#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

An Uncertain Future for the World’s Most Iconic Sweet Wines

Is there a future for traditional sweet wines as global taste changes? Zachary Sussman explores the “uncertain” future for the world’s famous sweet wines, like Hungary’s Tokaji Aszú, in this article for Punch. Ironically, the examples that have fallen the furthest out of fashion—basically, port, Sauternes and Tokaji—were once revered as the coveted darlings of kings and counts and royal courts. It was by virtue of their sweetness, in fact, that they first gained international fame. Not only did high sugar contents prevent spoilage during the days before refrigeration, allowing wines to enter the export market as global commodities, but sugar also enjoyed luxury status at the time: The kind of intense sweetness found in a bottle of port or Tokaji was inseparable from its aura of aristocratic splendor….What’s next? Faced with declining sales and a wine culture that increasingly prizes the savory, the saline and the mineral, will these regions take the necessary steps to remain relevant? Or are they destined to survive as mere museum pieces? Our own Stetson Robbins weighs in on the shift away from traditional wine styles in Tokaj: Even at the sweetest levels, producers in Tokaji are moving towards a brighter, modern style. Hopefully, … Continue reading An Uncertain Future for the World’s Most Iconic Sweet Wines

A Danubian Thanksgiving

In preparation for this year’s holiday we have shared our favorite wines sourced from along the Danube river to enhance your celebrations. All of these wines are distinct in their own way but sure to pair beautifully with everything on your holiday table 2011 Kabaj Rebula $26.95 I first learned of the significance of cranberry sauce to the Thanksgiving table while skating on frozen cranberry bogs in Massachusetts with my then young children. I’ve since traded the bogs for the backyard orange trees of California. The best cranberry sauce is a simple and quick relish made with fresh cranberries, freshly-squeezed orange juice, peels, and sugar. No wonder the orange Kabaj Rebula wine from Slovenia pairs so well with that dish! Falling somewhere between a white and red, the wine has intense tannins contrasting with a funky, spicy orange-blossom aroma. It has excellent minerality, and a very enjoyable rich long finish. No need to switch to red for me. This wine is a perfect match for the Thanksgiving table for the recognized 100 Top Winery of 2015!” — Eugénie Cabot 2014 Martinčič Cviček $14.95 In the interest of eating and drinking for as long as possible on Thanksgiving, Cviček (Tsvee-check) is … Continue reading A Danubian Thanksgiving

Fascinating Fact from WineSpeed: Botrytis Beginnings

Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and Director of the Wine Program at the Culinary Institute of America, recently wrote this “Fascinating Fact” on the history of sweet wine production: The world’s most highly prized dessert wines actually got off to a rotten start. The Sauternes region of France is best known for these wines today, but the practice of using botrytized grapes (those infected with the fungus Botrytis cinerea)to make unctuously sweet dessert wines actually began in Hungary’s Tokay region around 1650. (By comparison, the first Sauternes is thought to be an 1847 Chateau d’Yquem.) As the story goes, the Hungarian harvest was delayed that year due to a Turkish invasion. After several weeks of battle, Hungarians returned to their vineyards to find their grapes shriveled and rotting on the vine. They harvested them anyway, and, much to their surprise, found that, thanks to the fungus, the tiny amount of concentrated liquid left inside each grape tasted like honey! Sign up to receive more fascinating facts with Karen MacNeil’s WineSpeed at www.karenmacneil.com Try this “highly prized” wine for yourself! We have examples from several producers in Tokaj: Dorogi Eszencia 2008 Füleky Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest 2012 Füleky Tokaj … Continue reading Fascinating Fact from WineSpeed: Botrytis Beginnings

Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads

Check the story called “East goes West — Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads” in the latest issue of Imbibe Magazine. With interviews of Jeff Berlin, sommelier at À Côté, Michelle Polzine, owner of 20th Century Cafe, Paul Einbund, wine director for Frances and Octavia in San Francisco, Henry Beylin, sommelier of Los Angeles’ Gjelina, and our own Frank Dietrich, wine writer Jennifer Fiedler explores how wines from Central and Eastern Europe—what she calls the older Old World—are steadily making their way westward to some of the best restaurants’ wine lists. Twenty years ago, a Plavac Mali or Rebula would have been a rare find on an American wine list of any stature, much less at a tiny local bistro or neighborhood wine shop. But what began as a small trickle of quality Central and Eastern European wine into U.S. markets—a Hungarian dry Furmint here, a Georgian Saperavi there—has gradually grown to a steady stream, buoyed by support from dedicated importers, enthusiastic sommeliers, and a public eager to explore wines outside of the traditional canon. “[These wines] are very unique, and very expressive of where they come from,” says Jeff Berlin, sommelier at À Côté in … Continue reading Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads

Hungarian Wine Regions: Szekszárd and its Elegant Reds

Get to know Hungary’s premier red wine region, Szekszárd. The wine region of Szekszárd, known mostly for its famous Kadarka red wine, has been noted for its wine culture since Roman times and became one of the main centres of Hungarian red wine production in the 15th century. As the climate of the sunny wine region is rather balanced, excellent red grapes can grow on the mostly loess lands. Szekszárd reds are known for their velvety texture, and often show a lot of elegance. Szekszárd, along with Eger, is also one of the two regions that produce the famous Hungarian Bikavér. Read the rest of the guide, written by Hungary Today, here. For an excellent example of the region and its signature Kadarka grape, try the sophisticated wines from the Eszterbauer family.