József Borbély purchased his first vineyards in 1990 in Nyéklákháza, in the Bükk appellation, a wine district located in North-Eastern Hungary, right between Eger and Tokaj. The region has been making wines since the 14th century and today, it is awakening thanks to a handful of quality producers like József Borbély, who are working hard on reviving the region. The winery is named after József’s mother-in-law Isabella Gallay. The Gallay family owned a winery and vineyards before World War I but they lost everything after the war. Now the Borbély family is working on rebuilding the family heritage. While József cultivates grapes, his younger son Roland, who has a degree in viticulture and oenology and professional experiences in Napa, Tokaj and Eger, is the family winemaker. Near the village of Nyékládháza, they grow Pinot Blanc and Zenit, a unique Hungarian white grape variety created in 1951. The two are blended together to create a fresh and fruity wine called Bistronauta and a creamy white sur lees called Gallay Blanc. They also produce a bright and spicy red from the Zweigelt grape.
In 1945, Endre Tornai, the only survivor of his family, walked home to Hungary from the Russian front. Linka, a girl he fancied from before the war waited for him and they got married at Christmas of the same year. They bought a one acre vineyard on the Somló hill, and in 1946 they had both their first child and their first harvest. Anna, one of his grandchildren says “my grandfather was in love with the Somló, and so is my father”. This love made the Tornai family endure, and led them to dedicate their life to the Somló. After communism ended in ’89, they could buy back their old lands and now are farming 70 acres. They are open to innovation while working with the traditional grapes of the Somló: Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű. The Somló is the smallest appellation of Hungary – basically one basalt hill popping up from a flat landscape. It’s one of the most expressive terroirs in the world, a truly magical place. We are excited to have another producer from this tiny yet powerful region. The Tornai Juhfark and Furmint will be available later this month!
After meeting Oszkár Maurer for the first time, my hands were sore from taking so many notes and my head was spinning. Serbia? Tokaj connections? Oldest pre phylloxera Kadarka vines in the world? Origin of Furmint? Far too much to cover in this newsletter, but here’s the pitch along with my hopes that as many people as possible try this limited wine. Oszkár’s Kadarka, planted in 1880 in sand, is from the Sremska region in Northern Serbia, but was historically the Hungarian appellation of Szerém. Before the Ottoman Occupation in the early 16th Century, this was one of the most famous appellations in Hungary. In the mid 1400s, it’s thought that settlers from here brought grapes like Furmint and Sárga Muskotály to Tokaj and knowledge for using Aszú (dried berries) for sweetening wines. Oszkár believes that the Szerém appellation was established as early as 1452. He’s a fervent student of wine history and lectures at home and abroad. Back in Serbia, he organically farms a number of grapes ranging from Bakator, Szerémi Zöld, Kadarka, and Mézes Fehér. Everything is done by hand or horse. Fruit trees grow amongst the vines and fallen peaches litter the ground. Bugs, rabbits, and life … Continue reading Introducing Our New Producer Oszkár Maurer
Ancient but challenged, wine culture perseveres in Turkey writes journalist Deborah Parker Wong in SOMM Journal. In her article, she talks to businesswoman and founder of Gülor Winery Güler Sabancı regarding the future of Turkey’s wine business: “[Over the last decade] Turkish consumers have been learning about quality from fine imported wines,” says vintner and philanthropist Güler Sabancı whose Gülor winery in Thrace is sited in the historical center of Turkish wine production. “Considering that there have been no incentives for the industry and our ability to market wine at home is quite limited, I’m very optimistic.” Modern wine culture emerged in the early 1990s when visionary producers picked up where the Turkish government left off after the introduction of French grape varieties to Thrace in the 1950s. Although Gülor is credited with the country’s first commercial production of Bordeaux-style wines, Sabancı champions the country’s indigenous grapes grape varieties as a way for Turkey to differentiate its wines on the global market. The boutique winery has recently begun exporting wine to the U.S. and is looking at Russia and the U.K. as well. Read the whole article and learn more about the Turkish industry and its wines here. Sabancı’s wines … Continue reading Meet Turkey’s Visionary Vintner Güler Sabancı
Jancis Robinson’s logic in deciding that Tribidrag should be the prime name of the grape variety that also appears in almost identical forms as Zinfandel, Primitivo, Kratošija, Crljenak kaštelanski or Pribidrag is very simple. The “priority right” has won – the oldest name gets the title! While the first written reference to the name Primitivo dates from 1799 and to Zinfandel from 1837, the first reference to Tribidrag dates all the way back to the 15th century. Etymologically, the name Tribidrag comes from the Greek language and means “early ripening”. The Italian name for this grape variety came from the Latin language (primativus) and means the same “the first to ripen”. The etymological origin of the name Zinfandel has never been discovered and it is considered a mystery… Željko Garmaz — Wine Stories 15 years after it was discovered that Zinfandel was the old Croatian grape variety called Tribidrag or Crljenak, learn the story of Tribidrag and taste the finest Zinfandel, Primitivo and Tribidrag wines at the first International Conference on Tribidrag Wine Variety which will be held on April 27th & 28th, 2017 in Split, Croatia. Speakers include Jancis Robinson, Carole Meredith, José Vouillamoz and more! Click here to … Continue reading “I am Tribidrag” Conference
Back in 2012 Blue Danube attended a large tasting called “Furmint Február” at the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture in Budapest. 55 producers and 100% Furmint (Foor-mint). At this point, we had 6 wines made from Furmint in the portfolio. At this year’s event, there will be 94 producers and we have 25 wines made from Furmint in the portfolio. Too much? Most certainly, and we hope our lack of self-control inspires you to give this grape an extra push this month. Very few grapes continue to humble us as much as Furmint and they get better every year. It also turns out that Furmint is in good, albeit better known, company. DNA profiling has identified it as an offspring of Gouais Blanc and therefore likely a half sibling of Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir among others. It’s remarkable acidity, balance of residual sugar, and terroir driven nature certainly pulls from these genetics. Add to this a massive range of styles from dry, under flor, sparkling, and a whole magical spectrum of refreshingly sweet botrytized wines and it’s undeniably deserving of our attention. “Furmint is one of central Europe’s greatest white grapes. It’s more savoury than fruity, deeply stony in certain … Continue reading First Ever International #FurmintDay is February 1st
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
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
“Yes, these are the orange wines you’ve been hearing about but don’t call them that to a Georgian,” writes wine writer and editor Eileen Duffy. This Thanksgiving city dwellers might do well to consider wines from Georgia (as in the country) to accompany their turkey feast. Thanks to a recent push by Brooklynite and Master of Wine Lisa Granik, more and more retailers and sommeliers are putting the wines on their shelves and wine lists. Granik works as the market adviser for the National Wine Agency and has been bringing visitors to see the dramatic landscapes and vineyards where, many say, wine was first made around 6,000 BCE as evidenced by pips dating to that era. Georgian wines are mostly white and fermented and aged with the skin on, which results in an amber colored wine. Yes, these are the orange wines you’ve been hearing about but don’t call them that to a Georgian, or to Granik for that matter. “These are amber wines,” she says. “Not orange. First, because they’re not made from oranges and because they really are amber in color.” What makes these wines great with turkey, stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts and even pumpkin pie? Read the … Continue reading A Brief Intro to Georgian Wines and Where to Get Them
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