A postcard leads to a discovery of a Jewish family’s lost vineyard in Hungary

Jewish cemetery, Mad
Jewish cemetery, Mád (Photo: Taste Hungary)

The story started with a photo of the Jewish cemetery in Mád, Tokaj. The photo can be found on Gabor and Carolyn Banfalvi’s food and wine tour website Taste Hungary, where they offer a Tokaj Jewish Heritage & Wine Tour. The photo shows headstones with names of local Jewish families including the Zimmermanns who owned a property in Mád, today the location of the Royal Tokaji winery. Beverly Fox and her mother Zsuzsanna Zimmermann — a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor who is now called Susy Oster — recognized the cemetery and also one of the nearby buildings in front of a war monument as Zsuzsanna’s childhood house before she was deported in 1944 with her mother Blanka.

headstones, Jewish cemetery
One of these headstones belongs to the Zimmermann family (Photo: Taste Hungary)

In fact, Oster still has a postcard of the monument and the house. But on Royal Tokaji’s website, in the section on the winery’s history, there was a mysterious gap between the 1700s and the Communist and post-Communist eras. After this surprising historic find, the family approached the company.

After a year of hard negotiations, Royal Tokaji has finally revised its historical section and on June 24 2016, unveiled two plaques on one of the exterior walls of the winery:

“This was the home of Miklos and Blanka Zimmermann and their two children,” one of them reads, in engraved Hungarian and English. Miklos “was engaged in the cultivation, production, and marketing of Tokaj wines, like generations of his family before him, dating from the early 1800s. In May 1944, the family was deported to Auschwitz along with other Jewish families of Mád. Blanka died in Auschwitz on October 16, 1944.”

According to Gabor Banfalvi, who was with the Zimmermans at the ceremony, “The Jewish and cosmopolitan connection of Tokaj is a key factor in understanding how the wine trade before WWII used to work and why Tokaj was so successful. It was a very export oriented trade with dozens of ethnicities involved. These days Hungarians are looking for their old and lost traditions and actually one of the most important tradition that we used to have was the colorful ethnic and religious social structure of the country. This is important for everybody to know in order to step forward and the Zimmermans deserve some credit for taking part in this.”

This is a fascinating story. Read all the details here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #39: Štoka Teran Rosé

Stoka Rose
Štoka Teran Rosé

Is this a best-wine-ever story? Close at least. It was a hot and sunny day in Lake Tahoe and we were hiking to find a secluded beach on the east shore. When most of the Lake Tahoe summer visitors are familiar with the sandy beaches of the south and north shores, the east shore has a series of hidden beaches along Highway 28, only accessible by boat or by hiking down moderately steep trails.

Lake Tahoe East Shore
Hiking the east shore of Lake Tahoe

The one we were looking for was Skunk Harbor, a picturesque cove at the end of an old forest road. After hiking 1.5 miles or so under the fragrant Ponderosa Pines, we reached the shore of the lake with a magnificent view overlooking a sandy beach and its crystal clear water, surrounded by big granite boulders. There were a few boats anchored in the water and people swimming and jumping from the boulders.

Skunk Harbor
Skunk Harbor

At the end of the trail, you can either continue straight down to the beach or turn left, follow the shore and reach an even more secluded cove called Axelrod beach, a perfect spot for picnicking, swimming and sunbathing.

It’s on our way back to the car — a 560 vertical feet hike under the afternoon sun — that I started thinking about the bottle of chilled Štoka Teran Rosé waiting for us at the cabin. Teran from the iron-rich Kras soil in Slovenia is naturally high in acidity, which, when vinified as a Rosé, produces an ultra-refreshing wine.

So I still remember it, that glass of Rosé back at the cabin: a bright sockeye salmon color, aromas of honeydew melon and strawberries, citrusy with a lush mouthfeel, and above all, ultra-refreshing.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #38: Kindzmarauli Marani Rkatsiteli

Contributed by Christine Havens, Portland-based wine writer and former winemaker who has become a Vivino featured user with over 37,000 followers largely thanks to her wine ratings. An early adopter, Ms. Havens has been sharing her reviews with fellow users since the app hit the US market in late fall 2011. She also frequently contributes articles and wine pairing recommendations to the news section of the app. Original review can be found here.

Photo: Christine Havens
Photo: Christine Havens

From the foothills of Georgia’s Caucus Mountains, is this softly-hewn Rkatsiteli. Interestingly, this is a variety that was planted in my former estate vineyard, in a single test row. Kindzmarauli’s interpretation of this ancient, indigenous white brings back memories. Bruised pear, dried orange peel and wild prairie flowers. Full and round in the mouth, like a welcome embrace, with low acidity and rather vinous orchard fruit and dried pineapple overtones.

Try the Kindzmarauli Marani Rkatsiteli yourself! You can order it here.

Reviving an 8,000-year-old winemaking tradition in Georgia

John Wurdeman painting
John Wurdeman painting

Author and New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark recently interviewed John Wurdeman, an American painter who moved to the Georgian Republic to follow his two passions—wine and art—and funded the winery Pheasant’s Tears.

Melissa Clark: How did this all start for you?
John Wurdeman: I’m a visual artist, a painter by profession. I fell deeply in love with Georgia when I heard a recording when I was sixteen years old. I bought a CD called Georgian Folk Music Today. Immediately, the chords of the music just struck me very deeply.

In 1995, I was able to go to Georgia for the first time. Strangely enough, on the very first night, I was whisked away from the airport and taken to a restaurant. About 10-15 toasts deep into the feast, musicians were summoned to come in, and they were the same musicians that were on the CD I bought when I was 16, back in Richmond, Virginia.

MC: That’s amazing. And how did you go from there to making wine?
JW: I came back in 1996. I needed a subject for my final painting. My master’s project that I was working on was in Moscow, so I decided to follow the grape harvest.

I went to Kakheti, which is the eastern part of Georgia where 90% of the country’s wine is made. I visited different families and did a lot of sketches of how they were collecting the grapes and the feast that happened afterwards. The Georgian feast was very curious to me, because it seemed to unite multiple generations around one table, all with poetry, ancient polyphonic songs, wine, incredible traditions.

That’s how I first was introduced to wine. And then in 2006 everything changed.

Read the whole article here. As for John’s wines, you can order them from us here.

Atypical Wines From a Tough 2014 Istrian Vintage

2014 was generally a tough vintage throughout the Istrian peninsula, including the nearly 50 km Slovenian coastline (Slovenska obala) that runs north towards Trieste. Heavy rains in August and a cold summer overall meant lower yields for everyone. However, it was still a quality vintage if you farmed well, hand picked and weren’t tied to a recipe. Such was the case with the red wines from Coronica in Croatia and the Malvazija from Santomas in Slovenia. These are also the wines they each typically make the least of anyway. Coronica’s production is mostly white and Santomas is overwhelmingly red.

Coronica Crno and Gran Teran
Drive about 15 minutes southeast of the coastal city of Umag (50 km south of Trieste) and follow a small road named Koreniki and you will find Moreno Coronica. Even though the land is the same, Moreno’s grandfather was Austro-Hungarian, his father was Italian, he was Yugoslavian, and now his children are Croatian. Nevertheless, he has a stone tablet from 1764 with the family name carved into it that ties it all together.

Moreno Coronica
Moreno Coronica

Even further back, the region’s long history also includes Romans, Goths, Franks, and Bavarians. The Republic of Venice also had a solid 500+ year run. That said, Istria has always been the largest peninsula in the Adriatic with over 280 miles of coastline with 35% covered with old growth oak and pine forests. Along the coast where Coronica farms, the bright red and iron rich soil (Terra Rossa) is accented white calcareous stone and kept cool by the Bura winds.

Moreno Coronica
Coronica family’s stone tablet

Normally, Coronica harvests his red Teran late in the season because picking early means over the top tannins and crazy high acidity. He then barrels it down into French oak for extended élevage. These wines are called “Gran Teran” and have a distinct cranberry/ pomegranate like tartness, herbaceousness, and sanguine flavor. Traditionally it’s paired with local pršut (prosciutto), oily cured fish, blood sausages and rare beef. Locals also make “Istarska supa,” a slightly warmed broth of Teran, toasted country bread, olive oil, sugar, and black pepper. The current vintage is 2011. We imported very little, but a very special, elegant, and unique red for the bottle list.

Old school barometer
Old school barometer

In 2014 he had to pick early to avoid massive rains. Fortunately, he also farms a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and decided to make a one off blend and declassify his Teran. This is why the 2014 is called “Crno,” literally “black.” And instead of barreling down into oak, this is done fresh in stainless steel. The Teran still dominates in tartness, forest herbs and iron, but the Merlot and Cabernet add some needed fruit, weight, and soften the tannins. The early pick also yielded some rare rose like aromatics. Slightly chilled, this is a go to light coastal red. Even the great Latin lover Giacomo Casanova noted the native red wines from Istria in his famous memoirs. No libido promises, but certainly couldn’t hurt throwing that out there.

Santomas Malvazija
Roughly 30 miles south of Trieste you’ll hit the port town of Koper. Drive a few minutes more up into the hills overlooking the Adriatic until you hit the small town of Šmarje. The Santomas winery is easy to spot along with its herb garden and olive trees growing on its living roof. The Glavina family has cultivated vines, olives and other crops here for over 200 years.

Panorama of the Santomas Winery

Ludvik, Andreja, and Tamara Glavina, descendents of the Ninth century owners of this land, own and run the winery. As Slovenia gained its independence in 1990, they returned to the vineyard to expand and to improve on the existing operation in the new spirit of private enterprise. Appropriately, the family’s coat-of-arms and motto “Semper memoriam refacit tempum” (The memory renews the time) adorns a white, red and yellow flag that hangs from the cellar tower.

Older generations
Tamara Glavina pointing out generations past

All wines are estate grown in vineyards between 100 and 280 meters above sea level where exposure to the sun and the incessant “Bora” wind is greatest. The soils are stony sandy mixes of flysch and marl. The 2014 Malvazija comes from the Poljane Vineyard (280m height above sea level) and Izola (30m height above sea level). As previously mentioned, harvest came super early so in an effort to bolster the fruit, about 5% went into new French oak for 9 months sur lie along with some stirring to add weight. After being blended back in, it’s a great foil for those you want a fresh coastal wine but some weight and texture as well. Normally served with fresh sea fare like octopus, fish Carpaccio, scallops and shellfish, the 2014 can also take on richer dishes like Risotto and baked pastas.

Santomas Vineyards

As with all wine regions, there is rarely a horrible vintage in terms of quality, just knowing how to improvise and roll with the punches. The 2014s are in predictably short supply, but each tells the story of an atypical vintage.

End your summer with a sparkle

kreinbacher on lees
Kreinbacher sparkling wine on its lees

Acid, spices, smoke and volcanic heritage
4-5 million years ago, lava erupted in Somló, building a mountain of basalt above an ancient sea and creating a unique environment for growing grapes. Since 2011, the Kreinbacher Estate is combining the traditions of Champagne with Somlo’s distinctiveness. Blending highly mineral Furmint sourced from the coolest, eastern slopes of the Somló hill with a dash of Chardonnay, they produce terroir-driven sparkling wines full of spices, smoky flavors and acidity. A 16 g/l dosage provides their Extra-Dry cuvée with a pleasing roundness.

Torley Winery
Törley Winery’s old posters

Densely chalk-ridden soils and vibrant acidity in Etyek-Buda.
There’re several similarities between the Etyek-Buda region near Budapest and Champagne: located at nearly the same latitude, they both have a unique terroir of limestone subsoil producing wines with high acidity. These similarities led József Törley in 1882 to build a sparkling wine production in the region, quickly winning an international reputation. A bright blend of Királyleányka, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, Törley Gála Sec is a sparkling made with the Charmat Method and a great Prosecco alternative. Much sweeter, the aromatic Törley Fortuna (a blend of Cserszegi Füszeres, Muskat Ottonel, Csabagyöngye) is a perfect Moscato d’Asti replacement.

Stoka Bela Penece
Štoka Bela Peneče

In “Terra Rossa” land, an ancient winemaking style is rediscovered
Pétillant naturel (naturally sparkling) wines have been made for centuries. It’s the easiest way to make sparkling wines: by bottling the wine before the end of fermentation, the yeast and sugar continue to ferment inside the bottle, generating more alcohol and gentle bubbles of carbon dioxide. This traditional wine is often cloudy, unfiltered, with some remaining sweetness, and bottled with a crown cap. The Štoka family is now producing this traditional winemaking style in 3 colors: a white Vitovska, a rosé Teran and a red Teran, 3 ultra-fresh Pet-Nats with a distinctive Slovenian Kras twist.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #37: Csendes Dűlő Kéknyelü & Hárslevelű

Julia Dora Molnar
Julia Dóra Molnar and her mother Beáta, co-owners of Csendes Dűlő. Photo: Eric Danch

This tasting note has been translated from the original German text written by Peter Klingler for his blog Borwerk (a Hungarian-German word combination meaning “WineWorks”).

As if German is not tough enough, Peter’s distinctly short-hand style is not easy to transfer to English prose. We tried to make it readable and still retain the flavor of his personality.

Most striking at first: how inconspicuous both wines are. It seems as if the Kéknyelü – AKA Blaustengler in German – and the Hárslevelü as well, do justice to the name of the estate: Csendes Dűlő. Quiet, tranquil vineyard.

But unobtrusiveness and silence change over time. Formative for a specific style, if you can say that at all about one of the first vintages of a new producer on the fine wine market, the impression of a distinct character remains, nevertheless. This can simply be explained with time, or rather with their youth. In the first few minutes in the glass, both wines appear closed.

This changes over time, mainly with the Kéknyelû. After a few days it packs a bunch of flavors on top. The fruit remains rather sparse, pears, quince, yellow stone fruit, half-ripe and somewhat restrained. A fine mineral line, salt, pebbles, slightly smoky steel. Everything covered, settled, almost a little shy. The crystal clear acids, hitting the Kéknyelû at times a little bit over the limits, fit in quite well. But broadening through the varietal spices, almost untamed at first, adolescent-masculine flavors emerge without any cracks. This has something. Here slumbers more power and potential than one might assume in the beginning. Coherent and balanced, after all.

csendes bottle and rock
Basalt rock. Photo: Eric Danch

The Hárslevelű however remains longer in its youthful stage. Reserved, biding its time, it never quite leaves this phase completely. Indeed: it tastes a little harsh in the finish. Somber, dull-covered. But a little later cool, firmed, the fruit appears more clearly here, more mature, brighter: pear, peach compote, pineapple. Slightly diffuse while standing on broader legs, plus salt, soap, wax-coated straw and pleasantly unexcited acids. That was it – already. After or besides the Kéknyelű, the Hárslevelű inevitably looks like an underperfomer. Much broader, more powerful it will probably not become in the coming years. In the end, it’s very clearly structured and substantially more coherent and resting in itself, than many fat, high-percentage conspecifics from other producers, other regions.

Badcsony at Lake Balaton. Photo: Eric Danch

No doubt. Still waters run deep. A first, gentle, and discreetly echoing exclamation mark by Csendes Dűlő, from the northern shore of lake Balaton (“flat lake” in German). That’s good. Serves this region well with its limited handful of interesting producers, today.

Learn more about the Csendes Dűlő estate here, as well as the 2013 Csendes Dűlő Hárslevelű and 2013 Csendes Dűlő Kéknyelű.

Wineterroirs visits Judit & József Bodó in Tokaj

Judit Jozsef Bodo
Judit and József Bodó (Photo Eric Danch)

French photographer, writer and blogger at Wineterroirs, Bertrand Celce recently visited the Tokaj region and was impressed by the dynamism of its young winemakers.

The Tokaj region may be felt like an established wine region from abroad due to its documented tradition in the past centuries but oddly it’s also a very dynamic region in terms of young artisan winemakers, it’l like if Burgundy met Touraine or Anjou, and there may be several reasons behind this, one of them being possibly the socialist interlude during which the parcels on the slopes, the equivalent of the Burgundy climats were abandoned under the post-war communist rule in favor of massive plantings on the flatland for productivist efficiency : Since freedom of enterprise came back around 1989, daring vignerons had all these slopes (then covered by bushes and woods) to reconquer with great potential for making quality wine again

During his trip, he visited the vineyards and cellars of Bott Winery owned by Judit & József Bodó, and tasted the estate’s latest production:

Teleki 2015, made with Furmint and a bit of Hárslevelű (there are a few complanted vines). Vines are 70 years old, their oldest parcel. Loess soil with lots of chalk. Complexity on the nose with Berlingot aromas. Elegant wine with good length in the mouth, no spitting, I don’t care about drink & drive rules…. Sells for 5400 Forints (17 € or 19 USD). In 2015 the berries were very small because of the dry weather and they had much smaller volumes.

Read the whole article and enjoy Bertrand Celce’s photos here.

We’re looking forward to tasting Judit & József latest wines when they’re bottled later this year and shipped to the US. In the meantime, we can enjoy the Bott Határi Hárslevelű 2012 and Bott Határi Hárslevelű 2013. These are two highly mineral Hárslevelű, sourced from the the Grand Cru Határi, a complex terroir characterized by its mix of clay, limestone, rhyolite-tufa, and obsidian rocks.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #36: Miloš Stagnum Rosé

Milos Rose

Contributed by Croatian wine writer Nenad Trifunović. Nenad is based in Zagreb and writes regularly about wines, in particular those from Croatia, on his blog Dnevnik Vinopije (Wine Drinker Journal). To learn more read our interview with him.

2015 Miloš Stagnum Rosé

Blood orange by color and scent.

Pomegranate in the mouth, with its astringent vegital refreshment.

A resemblance that transcends aromatic associations, Stagnum rosé is “white” juice of a noble red variety. One that is easy drinkable and full of freshness, with integrated acidity.

A juice which refreshes since there is no sweetness whatsoever. Except in the aromatic sense because those sure are fruity enough, but also very much like tea. There’s tannin, evenly spread like a herbal component in pitted juice, an indicator of not over-processed fruit.

Alcohol (13,5%) is invisible, carefully integrated, present only as a transferor of information, a persuasive witness of a proper wine in the glass and not a fruit juice.

Stagnum Rosé is so impressive and incredibly subtle. It can be simply enjoyed, but can also be seen as an example of paradox. Those who seek depth will wait for Stagnum Rosé a bit, to toughen exposed to air and to approach its working temperature. Its a privilege being able to follow the progression in the glass, how it plays with your perception while creating that tension which captures you and relaxes you at the same time.

This wine is like a holiday on Pelješac peninsula. Only even better 🙂

Miloš vineyards on the Pelješac peninsula
Miloš vineyards

The weird and wonderful wines from the Republic of Georgia

Amiran's Marani
Amiran Vepkhvadze’s Marani or Wine Cellar

Wine columnist Allison Alevine also attended the Republic of Georgia Wine seminar in Los Angeles last June. Georgia was a wine-producing country that she knew very little about and as such, she was excited by this opportunity to explore what might be the oldest wine-making region.

I knew tasting the wines of Georgia would be different. But as they came around and poured the wines, a wine novice would question what was in front of them. Instead of the bright lemon or golden colors of white wines, the white wines ranged from yellow and golden to pale peach and orange. The red wines, however, are more the typical shades of purple, ruby and garnet that we are familiar with. The wines are made in large vessels called qvevri, which means “below.” These are concrete tanks built underground. If you are a fan of “The Amazing Race,” you will understand what I am talking about as this past season the teams were required as one of their challenges to clean out grapes skins from the qvevri at a winery in Georgia.

Several of our wines were among her favorites:

Orgo Kisi, Kakheti 2013 (fermented in gvevri, skin contact) – A hazy peach color, this wine had aromas of dried peach and dried flowers, and on the palate notes of black tea and pear.

Gotsa Family Wines Chinuri, Kartli 2013 (fermented in gvevri, skin contact) – This high-acid wine has herbal and black tea notes and has grippy tannins on the palate.

Amiran Vepkhvadze Otskhanuri Sapere 2014 – This wine is an intense ruby color with dark berry and dried floral notes, has firm tannins and high acidity.

Read the whole article here.