3 Wines from Central Europe You Need To Know Now

Bottlenotes recommends adding these three Central European wines to your repertoire. For the past decade, wines from Central and Eastern Europe have been something of a sommelier secret stateside. The names can be hard to pronounce (hárslevelű, anyone?), but the best bottles offer exceptional value and tend to work extremely well with food. Here are the three recommended wines: Samuel Tinon Furmint Birtok (Tokaj, Hungary) Sommeliers and wine insiders have been raving about furmint for years. The grape, which is commonly used to make Hungary’s famous sweet wines, also makes an intriguing dry wine with medium- to full-body and high acidity (read: an ideal wine to pair with food). Piquentum Blanc (Istria, Croatia) Croatia may have initially gained some international fame for its red wines, but many sommeliers now feel that the white Malvasia coming out of the country is some of the best representations of the grape in Europe. When made in a dry style, it makes a crisp wine with some weight in the body, similar to dry Chenin Blanc. Orgo Rkatsiteli (Kakheti, Georgia) Georgian wines can be tricky to pin down from producer to producer. Some are quite rustic and oxidative, while a growing number offer more … Continue reading 3 Wines from Central Europe You Need To Know Now

#WineWednesday Spotlight #18: Fekete Juhfark

Somló is Hungary’s smallest appellation and once an underwater volcano. Now dormant, its slopes of ancient sea sediment, hardened lava, and basalt are home to some of Hungary’s steepest, most densely planted vineyards. Somló is also home to winemaker Fekete Béla, who only recently retired after 30 + years tending the same vineyard. Our spotlight this week is his Juhfark as reviewed by Portland-based wine writer, Christine Havens: From an obscure, nearly extinct grape variety, Juhfark translated literally means “sheep’s tail” so named because tightly clustered bunches have a distinctive curve at the tip. Found only in the Somló region of Hungary, this non-aromatic variety is typically aged in large oak barriques. Meyer lemon zest, cling peaches, chamomile, and white flowers round out the nose. It’s a broad-shouldered white with a coursing vein of acidity, along with a mineral upwelling that showcases an ashy, volcanic soil type. Although Béla recommends drinking it with roasted wild fowl, rich cheeses, smoked fish, and subtly spicy dishes are all welcome pairings. Happy Hungarian #WineWednesday!

Beyond Bull’s Blood

San Francisco Magazine features an interesting article by John Capone in their latest March issue, exploring the diversity of Hungarian wine “Beyond Bull’s Blood”. Thanks to sommeliers and wine buyers eager to introduce “new” bottles to their customers, Hungarian wine is enjoying newfound respect on the well-vetted lists of restaurants like the Progress, Petit Crenn, Lord Stanley, Octavia, and the Slanted Door, and occupying hallowed shelf space at institutions like Bi-Rite and Bay Grape. Our Northern CA Sales Manager Eric Danch says: What’s most encouraging is that many of these wines don’t linger on lists; they move and get reordered. We’re seeing this in numbers; there’s undeniable growth. This year, we’re bringing in at least eight brand-new producers. What are the sommeliers saying? Jeff Berlin of À Côté on 2011 Fekete Béla Juhfark: “A fascinating grape that cab be rich and ripe, but always displays the (terroir) or its volcanic vineyards.” Courtney Humiston of Petit Crenn on Patricius Sparkling Brut: “…drinks dry but has enough richness to carry your meal”. Flora Gaspar of Da Flora on 2013 Vylyan Portugieser: “discreet spice, the jammy fruit backed by subtle tannins, and the slight lick of acid”. Chaylee Priete of The Slanted Door … Continue reading Beyond Bull’s Blood

Lulu McAllister of SF’s NOPA on hometown hits and new favorites

Great interview by Luke Sykora in the latest Wine & Spirits Magazine with Lulu McAllister, one of San Francisco’s top sommeliers behind the wine lists of Nopa and Liholiho Yacht Club. She had some nice things to say about Blue Danube Wine Co and the Hungarian grape, kadarka! This year I’ve really loved working with kadarka. It tastes brooding in terms of aromatics and fruit profile, but it’s actually fairly zippy, leaner than the color in the glass would suggest. They call it “bull’s blood,” so sometimes I will explain that to people. It can handle a wider range of flavors than most medium-bodied, thicker, more rugged wines can handle. I can actually pair it with lighter dishes and it can hold its own when heavier dishes come out. I wouldn’t say it’s like pinot noir exactly, but it works in a similar way. Eric Danch [the northern California sales manager] at Blue Danube, is kind of the guy for these funky grapes. His portfolio is one of the most exciting out there right now; he’s going all-in on wines that are really obscure for most people. And if he says, “You’ve got to try this….” Read the whole article … Continue reading Lulu McAllister of SF’s NOPA on hometown hits and new favorites

Plum Dumplings: An Austro-Hungarian Treat

Anne Krebiehl MW offers this traditional recipe in her latest article for Wine Enthusiast. Read the full piece here. Known as Lekvártascherl in Austria and Barátfüle in Hungary, these plum dumplings are a delicious example of Central European sweets. The best wine pairing would be either an Austrian eiswein or late harvest wine from Hungary. Here are a few we recommend: From the Rosenhof Winery in Austria, producer of some of the finest, incredibly balanced sweet wines- Rosenhof Blaufränkisch Eiswein 2012 Rosenhof Welschriesling TBA 2010 Two late harvest wines from Tokaj, Hungary; one is made by the Füleky winery and the other by Patricius. Both wines retain a beautiful amount of freshness and lively acidity that work in harmony with the residual sugar- Füleky Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest 2012 Patricius Katinka Late Harvest 2012 Plum Dumplings Recipe Recipe courtesy Michal Rabina, Eisenstädter Mehlspeiskuchl, Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Austria Ingredients 2 cups boiled, peeled potatoes 3/4 cup quark or fromage frais 3/4 cup unsalted butter 2 egg yolks (save the whites for another use, or discard as desired) 1 whole egg 1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 1 teaspoon finely … Continue reading Plum Dumplings: An Austro-Hungarian Treat

#WineWednesday Spotlight #12: Tinon Dry Szamorodni

Bordeaux vigneron Samuel Tinon, settled in Tokaj with his family after making wine all over the world. His wife, Mathilde, a wine journalist, tells their extraordinary story in a matter-of-fact way, but even her words are soaked with the beauty of Tokaj. “Wherever we were in the world, we always just thought about Tokaj, coming back here. The botrytis is perfect here, and we were fascinated by the aszú. We were on a quest, to discover the aszú berry”. In fact, “aszú”, the Hungarian word for the noble rot, botrytis, does enjoy the climate of Tokaj. Nights of thick fog are followed by warm sunshine in the fall, allowing the healthy development of botrytis. Today’s wine is dry Szamorodni. Partially botrytized bunches are picked as a whole (versus berry-selecting for an aszú wine) and fermented, resulting in Tokaji Szamorodni. Being really popular in Poland, the name “szamorodni” comes from the Polish word “as it is”, or “as it grows”. What makes this particular Szamorodni so unique and wonderful, is that Tinon went back to the original, traditional way of making this wine: aging it in partial barrels and allowing flor, the surface yeast to develop. The result is extreme complexity: … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #12: Tinon Dry Szamorodni

#WineWednesday Spotlight #10: Gere Portugieser

As the very welcome rain was pouring down in Northern California last weekend, I suddenly wished I could have shared my Moroccan spiced fish stew dinner with my East coast relatives and colleagues who were stranded by what we now are calling the record-setting blizzard of 2016. I opened a bottle of the relativity low-priced, but great quality red wine from the well-established Southern Hungarian town of Villány: Gere Portugieser. Since German settlers brought innovative techniques and the Portugieser grape with them to the region, it has become a local treasure. The winemaker, Attila Gere, first took interest in the future of Villány wines while tasting the home-made versions served by his father-in-law. Gere became obsessed with the potential of the area and when the Communist regime was dissolved in the early 90’s, Attila Gere winery was established. In Hungary, the grape was once known as Kékoportó or “blue Portuguese” but has been renamed Portugieser in recent times. Aged in stainless steel after fermentation in wild yeast, the wine has a deep color, and is more fuller-bodied than wines aged in oak. The variety’s naturally low levels of acidity mean that Portugieser wines should be drunk in their youth. It … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #10: Gere Portugieser

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

#WineWednesday Spotlight #2: Samuel Tinon Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Our featured wine this week just appeared in an article written by acclaimed New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov. Samuel Tinon produces his wine in Hungary’s oldest and most celebrated wine region: Tokaj. The word “Aszú” refers to the dried hand picked botrytis infected grapes. Puttonyos (literally baskets) refers to the ratio of Aszú berries to base wine. For a 5 Puttonyos, the residual sugar must have a minimum of 120 g/l. These Aszú berries are then mashed into a super sweet thick black paste and macerated in a finished dry wine for a month. Finally the wine spends two long years fermenting in barrel, constantly in contact with oxygen. This balance between building good oxidation into the wine brings out an incredible aromatic profile. Here is what Eric Asimov had to say about the 2005 Tinon Aszú 5 Puttonyos: While similar, a 2005 5 puttonyos aszú from Samuel Tinon is also entirely different, as if the botrytis had taken the wine in unexpected directions that year. The peach and apple flavors beckon, as does the great acidity and balance, but the flavors seem wrapped in hazelnut and caramel, beautifully fresh and complex. Read the entire article from the … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #2: Samuel Tinon Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos