotlight on Samuel Tinon

It is Wine Wednesday and my family and I are in Tokaj, visiting Samuel and Mathilde Tinon. The day is sunny and warm, which is excellent news for the ripening of the grapes. Thanks to the rainfall we had two days ago, the soil has now the right moisture, which will allow the botrytis to develop on the berries: 2016 is going to be a good year! Samuel takes us to the famed Hatari vineyard up the hill with glasses and a bottle of dry Hatari Furmint 2015. The wine is rich and concentrated like the berries that we taste from the vines that has not been harvested yet, as they will be saved for the Aszú production. Back to the Tinons’ house, we’re greeted by Mathilde with 2 pitchers of fresh water and 2 bottles of dry and sweet Szamorodni. Both are exquisite wines with a unctuous texture and great complexity. The dry version leaves a taste of walnut and curry spices and is delicious with the pieces of Comté cheese that Mathilde has prepared. The sweet version is rich in sugar but perfectly balanced thanks to its acidity. Mathilde explains to us that sweet Tokaji shouldn’t be restricted … Continue reading #WineWednesday #52: Spotlight on Samuel Tinon

A postcard leads to a discovery of a Jewish family’s lost vineyard in Hungary

The story started with a photo of the Jewish cemetery in Mád, Tokaj. The photo can be found on Gabor and Carolyn Banfalvi’s food and wine tour website Taste Hungary, where they offer a Tokaj Jewish Heritage & Wine Tour. The photo shows headstones with names of local Jewish families including the Zimmermanns who owned a property in Mád, today the location of the Royal Tokaji winery. Beverly Fox and her mother Zsuzsanna Zimmermann — a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor who is now called Susy Oster — recognized the cemetery and also one of the nearby buildings in front of a war monument as Zsuzsanna’s childhood house before she was deported in 1944 with her mother Blanka. In fact, Oster still has a postcard of the monument and the house. But on Royal Tokaji’s website, in the section on the winery’s history, there was a mysterious gap between the 1700s and the Communist and post-Communist eras. After this surprising historic find, the family approached the company. After a year of hard negotiations, Royal Tokaji has finally revised its historical section and on June 24 2016, unveiled two plaques on one of the exterior walls of the winery: “This was the home … Continue reading A postcard leads to a discovery of a Jewish family’s lost vineyard in Hungary