In classic post holiday season fashion, I’m just now writing the January newsletter on the 10th. January feels like you need to pop the clutch going up a hill in order to get things going again. No push button start to this month. It’s also a time when the pendulum starts to swing the other way in terms of drinking. While of course a champion of all things sparkling, aged, sweet, fortified and so on throughout the holidays, now I crave a solid and refreshing table wine – ideally in liter form. On a practical level, wines like this not only help us atone for some perhaps overextended purchases, but also mark the return to casual dinners and that end of the day glass or two. Keeping this in mind, here are some liters to help transition into the New Year. Ironically, the smallest country in the portfolio has our largest selection of liters – Slovenia. About an hour’s drive south of Graz, the heart of Austria’s Styria, and just north of the Slovenian city of Maribor, we find Silvo Črnko (Chair-n-ko). This is an impossibly fertile region littered with apples, hops, pumpkin seed oil and wine at every turn. … Continue reading Liter-ally, the Only Way to Start the New Year
The book Wine Grapes refers to Juhfark (Yew-fark) as “perhaps the least modern or internationally appealing of Hungarian varieties.” Sold! We now have five very different Juhfarks. Overkill? Knee-jerk buying? Blind faith? All plausible in tandem with loving to drink them. With hindsight, these selections also represent a learning curve. Not a curve based on quality, but rather on adding or subtracting elements from this grape to better understand what the hell is going on. There’s nothing else like it Hungary or a distinct relationship to another known grape. When we first started with Fekete Béla in 2012, I couldn’t find evidence of another Juhfark ever on the market. Somló, where the vast majority is grown and where most of ours come from, has over 1200 individual growers, just over 40 commercial producers, and the whole place is about half the size of the Jura. Not an easy maze to navigate. Now we’re encountering the grape more and more along Hungary’s Lake Balaton, Neszmély, and Etyek-Buda appellations along with southern Slovakia and Austria’s Styria. For me, winter is arguably the best time to drink Juhfark. Part of that is that I mostly visit Somló in the dead of winter, but … Continue reading Don’t fear the Juhfark
Blue Danube California Sales and Hungarian Portfolio Manager Eric Danch discusses the state of the California market, the appeal indigenous grapes, and advice for Hungarian wineries with hungarianwines.eu. How about the beginning? How did you become a wine expert? The beginning is a combination of living abroad for a few years (Copenhagen and Rome) and then spending 6 years working for a 3-hour European cabaret meets Vaudevillian circus called Teatro Zinanni in San Francisco. We always had dinner and wine after the show and the wine always tasted better with a good story. After working a few harvests in California as I mentioned earlier, I was very lucky to be introduced to Blue Danube Wine Co. All of these experiences share a synergy of different cultures, storytelling and personalities adding context to delicious food and wine. Hungary in particular has these qualities in spades. We are a website to promote Hungarian wines, and of course we are the most curious about the acceptance of our wines in the USA. What are your experiences? Do your customers look for indigenous varieties? Indigenous grapes have been the focus of Blue Danube from the very beginning. While Hungary can of course produce lovely … Continue reading An Interview With Sales Manager Eric Danch
The final container of 2018 is a coincidental snapshot of some of my favorite things happening in the region. We’ve added another Somlói tier than falls in between Fekete Béla and Apátsági with Kárloy Kolonics (I know….pronounced Kolo-nitsch). We’re finally venturing into Slovakia’s Južnoslovenská region with Bott Frigyes and we’ve finally convinced Peter Wetzer to cough up some Tokaji Furmint and single vineyard Soproni Kékfrankos. Last but not least, a new vintage of our go-to Szekszárdi Kadarka from the tireless Heimann family – a grape that I believe will be a signature red from all over Central Europe going forward. BOTT FRIGYES, Južnoslovenská, Slovakia 2017 Bott Frigyes Hárslevelű 2017 Bott Frigyes Kadarka Bott Frigyes Kékfrankos I’ve always been curious about the pre and post Trianon Treaty wine traditions of Hungary. In short, after WWI, Hungary lost around 71% of its territory to Romania, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia (Slovakia), Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia) and Austria. Over 3 million ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside of Hungary. I’m by no means treading into political/nationalism waters here, but instead focusing on the grapes and traditions that never stopped or are now coming back to life beyond the present day borders of Hungary. On the southern slopes … Continue reading Pannon-demic Outbreak: Bott Frigyes, Wetzer, Kolonics, Apátsági and Heimann
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
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!
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
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