Tokaj Part 1: Sweet Relevance

Tokaj Village map
The 27 villages of Tokaj © András Ede Molnár

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.

Tokaji wine bottle
Jet-black mold and golden wine in bottle

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 of an unknown future. Twenty-five years after the first wave of privatization, Tokaj finally has the people and experience needed to reposition itself as one of the world’s classic appellations. Today, the world’s first vineyard classification system and the oldest producer of botrytized wines is once again terroir driven, dry, sparkling, under flor, and as refreshingly sweet as ever.

If you would like to learn more about Tokaj, here is Tokaj Part 1 and don’t miss Part 2 when it’s published.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #65: doqi Rkatsiteli

doqi Rkatsiteli
doqi Rkatsiteli, clay doqi and piala

Drink the doqi Rkatsiteli the Georgian way! From a doqi — the traditional Georgian wine vessel — and in a clay bowl, also called piala.

While Georgia has 8,000 years of unbroken winemaking, Rkatsiteli — a name made of two Georgian words, rka (“shoot”) and tsiteli (“red”), which refers to the variety’s reddish stalk — is one of the most ancient grape varieties on earth. Seeds of Rkatsiteli grapes were found in Georgia on clay vessels dated back to 3000 BC.

The grapes for this wine are sourced from rocky vineyards around the village of Napareuli in Georgia’s renowned Kakheti wine district, at around 420 m (1,400 ft) above sea level. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented in stainless steel, “Euro-style” The result is a pale yellow wine with attractive aromas of honeyed cooked apples and a creamy texture balanced with fresh acidity. A great choice for a casual aperitif with friends that will park the appetite.

doqi makes also a amber-colored Rkatsiteli fermented and aged in qvevri. Try them both and serve them from a clay doqi for sure. Also don’t forget to toast the Georgian way: Gaumarjos! To your victory!

The Republic of Georgia – Everyone needs to go here

qvevri
Georgia has been making wine in qvevri for thousands of years.

It’s a tall order to put together a concise sales pitch for the wines of The Republic of Georgia because the food, language, culture, grapes, winemaking, and even geography are all largely unknown to most of us. However, very few places have such a strong national identity tied to wine that is something more than just patriotism, it’s about hospitality, eating and drinking well, and doing so despite a nearly non stop bombardment of their land for centuries. Nestled between the Caspian and Black Seas, it has both subtropical and alpine climates, the tallest mountains in Europe (Caucasus), and yet is smaller than South Carolina.

The biodiversity is insane with roughly 500 indigenous grapes and their Qvevri (Kartuli method) is one the most compelling techniques linking people with wine I can think of. It has even been added to UNESCO’s “List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” It’s a truly special place with hints of Iran, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Armenia and others, but has then melded, edited and created something unique. 8,000 years of unbroken winemaking using the same technique surely warrants giving these wines some attention.

Qvevris buried in the cellar
Qvevris buried in the marani (Georgian cellar)

At the very least, please cook up some homemade Khinakli and Khachpuri, invite a ton of friends over, completely cover the table in food, and then drink a meaningful amount of wine out of a horn. If you’re inspired to crank up some polyphonic singing and ride horseback into the woods to hunt wild game, so be it. That means the wines are working.

Keeping this in mind, here is brief look at the people and wines that have just arrived:

Beka Gotsadze and children
Beka Gotsadze and his children

GOTSA. Beka Gotsadze of Gotsa wants people to visit his family winery high up in the hills 4200 feet above sea level and 30 minutes south of Tbilisi down a nearly impassible dirt road to break bread, drink wine and sing. Despite not spraying sulfur or copper in the vineyards and using zero additions in the cellar, the unfiltered wines are bright, open, and constantly changing. They push the envelope but are fun and delicious to drink.

Opening a qvevri at Shavnabada
Opening a qvevri at Shavnabada

SHAVNABADA MONESTARY. These wines defy what I previously understood from my brief time working harvests and seeing wines through to bottling. A small amount of sulfur is burned in the empty Qvevri before vinification, and then no other additions are made. The 2004 Mtsvane spent 6 months on the skins and then 11 years in the Qvevri(!). The 2009 Saperavi spent a mere 6 years in Qvevri. Monk grown, produced and blessed, these wines have the surreal ability to retain freshness and character. They are old without being tired.

Amiran and Ketino Vepkhvadze
Amiran and Ketino Vepkhvadze

AMIRAN. Amiran Vepkhvadze does everything himself from harvesting the pergola trained vines to bottling. These Qvevri wines are incredibly dense, layered and textured without being overbearing. Once you see the color of the Otskhanuri Sapere or the Krakhuna, it’s obvious that you’re in for a bit of a ride. Amazingly, they are both under 12% but they will stain your glass. Bottled unfiltered without added SO2, it’s more like you’re eating the wines rather than drinking them.

Burkhard Schuchmann and Georgi Dakishvili
Burkhard Schuchmann and Georgi Dakishvili

DOQI. This is a Blue Danube private label project with winemaker Georgi Dakishvili of Vinoterra and Schuchmann wineries. Working with exclusively Georgian varieties both in the European and traditional Qvevri methods, they are benchmark varietal expressions. For those who may think Georgian Qvevri wines are over oxidized, too tannic and lacking brightness, here is your foil. Rooted in tradition with a modern attention to coaxing out deliciously clean foreign flavors.

Shumi vine museum
Shumi’s vine museum

SHUMI. The Griffen, or “Phaskunji” on Shumi’s label is the bringer of the vine in Georgian mythology. These are made in the “European” method, meaning native Georgian grapes fermented and aged in stainless steel and oak barrel. These kinds of wines are the gateway drugs before main-lining the Qvevri wines. They also have a beautiful vine museum of 294 unique and 93 foreign varieties aimed at preserving Georgia’s rich genetic pool. Shumi then co-ferments everything from this vineyard, fortifies it with Chacha (grappa), and then adds some mountain herbs. It’s called ‘Zigu,’ a kind of Georgian herbal semi sweet port. There is possibly no wine on Earth with more varieties in it!

Lado Uzunashvili and Zura Akhalmosulishvili
Kindzmarauli’s winemakers Lado Uzunashvili and Zura Akhalmosulishvili

KINDZMARAULI. Our current offering is all “European” method wines, but they offer a different look at Georgian flavors and textures than Shumi. For instance, they make an excellent skin macerated white called Kakhetian Royal (Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Khikhvi) and a semi-sweet Saperavi “Kindzmarauli” which is the specialty of the estate. Similar to Shumi, they also have 423 unique varieties planted directly in front of the winery that both protect the genetic pool of Georgian varieties and help identify clonal selections for various microclimates across the country. The price to quality ratio affords a great entry for those being introduced to Georgian wines.

The 6-Pack Georgian Discovery Sampler, a mix of “Euro style” and Qvevri wines, is a great introduction to Georgian wines. Check also our large Georgian wine selection on our webshop.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #64: Csendes Dülö Hárslevelü

Csendes Dulo Harslevelu
Photo: Kevin Day

A contribution by wine writer and photographer Kevin Day who just published A First Taste Guide To Hárslevelü.

The 2013 Csendes Dülö Szölöbirtok Hárslevelü was his first taste of the Hárslevelü grape:

Not knowing my Szölöbirtok from my Hárslevelü, I twisted the cap and poured a glass with delightful bewilderment. Such is the fun of being an adventurous wine drinker.

Here is his tasting note:

Pale yellow-green color. Lovely and inviting nose that recalls lime zest as well as green apple, underripe pineapple rind and a general springtime scent of freshness and floral aromatics. Comes across as a bit spicy and peppery on the palate, giving the wine a distinct edge. Roaring acidity that makes it exceptionally food-friendly. Tingling sensation on the finish.

Now, do you want to know 3 good reasons to try Hárslevelü? Check Kevin’s Guide To Hárslevelü.

Looking for a Hárslevelü wine? Here is our Hárslevelü selection on our webshop.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #63: Toreta Pošip Premium

toreta posip
Photo: Wines of Croatia

In the sun-drenched island of Korčula, Croatia, young winemaker Frano Banicević manages Toreta, a winery founded by his great grandfather. His primary focus is Pošip, the indigenous white grape variety of the island where the grape was first discovered in the 19th century. It’s a pretty successful effort: reflecting the land where it grows, Frano’s Pošip is deliciously full of aromas of Mediterranean herbs, thick pine forest, sunshine and sea breeze.

toreta_posip_vineyard
Pošip Vineyard on Korčula

The Toreta Pošip Premium 2015 was recently tasted by Cliff Rames, sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia:

Toreta Pošip 2015: rich and pungent with notes of pineapple skin, musky melon, starfruit and fig; a viscous, oily texture backed up by zippy acidity and a piercing vein of marine minerals; well balanced, intriguing, and savory.

Why not have some Pošip for Thanksgiving and bring the Mediterranean sun to your table?

A Brief Intro to Georgian Wines and Where to Get Them

Shavnabada Rkatsiteli
Shavnabada Rkatsiteli Photo: Holley Robbins

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 whole article here.

Why not try an amber wine for Thanksgiving? Click here to browse our large selection of Georgian wines.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #62: doqi Kisi Qvevri

We just received our shipment of doqi wines, a new label made by the Schuchmann winery, a Georgian wine producer founded by German-born Burkhard Schuchmann. The wines are skillfully vinified by native Georgian Georgi Dakishvili, a third generation winemaker. The doqi wines come in two styles: “Euro style”, fresh and fermented in stainless steel, and “Qvevri”, the traditional Georgian way of making wine in clay vessel buried in the ground.

giorgi and burkhard
Burkhard Schuchmann and Georgi Dakishvili

Read what wine professional Kerry Winslow has to say about the doqi Kisi Qvevri over at grapelive.com:

For a long time we though of Georgia as a red wine making country, though in fact, something that I learned recent at a brilliant seminar given by Lisa Granik MW, it is white wine which is most made/grown in Georgia, with grapes like this Kisi, and Mtsvane, as well as the most widely planted varietal Rkatsiteli.

doqi Kisi
Photo: grapelive.com
The Doqi Kisi Qvervi is a skin contact white with lovely aromatics and fine texture with tannic vibrancy and slightly cloudy showing a light pink/yellow tint, it is an “Orange” wine, though not as savory or as wildly funky as some, this would be a great way to start your exploration into Georgian traditional wine, Doqi also does the same wine without Qvervi, fermented in stainless, both lovely and fresh with the stainless much clearer and much more delicately crisp and mineral driven, but I adored the Qvervi with it’s exotic nature and spicy herb/anise bite. Green tea, minty fruit with lime, tangerine, white flowers, quince and stone fruits lead the way on the crunchy palate with hints of peach, dried orange rind and flinty stones make for an interesting wine with structure and racy/edgy character.

Read the whole review here.

You can purchase the doqi wines here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #61: Tinon Birtok Furmint

Tinon Birtok Furmint
Tinon Birtok Furmint

Yesterday was Wednesday November 9th and I needed something comforting. The armchair on the label of Samuel Tinon’s Birtok Furmint was inviting. According to Samuel, “It’s a wine to be drunk comfortably seated in an armchair with your feet up, in the middle of the vineyard overlooking the plain.” Perfect.

Hatari Vineyard
Tinon’s Hatari vineyard: the perfect spot to bring an armchair and have a sip of the Birtok Furmint

Birtok means Estate in Hungarian. 2014 was a tropical year in Tokaj, hot, wet and no single vineyard wines were made. Instead, the bothrytis free Furmints were blended together to make the Birtok.

Light golden, there is a nice smooth sweetness to it, balanced with acidity, minerality and stone fruit aromas. Lovely and soothing.

We have just received more wines from Samuel Tinon, sweet and dry. Check them out.

Bringing Tokaj to the US – Samuel Tinon

Samuel Tinon
Winemaker Samuel Tinon

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.

Botritized grape
Botritized grape

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.

flor
Flor growing on top of the Szamorodni

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 of course Aszú, this is special opportunity to dig into all things Tokaj.

Aszu
Bottles of Aszú wine in the cellar

From the first wave of foreign investments 25 years ago to his own private operation today, Samuel can speak to how the world’s first classified wine region has the potential to re-position itself as one of the great classics again. Tokaj is no longer static or just exalting past greatness but actively moving forward. Let’s taste it!

Hatari vineyard
Határi, one of Tokaj’s best vineyards

We hope you can join us and meet Samuel Tinon at these events:

• Thursday, November 10 2016, 6:30 pm, New York:
Samuel Tinon at Bouley Restaurant
• Saturday November 12 2016, 2 pm – 4 pm Santa Cruz:
Samuel Tinon at Soif
• Monday November 14 2016, 7 pm – 9 pm, San Francisco:
In Conversation With: Samuel Tinon at Ruby Wines
• Tuesday November 15 2016, 8 pm, San Francisco:
Tinon at Lord Stanley
• Wednesday November 16 2016, 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm North Hollywood:
Samuel Tinon at Liquid Assets Cellars
• Thursday November 17 2016, 6 pm – 8 pm Los Angeles:
Samuel Tinon at Lou’s wine shop
• Friday November 18 2016, 7 pm Los Angeles:
De Porres Dinner Series with Samuel Tinon
• Saturday November 19 2016, 5 pm – 8 pm Culver City:
Samuel Tinon at Bar & Garden

#WineWednesday Spotlight #60: Muhr-van der Niepoort Prellenkirchen

Muhr-van der Niepoort Prellenkirchen
Muhr-van der Niepoort Prellenkirchen

If last week’s #WineWednesday Spotlight was a red wine from a mainly white wine appellation, this week’s Muhr-van der Niepoort Prellenkirchen is a white wine from Carnuntum, a wine district east of Vienna, better known for its fruity Zweigelt and elegant Blaufränkisch.

Dorli Muhr
Dorli Muhr

Dorli Muhr was in New York City this week presenting her latest vintage and maybe you had a chance to meet her and taste her Prellenkirchen.

Prellenkirchen refers to the name of one of the main wine-growing villages of the region. The wine is an organic blend of 90% Grüner Veltliner from 25-to-30-year-old vines and 10% Riesling for a touch of freshness. Part of the grapes is sourced from a limestone vineyard on the Spitzerberg Hill and the rest comes from a vineyard near Prellenkirchen.

The grapes are crushed by foot and pressed after two days of maceration with their skins. Then, the must is fermented with native yeasts and matured in used French oak before being bottled with a minimal amount of sulphur.

The wine shows a bright golden color and a nose of apple compote and honey. The palate is full and silky with some mineral and earthy notes on the finish. We paired it with paprika spiced pork chops with mushroom in cream sauce. That was perfect.