First Ever International #FurmintDay is February 1st

tokaj furmintday

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.

furmint grape
Furmint grape in the Határi Vineyard in Tokaj

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 Berries
Showing the progression from fresh to Aszú berries

“Furmint is one of central Europe’s greatest white grapes. It’s more savoury than fruity, deeply stony in certain (volcanic) terroirs, and is also amazingly versatile, excelling at bone dry and lusciously sweet, botrytis affected styles, and everywhere in between. Acids stay high even at high ripeness, and it handles steel and wood with equal grace while retaining a vineyard’s signature. Simply put, it’s a brilliant variety.” — John Szabo, Master Sommelier

volcanic stones
Volcanic stones from the vineyard are on the table wherever you drink Furmint in Hungary

So what is International Furmint Day and what is Blue Danube doing about it? Basically, the idea is to drink Furmint on February 1st, and then share your experience by using the hashtag #furmintday. Become an ambassador and make some connections around the world. Whether you’re drinking Furmint from Hungary or from Slovakia, South Africa, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, or even from the few hectares here in California, it’s a great excuse to focus on something special.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #72: Piquentum Rouge

Piquentum Rouge and steak quesadilla
Piquentum Rouge and steak quesadilla – Photo: Marcy Gordon

For our friend Marcy Gordon, wine and travel writer and founder of Writing Between the Vines, the 2012 Piquentum Rouge is the perfect wine to bright up a rainy winter day:

Dark and dreary rainy night in NorCal calls for something bright and deeply satisfying from Croatia. This 2012 Piquentum Teran grown in the white soils of Buzet, Istria is made by Dimitri Brecevic in his awesome wine bunker. It hits the spot with juicy red fruit flavors and the telltale hint of salinity. This is one of the first Terans I fell in love with. It’s drinking beautifully paired with steak quesadillas. #bluedanubewine #wine #piquentum #piquentumwinery #teran #winesofcroatia

Dalmatian Coast, Croatia: A Detox to Retox Adventure!

Milos Winery-Bottle Line Up
Bottle Line Up at Milos Winery – Photo: Stefani Jackenthal

Stefani Jackenthal is an adventure travel & wine journalist. She likes to write about outdoor activities in wine regions, seeking out sporty, sipping travel destinations. Her latest article about her vacation in Dalmatia, was published in the Huffington Post.

Her first producer visit was at Miloš Winery:

Our first stop was Miloš Winery, a family-run operation near the Neretva River. Ivan Miloš, one of three winemakers, showed me around the winery and stone caves, explaining their dedication to organic methods and bio diversity. We continued our conversation at the wooden table in the cozy tasting room, as I sampled a handful of wines. I particularly enjoyed the premier Stagnum line, made from Plavac Mali grown on 35-year old vines. Wines spend several years in barrel and bottle before release. The Stagnum 2007 (released in 2015) pleased with chocolate covered cherries, menthol and restrained tannins. While, the Stagnum 2005 was a powerhouse with herbal red fruit aromas and holiday spice, stewed fruit full-body. At the end, Ivan pulled out 1994 Plavic Mali, preserved with a homemade Coravin. The 22-year old wine presented a beefy nose, delicate tannins and complex mocha medium body. It was surprisingly fresh and frisky.

Read more about her food and wine experience on the Dalmatian Coast and the Islands of Korčula and Hvar and get ready for a virtual trip to that gorgeous region with her superb photos.

Mali Stone oysters
Get some Miloš Plavac with your oysters!

Feeling like having a little bit of Dalmatian sunshine in your glass? Click here for our Croatian selection.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #71: Wetzer Kékfrankos

Wetzer Kekfrankos
Peter Wetzer and the 2015 Kékfrankos

Sourced from healthy soils that are alive with flora and fauna and vinified in a 120+ year old cellar covered with microbiological flora, the wines of Peter Wetzer have a true identity and a distinctive sense of place. For Kerry Winslow over at Grapelive, the Wetzer Kékfrankos 2015 is a new Hungarian treasure:

With its simple and stylish label and red wax capsule, the Wetzer Kekfrankos reminds me of Lapierre Morgon in many ways, it is ripe and pure with vibrancy, fresh detail and silky tannins. Kekfrankos or Blaufrankisch is less acid driven than Gamay or Pinot Noir, but close and it can have flavors that are like Loire Cabernet Franc at times, Wetzer’s is medium weight, fruit forward and loaded with blueberry, bright cherry, tree picked plum and earthy mulberry fruit along with mixed spices, loamy/mineral plus hints of cedar, anise and chalk. A subtle sweet and sour herb notes adds to the whole, and this impressive red highlights its sense of place, allowing the soils, which are iron rich in parts, along with limestone, loess and gravel, to shine through on the poised and vital palate.
92 Points, grapelive

Read the whole tasting note here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #70: Gotsa Mtsvane

James the Wine Guy Gotsa Mtsvane review
Gotsa Babaneuri Valley Mtsvane ’13 94 Points – James Melendez

With 94 points out of 100, the Gotsa Mtsvane 2013 was one of James Melendez AKA James the Wine Guy‘s top Top 100 Wines for 2016:

Exotic wood, citrus peel, lemon tones, cardamon and white flowers, gorgeous. When you’re tasting this wine, you’re thinking it’s going to be really sweet. No, it’s not, it’s completely dry. So on the very very initial contact with the palate, it’s giving this expression of a dry white wine or dry orange wine I’d better say, and gives some coarse notes of fresh Turkish fig, pomegranate, white flower, stones, and honey tones as well.

Watch the video: Gotsa Babaneuri Valley Mtsvane ’13 94 Points

Check our selection of outstanding Qvevri fermented wines from Gotsa here.

Find out James’ favorite wines for 2016. Among them, a few from Blue Danube Wine Co.:
Kindzmarauli Kakhetian Royal 2013 – 93 Points: video
Muhr-van der Niepoort Samt & Seide 2012 – 94 Points: video
Samuel Tinon Birtok 2014 – 94 Points
Samuel Tinon Szent Tamás 2015 – 93 Points
Shumi Tsinandali 2014 – 94 points

Hungarian Superstitions for Szilveszter (New Year’s Eve)

Fireworks over Budapest
Fireworks over Budapest

It’s important to mix superstitions and alcohol whenever possible. Hungarians have a bevy of both, but especially when it concerns Szilveszter. In no particular order, here are a few things to eat, do, avoid and then some fairly biased options for what do drink.

Hungarian food
Traditional Hungarian food at Belvarosi Disznotoros, Budapest

•  Eat a lot of pork. Pig fat means prosperity. Please look up a recipe for ‘Kocsonya’ (meat jelly/aspic) if you want to really tackle this option head on.
•  Lentils also symbolize good luck and wealth. Make a soup with plenty of paprika and sour cream.
•  Another great soup is ‘Korhely Leves.’ This is basically a sauerkraut soup with a lot of smoked meat and paprika. Perhaps the greatest Central European hangover cure as well.
•  Fortune telling. Put a variety of names (whatever gender(s) you’re into) inside raw dumplings, and then whatever boils to the surface first is your true love.
•  Make calendars from 12 layers of an onion and pour salt over each layer. Whichever layer sweats the most means a rainy corresponding month.
•  Don’t do any household cleaning. Even taking out the trash is bad luck. Don’t even wash your clothes.
•  Give yourself a cold shower early in the morning to promote health. Don’t go to the doctor either.
•  Avoid eating chicken and fish. Something about chickens pecking away at luck and fish swimming off with said luck. This is just for New Year’s day.
•  Make a lot of noise. This scares away the bad spirits and celebrates the passing of the year. You can still find large outdoor parties with an extra array of whistles and noisemakers in the squares in Budapest despite often being well below zero.

Whether it’s smoky briny soups, mentally prepping for a cold shower, trying to digest pork jelly, or nursing yourself back to health in order to properly step into 2017, you’ll find some pretty comforting wines in our comprehensive portfolio of Hungarian wines.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #69: doqi Kisi Qvevri

doqi Kisi
Photo: Peter Weltman

This is an Instagram contribution from certified sommelier and food/travel writer Peter Weltman:

doqi Kisi Qvevri 2014:

2014 doqi, kisi, Kakheti, The Republic of Georgia. natural wine drinkers chug from doqi. this epitomizes the genius of gogi dakishvili. it’s his power grape, aged in qvevri, resplendent of mandarin and naruli, tannins that lattice under the weight of the fruit while spiked with acid. it’s firmly rooted in Georgian history—raw qvevri wine—but showcases the exactness and craft that epitomizes this young man. bravo @bluedanubewine for a stunner. thank you @edanch for the sneak peak. was i #7 to taste it in the USA?

You can follow Peter on Instagram here.

Kadarka, Cadarca, Gamza

Kadarka Vineyard
New plantings of Kadarka by an old farmhouse in southern Szekszard, Hungary

Based in the South of France, Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay has contributed on Provence and Hungary for and has updated the Provence sections for both Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine and Oz Clarke’s annual pocket wine book. An active educator, she works on the MW education program, gives masterclasses and runs a local wine tasting group.

Hungary is increasingly looking to its vinous history and indigenous varieties. There is a growing number of winemakers, who, with the help of research institutes like the one at Pécs, are replanting varieties which were almost lost during the phylloxera epidemic. Kadarka is one of those varieties now seeing a revival. It also happens to be my current favourite variety.

Recent research suggests that an ancestor of Kadarka, the Papazkarası variety found in the Strandja region of Thrace, on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, was taken westwards and planted around Lake Scutari on the modern Albania-Montenegro border. There, it was crossed with a local variety, Skardarsko, creating Kadarka. It would have stayed little more than a local variety if political events had not intervened. In 1689 the Ottoman army defeated the Austrians and, in fear of further attacks, the locals moved north to the Pannonia Plain, taking with them their Kadarka vines. Today, Kadarka can also be found in southern Slovakia, south-west Romania (where it is known as Cadarca), northern Serbia and in Bulgaria, where it is called Gamza.

Kadarka Vine
Old Kadarka vines at Vida

Kadarka proved successful. By the 19th century it made up 60% of Hungarian vineyards. The Bikavér blends of Eger and Szekszárd included upto 60-70% of Kadarka, providing a touch of spice. To counter Kadarka’s pale colour it was often blended with Csokaszölö, the Jackdaw grape (today a very rare variety). Kadarka’s delicacy led to winemakers using long maceration (which I think can unbalance the elegance in the few wines I have tasted made this way). Added richness was also gained by taking advantage of the thin skins and susceptibility to rot. In the right vintage, a small amount of botrytis (upto 15%) can add glycerol and body, although some producers are not enthusiastic about allowing botrytis. In some years, sufficient botrytis can be achieved for a sweet red Kadarka. Indeed, Kadarka was so highly regarded in the 19th century, that Hungarian composer, Franz Liszt annually sent some wine to Pope Pius IX.

Politics continued to play a part in Kadarka’s history. Under Communism, agricultural policies encouraged high-volume varieties. It did not favour the late-ripening, frost-sensitive Kadarka. In the late 1960s a high yielding clone, P9, was developed, but its large berries made it vulnerable to dropping its fruit under windy and rainy conditions and its fragile character meant it was not strong enough for mechanical harvesting. By the early 1970s, the authorities demanded wineries replace Kadarka with high yielding vines, almost bringing the variety to extinction. By 1989, Kadarka had dropped to 1% of Hungarian plantings. Planting is slowly increasing, now at 2% of the total, largely in Szekszárd, but also in Eger, Hajós-Baja and Kunság on the Great Plain.

The P9 clones’ large bunches suffer from uneven ripening, which, compounded with Kadarka’s propensity to pale skins, means that some bunches have pale, almost unripe grapes, which some have used to make a white Kadarka. Alternatively, they were blended with riper grapes to make a pale red / dark rosé Fuxli (siller, schiller) wine. Today these grapes are used in lighter rosés or are pruned away to concentrate the vines energy on the ripening bunches.

Heimann Kadarka
Tasting Kadarka made with the new clones from Heimann

In Szekszárd, Kadarka is either bottled on its own or in the Bikavér blend. On its own it shows Pinot Noir-style silky tannins, sour cherry and raspberry fruit, sometimes with fragrant floral rose notes and hints of spice, and high acidity. In hotter vintages, old vines and low yields, the wine can be bigger, richer with more black fruit and bigger tannins – but always retaining its suppleness and freshness. In the Bikavér blend, winemakers assure me that a small percentage is all that is needed to add spice and freshness to the blend. Too much Kadarka, and with age the spicy notes start to dominate.

Kadarka grower Peter Vida
Peter Vida in his vineyard of old vine Kadarka

Quality Kadarka will never be produced in vast quantities (although new clones are helping), which makes these wines even more of a delightful discovery. While producers who love Kadarka may curse its delicacy, its struggle to ripen, its susceptibility to rot, they have also learnt to turn these characteristics to their advantage to make a varied range of wines from light rosé, dark siller, light red, rich red and even sweet wines.

Elizabeth Gabay MW

Thirsty for Kadarka? Check our Kadarka selection here.

Tokaj Part 2: Quality Over Quantity

Tufa cellars
Eric Danch in Tokaj

This is the second article on Tokaj by Blue Danubian Eric Danch featured on 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.

Hatari Vineyard
An example of improved farming practices at the Határi vineyard, which is now stake trained, farmed without pesticides, and worked completely by hand.

Today, producers are reverting to pre-Communist era practices. One of the biggest jobs is replanting the slopes, terraces, and other sites that weren’t ideal for squeezing out the most hectoliters. Clonal selection for these new plantings is also being addressed, as earlier clones were frequently chosen for mass production rather than affinity to terroir. Growers are increasing vine density to promote competition. Many top sites are once again stake trained and worked by hand, horse, or small modern tractor.

You’ll learn everything about Tokaj with Eric Danch’s Tokaj Part 1 and Tokaj Part 2.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #68: Fekete Hárslevelű

Fekete Harslevelu
Photo: Kit Pepper

This week, we have a festive contribution from Kit Pepper of Kit’s Underground Wine & Spirits:

Buying a fresh truffle has become an early-winter ritual for us in the past few years, an annual challenge to find a way to spotlight this one ingredient. Winter truffles (Perigord) were plentiful this year, so we once again took advantage of a friend’s wholesale account to play around.

Truffles have a legendary pong—even a bubble-sealed fresh truffle will start to get you funny looks on the train, and stink up your fridge. But what no one tells you is that the aroma is most of the story—most foods increase in flavor intensity when you chew them, but truffles are ephemeral. Soak up the aroma and enjoy the stained-glass effect of the slices, because there’s no crescendo of flavor in your mouth, only a fragile mushroom texture.

Delicate, earthy wines are the classic match for truffles—older Burgundies (white or red), old Champagnes or Piedmont reds. But I’m attached to the volcano wines of Somlo, and mushrooms aren’t unknown in Hungary . . . and on the basis of that flawless reasoning, we gave the job to Fekete Bela’s Harselvelu. The creamy weight of the wine balanced the truffle butter (with a touch of anchovy) on our fettucine, and the wine’s mineral quality highlighted the mushroomy base flavors of the truffle, bringing that elusive aroma down to earth.

Kit Pepper