Uncorking the Caucasus: Wines from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia

Uncorking the Caucasus
Uncorking the Caucasus by Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey

In May 2015—after four years of deliberating and planning together—Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey sold almost all of their possessions, dropped the comfort and security of their lucrative careers, and left Singapore to travel around the world with a dream of building a location-independent business and to absorb the world’s lessons.

Driven by a common passion for wine, they ended up diverting all their attention and resources to the self-study of wine as they travelled through Western Europe, the Caucasus, ex-Yugoslavia, and Mexico. Uncorking the Caucasus is the first of a series of wine travel books that they will be writing. They also share wine travel tips, videos, wine-related stories, and exciting finds from lesser-known wine regions on their website exoticwinetravel.com.

Enjoying wine in Cappadocia
Enjoying wine in Cappadocia

When prompted about the name “Exotic Wine Travel”, the duo explained that the problem with lesser-known wine regions and exotic wines is that too often, visitors bounce around a country swiftly and end up tasting some substandard, local wines. For that reason, Charine and Matthew aim to explore some of the lesser-known wine regions and introduce the readers to the best they have to offer with even some anecdotal insight into their peculiarity. This should encourage wine lovers to explore more new wines and leave a wine region with the best possible impression.

Beka Gotsadze
Beka Gotsadze of Gotsa and his family

Uncorking The Caucasus is about the wines from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. Part travel narrative and part wine guide, the book leads the readers through a tasting tour of the wine regions in the three countries. It recommends the best wines each place has to offer, provides anecdotal insights into the wine culture of each country, and discusses the history of ancient winemaking based on archeological evidence and folklores.

Visiting 6100 year old Areni 1 Cave in Armenia
Visiting 6100 year old Areni 1 Cave in Armenia

There are many arguments about how wine came into existence but from the archaeological perspective, the signs point to about 10,000 years ago when wine originated from the Transcaucasia —which includes present-day Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey. However, this book isn’t about determining the birthplace of wine, but rather the goal is to capture the ethos of a wine region — the connection between wine, people, and place.

Qvevri found in Zorah winery
Qvevri found in Zorah winery

Dr Matthew Horkey said, “Our three-month journey through the cradle of wine deeply touched us. The producers, the land, and the people provide endless inspiration and set the stage for a story to be told. With Georgian wine becoming fashionable, unbounded gastronomy potential that is unfortunately concealed by political turbulence in Turkey, and Armenia’s strong desire to bring glory back to their wine industry, now is the time to show the world what these countries are capable of.”

wine ferments in qvevri
Watching wine ferments in a buried qvevri Georgia

For the wines highlighted in this book, besides their sensory merits, they should also spark curiosity and reflect an inspiring point of view that challenges the narrative of wine.

wine in Armenia
Discovering the inspiration behind a wine in Armenia

“In writing about our wine travel experiences, we hope to start new conversations about wine, such as the stories about the people behind wine, the meaning and context of wine, and the importance of promoting diversity in the world of wine,” said Charine Tan. “Most importantly, we want this book to encourage people to take on a liberal attitude toward lesser-known wine regions, arm them with the knowledge to explore those places, and intrigue them to try exotic wines.”

You can order the book on Amazon.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #59: Geyerhof Zweigelt StockWerk

Geyerhof Zweigelt StockWerk
Geyerhof Zweigelt StockWerk

Although Kremstal — an appellation in the Danube Valley situated around the old Austrian town of Krems — is best-known for its white wines, it enjoys a slightly warmer climate than in the nearby Wachau where the valley is narrower. Thanks to these conditions, the Maier family from Geyerhof grows organic Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) in deep sandy soil on east-facing slopes for their StockWerk project.

The name StockWerk, which means in German work (Werk) on the vine (Stock), reflects the philosophy of the Maier family, a pioneer of organic viticulture in Kremstal. Farming an organic vineyard implies a lot of additional hard work to keep the vine healthy and preserve biological diversity in the vineyard.

Organic vines
Organic vines in the Geyerhof vineyard

To save the grasslands around their village of Oberfucha from overgrowth, the family started raising cattle again last year. They now have manure for the fields and also meat and milk. Moreover, Maria Maier, daughter of a Beekeeper, started beekeeping two years ago. Thanks to the absence of pesticides, she has now healthy and thriving bee colonies. The cow and bees that you can see below the vine on the wine’s label illustrate that biological diversity.

zweigelt stockwerk
A cow and bees on the wine’s label

With its light peppery nose, aromas of sour cherry and violet, and a lively and refreshing mouthfeel, the Zweigelt StockWerk should go beautifully with a wide range of foods. It was particularly tasty with sauteed pork chops with tomatoes, bell peppers, and paprika.

Geoffrey Roberts Award for Vinologue Georgia, a new wine guide to the “cradle of wine”

Vinologue Georgia

In 2016, the Geoffrey Roberts Award, which commemorates the work of wine merchant Geoffrey Roberts and his lifelong interest in wine, went to Miquel Hudin, author of the Vinologue collection of enotourism books.

Miquel applied for the award to help him create a comprehensive wine tourism guide to the up-and-coming wine region of Kakheti in Georgia with full winery and region profiles as well as hundreds of wine tasting notes. This will be Miquel’s 9th Vinologue book. Previous titles include Dalmatia, Empordà, Herzegovina, Menorca, Montsant, Priorat, and Stellenbosch.

The award has helped fund the initial research but in order to complete this project, Miquel has also created a kickstarter.

If you’re interested in the wines of Georgia and/or plan to visit the country, you can support this project or preorder the book at the Vinologue online shop.

Wine Awesomeness: Best Wine Club for Beginners

Wine Awesomeness brochure
Martinčič Cviček featured in the Wine Awesomeness August brochure

Launched in 2012, Wine Awesomeness is a popular wine club focused on helping millennials learn about cool wines from around the world without being pretentious. Their curatorial team, led by a Food & Wine Sommelier of the Year, “combs the globe to find the coolest, craveworthiest wines. This is vino you don’t see everyday, but will want to drink everyday.

The club was recently reviewed by Reviews.com, a website providing Product reviews, testings, and comparisons. The Reviews.com team looked at twenty online wine clubs and reduced the list to eight contenders and three final picks, based on how well they introduce curious drinkers to the depth and breadth of the world of wine in a affordable way. Wine Awesomeness was their pick for the Best Wine Club for Beginners:

For the beginning wine enthusiast, Wine Awesomeness delivers a great experience at an affordable price (even the name seems targeted for a millennial audience). A price of $45 gets you three wines a month, and you can choose among red only, white only, a variety pack (including the chance for rosé or bubbly), or a $75 mondo pack featuring six wines. Each delivery arrives in a fun blue box with a white plastic handle — a far cry from the many anonymous and uninspired brown boxes we received. It made our testers feel part of an actual club. Instead of gauging personal tastes, each month features a themed shipment filled with dependably tasty wines.

Wine Awesomeness regularly offers wines from Blue Danube Wine Co for their monthly selections. Our Martinčič Cviček was featured in their August brochure for that month’s shipment:

There is one blend, though, that simply will not fit into the box of red or white. When it comes to Cviček you don’t have to be a master sommelier to taste that there’s something up. Pronounced “Zvee-check,” the name translates to “very sour wine” in old Slovenian (which is fitting as this month’s Martinčič Cviček tastes startlingly like a red sour gummy). Cviček is one of Slovenia’s claim-to-wine-fames and is a national favorite. According to Eastern European wine expert Stetson Robbins, Cviček is popular not necessarily because it is
the best wine produced in Slovenia, but because it has been part of the Slovenian identity for decades. “Cviček is part of the Slovenian culture,” Stetson says, “and it’s a wine for partying — which is why it is drank cold and fast.”

Also once a year, the month’s theme is Eastern Bloc Party with a selection of wines from Central and Eastern Europe sourced from our catalog.

Learn more about the wine club selection process used by Reviews.com here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #58: Adžić Vallis Aurea Graševina

adzic grasevina

We are happy to have once again in our portfolio a Graševina from Slavonia, an important wine region in central Croatia. More specifically, the Adžić Graševina comes from Kutjevo, in the Požega valley, also called Vallis Aurea by the Romans — the Golden Valley. This fertile valley has been inhabited since prehistory. Cistercians monks brought winegrowing and winemaking to the region in the 13th century. The wine cellar they built in Kutjevo in 1232 is still producing wines, making it the oldest continuously-operated winery in Croatia.

Located in the northern part of Požega Valley, on the slopes of the Papuk and Krndija mountains, Kutjevo is one of the most famous Croatian wine regions and Graševina is its most famous wine. Also called Welschriesling, Graševina is well adapted to the region’s cool springs, warm autumns and southward facing vineyards.

adzic vinograd
Adžić Vineyard

The tireless Antun Adžić has become a significant Slavonian winemaker since the creation of the family winery in 1995. This is because people in Croatia and abroad have started noticing the quality of his Graševina, a light-straw colored wine with an attractive floral and honeyed note on the nose, a nicely rounded body on the palate and a fresh, crisp, herbal finish.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #57: Pfneiszl Kékfrankos

pfneiszl kekfrankos

I’m back from France after spending a couple of weeks moving my Mom from the south of France to Paris, and drinking mostly Provence Rosés — her favorite wine. So it was good to be back home and with the evenings getting darker and cooler, switch to autumnal reds: medium-bodied wines like Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Gamay from Beaujolais, Barbera from Piedmont or Blaufränkisch from Burgenland, which should include Kékfrankos from Sopron, Hungary, as the two regions were part of the same wine district when Sopron was the capital of Burgenland during the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Hungarian Pfneiszl estate of Austrian Birgit and Katrin Pfneisl illustrates precisely this point. The Pfneiszl family was originally from Hungary before escaping from Communism and settling just across the border in Burgenland where their surname lost its “z”. It’s only in 1993 that the family was able to re-acquired its Hungarian vineyards, now managed by the two sisters. Under the leadership of Birgit the winemaker, the Pfneiszl vineyards and winemaking are now certified organic.

The Pfneiszl Kékfrankos, which is also called “Újra Együtt” or “Together Again”, symbolises the reunion of the family with their Hungarian side. It also means getting together with friends and family. Showing a bright cranberry red color, the wine is light to medium-bodied without being simple. Well-balanced, it exhibits juicy black fruit aromas and earthy, peppery notes, with more cranberry fruit on the finish.

Get together and enjoy the wine with your friends, that’s what it was made for. The forecast announces some rain and cooler temperatures for the weekend but don’t worry, the wine has some nice warmth.

Beast of Brda — Kabaj is Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries 2016

Jean-Michel Morel
Kabaj’s Jean-Michel Morel

For the third year in a row, Kabaj has been chosen as one of the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries for 2016. While the trade and consumer aspects of the event are of course vital, one of the best things about the Top 100 is simply getting producers from all over the world under one roof to taste each others wines. And year after year, this has come to reinforce how unique the Kabaj wines are and how they compliment the wider world of wine.

At the same time, the Kabaj wines are often pigeonholed as simply orange, skin contact, macerated, and or amber rather than simply grape and place. A technique over terroir argument to some. While it’s technically true in that Jean-Michel embraces skin contact, oxygen, and patience rather than a fresh, temperature controlled reductive style, we could also just call his wines “wines” without further labeling. These are the traditional grapes, farmed well, handled clean and simple in the cellar, and barreled down and topped up until incredibly stable and delicious. As such, there are immense distinctions between vintages, vivid grape typicity, and the wines are alive and evolving. To be clear, there are plenty of wines that take skin contact too far and lose themselves, but the same can be said of oak, Brettanomyces, reduction, botrytis, oxidation, residual sugar, and basically anything that can throw a wine out of balance.

After pouring the past three vintages of Kabaj to the trade and at consumer events alike, whenever the skin contact/orange bit goes unsaid, the vast majority simply enjoy the wines. Many of course recognize that Kabaj’s salmon hued Sivi Pinot (Pinot Grigio) isn’t what they normally see and might remark at how golden the Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) is, but nobody asks how long the Merlot was on the skins.

The newly arrived 2013 whites are emblematic of this claim and I hope you’ll get a chance to taste them.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #56: Kabaj Rebula

For the third time, Kabaj is one of the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries for 2016 , an honor the winery also received in 2015 and 2013.

Jean-Michel Morel
Kabaj’s Jean-Michel Morel – Photo: Michael Newsome

Maybe most impressive is that many of the Kabaj wines reviewed by Wine & Spirits are white grapes fermented with the skins, a technique usually used for red wines. Call them orange, amber, macerated or skin contact whites, this ancient wine style is largely misunderstood and does not typically garner significant professional praise, especially with such consistency. The reason is simple: Kabaj does not make “an” orange wine. Besides a small amount of red, he makes only orange wine. Even in the wine region of Brda in western Slovenia where the technique has historic precedence, few producers have so much experience.

As with red grapes, a poorly managed maceration of white grapes can erase all notion of variety and origin. Done correctly though, the technique can coax out and intensify subtle grape varieties and result in wines with aromatic expression and dimension that their un-macerated parallels lack. At Kabaj, 30 days maceration make Rebula more Rebula. Rather than the pale neutral wine all too common of Rebula (called Ribolla Gialla across the border in Friuli), the maceration softens the thick skin of the grape yielding a brilliant golden wine, a perfume and intricately tannic structure that recalls fine black tea.

The 2013 vintage was recently scored 93 points by Wine & Spirits Magazine:

RebulaJean-Michel Morel keeps his ribolla on the skins for 30 days, resulting in a dense and textured white, the flavors of juicy pineapple and tangerine streaming around and through the tannins. Scents of dried flowers and saffron add delicacy, while notes of chai tea, anise and truffle add savor and spice. The tannins give the wine a tensile character that suggests it will deliver even more with time in the cellar.

We invite you to taste the 2013 Rebula as well as the excellent 2013 release of Kabaj wines. You can order them here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #55: Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Halas

Janos Hajduz and Krisztian Farkas
János Hajduz and Krisztián Farkas, founders of Bodrog Borműhely

In the special fall issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine that featured conversations and tastings with 50 sommeliers, critics and wine educators, one of the articles was an interview of the Wine Director of Oakland’s À Côté restaurant Jeff Berlin by John Szabo MS:

“Imagine the vineyards of the Côte d’Or being ripped out or abandoned, and then witnessing their rebirth” says Jeff Berlin, wine director at À Côté in Oakland, California. He’s describing the excitement he feels watching Hungary’s Tokaj region recover after a half-century of Soviet rules.

In the interview, Jeff Berlin lists his favorite Tokaji wines including the Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Halas, produced by young winemakers János Hajduz and Krisztián Farkas:

Bodrog Bormuhely Furmint HalasThis wine, Berlin says, represents a riper, fruitier expression of furmint. The Halas vineyard, which once belonged to co-owner János Hajduz’s grandfather, is a warm, south-facing parcel that slopes down to the Bodrog River in the village of Bodrogkeresztúr, and its 50-year old vines grow in rich red volcanic clay. “These factors combine to make fat, happy furmint grapes and round, juicy mouthfuls of wine,” Berlin explains. “But the wine also demonstrates how the volcanic minerality and naturally high acidity of furmint can support a fuller, richer style.”

Read the whole article here and here. Order the Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Halas here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #54: Dingač Dingač

Dingac Vineyard
A vineyard in the Dingač appellation on the Pelješac Peninsula

A special issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine featured conversations and tastings with 50 sommeliers, critics and wine educators.

One of the articles was an interview of Beverage Director & Wine Buyer John Aranza by the magazine’s wine writer Tara Q. Thomas:

Dingac Dingac“Dingac is to Croatia as Chianti is to Tuscany,” Aranza says. The country’s first officially recognized appellation, it sits on the west coast of the Pelješac Peninsula, the vineyards perched high up on cliffs at such extreme angles that donkey-pulled carts are the only vehicles allowed among the vines. Old vines and warm, southern Mediterranean climate mark the flavors of this wine, “very ripe, with lush fruit, exotic spices and smoke, all entangled with a backbone of acid,” Aranza says. “Dingac has always been the finest wine of Croatia. I’ve had vintages eighteen years old still showing beautifully. If there’s a defining wine for Croatia, it’s this grape and place.”

Read the whole article here and click here to buy and enjoy one of the finest wines of Croatia!