Moldy grapes are better

Most of the 2018 fruit is in across the portfolio, and seeing all of the harvest action over social media is a reminder of how diverse and special these places are. In particular, there’s the ubiquitous “perfect cluster photo” phenomenon. For the vast majority of the wine world, it’s a shiny perfect looking uniform cluster. My feed is full of botrytis ridden desiccated clusters. Speaking of botrytis, whether fermented dry, off dry, under flor or sweet, tons of brand new wines from Samuel Tinon, Oszkár Maurer, Demeter Zoltán, Bodrog Borműhely, Kikelet and Fekete Béla have just landed. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the new Gere Olaszrizling, Káli-Kövek Olaszrizling and Juhfark, and Szőke Mátyás Irsai Olivér have the brightness, salt, and aromatics to tackle the final weeks of summer and transition into the fall. First, let me properly introduce Oszkár Maurer from Subotičko – Horgoškoj, Serbia. Oszkár is ethnically Hungarian, and the region, formally known as the Szerémség, was Hungarian for hundreds of years. Due to the sandy soils piled up between the Danube and Sava rivers, many grapes are still own-rooted and planted as far back as 1880. The nearby Fruška-Gora (Tarcal in Hungarian) mountains bring volcanic soils … Continue reading Moldy grapes are better

Georgian Wines are Exciting!

More than 500 varieties of native grapes. A multi-millennia-old winemaking tradition in clay vessel or qvevri. In fact, Georgia have been making wines almost forever. Then around 320 AD, Saint Nino of Cappadocia arrived in Georgia with a cross made of a vine and wine became a symbol of Christianity. Thereafter, wines has been playing a vital role in the celebration of religious events and rituals and is now an integral part of Georgia’s cultural identity and heritage. Over the summer, we received a new shipment of Georgian wines and what’s exciting about these new wines is that they epitomize the diversity of the Georgian production: Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Kisi, Saperavi from Kakheti in the East, Tsitska and Krakhuna from Imereti in the West, Chinuri from Kartli in the Center, and a Alexandria/Mudzhuretuli blend from Racha in the North. Rkatsiteli is to Georgia what Chardonnay is to California. It’s the “King of Kakheti” as Aleksi Tsikhilishvili explained to us when we visited his cellar last May. It’s Georgia’s most widely planted and most popular white grape variety. It has great structure and spiciness and becomes creamy, nutty and tannic when aged in qvevri. We just received an organic qvevri-aged Rkatsiteli from … Continue reading Georgian Wines are Exciting!

Schist Happens

The first time we starting turning over rocks and looking for producers in Eisenberg was 2014. The area is certainly thematically ripe for Blue Danube given the confluence of Croatian, Austrian and Hungarian cultures and borders. A stone’s throw from the Hungarian border and a part of the Hungarian Empire for centuries earlier, but the Croatian connection is less obvious. After the Turks were pushed out in the mid 16th Century, Hungary repopulated the war torn area with Croatian communities. For centuries, villages like Schandorf spoke a unique Croatian dialect and the culture was distinctly Croatian. This was the case up until 1921 when the borders changed, empires fell, and then were broken up again with the Iron Curtain. Things have of course perked up since then, but Südburgenland is still one of Austria’s smallest wine regions, and specific areas like Eisenberg are even lesser known. Needless to say, the region’s wines are underrepresented in the US. As such we are proud to introduce Kopfensteiner. Largely committed to Blaufränkisch, Thomas and Astrid have 9 hectares in Eisenberg and 6 hectares in nearby Deutsch Schützen planted in iron rich clay, loam and layers of green schist. Combined with the highest elevation … Continue reading Schist Happens

That’s what I do. I drink Peneče and I know things…

Whenever I hear Pétillant-naturel, methode ancestrale, Pét-nat, or even Peneče, I don’t immediately think Loire, I think Berkeley. Back in 2011 while working harvest for Donkey and Goat Winery, this was the first year they made Lily’s Pét-nat. Leading up to this, I remember experiments of filling up beer bottles by hand with rough estimates of what would happen post crown cap (residual sugar, yeast populations etc…). Often, while doing other winery work, bottles could be heard exploding like distant artillery fire. It was during this time I really got a sense for what gross lees smell, taste and feel like. Eventually, they figured it out and I discovered how great wines like this could be as well. For Blue Danube, it was only a matter of time before the huge array of Central/Eastern European high acid grapes would eventually lend themselves to the oldest way of making sparkling wine. Štoka was the first to lead the charge with Teran and Vitovska from the Kras appellation in Slovenia. Tadej and Primož Štoka already produced a traditional method cave aged sparkling Teran. They knew Teran had the acidity and balance but had to reverse engineer a few things for a pét-nat. … Continue reading That’s what I do. I drink Peneče and I know things…

Pét-Nat, Charmat, Champenoise: plenty of bubbles for the Summer

Pétillant Naturel, or Pét-Nat for short, is a modern trend but its origin is not so new. Pét-Nats are made using the Méthode Ancestrale, the oldest way of making sparkling wines. It dates back to the 16th century and was invented by monks in the Limoux region in southwestern France. The wine is bottled before finishing its fermentation, allowing a second fermentation to naturally occur in the bottle using the residual sugar. The sediments are not removed and the wine is not filtered, producing a light and fizzy wine, often cloudy, due to the remaining lees and lack of filtration. Enjoy the fresh and lively Štoka Pét-Nats, White, Rosé, Red, made from the Slovenian grapes Vitovska and Teran. Méthode Champenoise produces sparkling wine by creating a second fermentation in bottle. The second fermentation is accomplished by adding a mixture of sugar and yeast to still wine. The wine is then bottled, capped, and aged on its lees for several months, which develops texture and complexity. When the wine is ready, the neck of the bottle is frozen in order to remove the sediments. The cap is removed and the frozen sediments shoot out of the pressurized bottle. In Hungary, Kreinbacher … Continue reading Pét-Nat, Charmat, Champenoise: plenty of bubbles for the Summer

Introducing Our New Producer Gallay

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.

Introducing Our New Producer Tornai

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!

Introducing Our New Producer Oszkár Maurer

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

Meet Turkey’s Visionary Vintner Güler Sabancı

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

“I am Tribidrag” Conference

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