Pannon-demic Outbreak: Bott Frigyes, Wetzer, Kolonics, Apátsági and Heimann

Bott Frigyes and his son Frici
Bott Frigyes and his son Frici

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 of the Mužsla Hills in Slovakia surrounded by the Garam, Danube and the Ipoly rivers, is one such example: Bott Frigyes.

Bott and his son Frici are growing Furmint, Hárslevelű (Lipovina in Slovakia), Juhfark, Kékfrankos, Kadarka (cuttings are incidentally from Balla Géza in Romania who is also ethnically Hungarian), Tramini, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sárfahér and Olaszrizling. In other words, nearly everything I’m drawn to in the Pannonian basin.

Even the neighboring village of Béla is where Judit and József Bodó of Bott Pince began their winemaking career (ethnically Hungarian but born in Slovakia) before moving to Tokaj. Long story short, a whole bunch of things all came together with Bott Frigyes coupled with great farming, honest winemaking, and delicious wines.

Sampling Furmint with Peter Wetzer
Sampling Furmint with Peter Wetzer

WETZER, Sopron & Tokaj, Hungary
2017 Wetzer Tokaji Furmint
2017 Wetzer Kékfrankos
2017 Wetzer Kékfrankos Blumenthal

Every time I visit Peter I learn about his next big dream and always taste some sort of brand new experiment. At the same time, he’s firmly rooted in the old winemaking traditions of Sopron, is addicted to old vineyard maps from the 1800s, and is a 5th generation winemaker making wine in his family’s 120 year cellar beneath his home. He has an infectious enthusiasm that spills into the vibrant nature of his wines. He even pulls a few shifts a week at the local gas station to support the whole enterprise.

While the vast majority of his production is Kékfrankos, he also dabbles in both Somló and Tokaj. We are lucky enough to offer a very limited amount of his Furmint from the Kis-Hegy vineyard in the village of Mád, Tokaj. This is a very iron rich volcanic site yielding a textured, raw, and alive Furmint.

2017 was also a great year for reds in both Sopron and neighboring Burgenland (ie. Pfneisl). While we will always get his estate Kekfránkos (many small parcels around the town of Sopron) for as long as humanly possible, it’s also time to show the site reflective range of this grape from another terroir: Blumenthal. Where the estate fruit comes mostly from schist, limestone and loess soils, the Blumenthal is defined by gravel and silt. The fruit comes in with much more ripeness and structure. I rarely get excited about a 14.5% Kékfrankos, but this is one of those times.

Károly Kolonics in the cellar
Károly Kolonics in the cellar – Photo credit Kolonics Pinceszet

KOLONICS, Somló, Hungary
2017 Kolonics Karvaly Juhfark
2016 Kolonics Hárslevelű

Somló is endlessly fascinating and humbling for me. How such a small appellation (less than half the size of the Jura) can yield such distinctive wines and characters never fails. Károly Kolonics fits this mold and adds a missing link in our Somló offerings.

Ironically, he’s basically the next property south east of Fekete Béla in the Apátság-dűlő. A 4th generation winemaker who grew up in nearby Devecser but spent his weekends and summers in Somló. His grandparents were born and raised on the hill. His Somlói lineage goes back notably to his great grandparents who emigrated to the US before WWI. Once the war threatened Hungary, they mailed back as much money as possible. There was an issue with the postmaster and none of the money went to the family and the estate was lost to the Abbey. The family eventually got their land back. The labels are photos of the great grand parents from the late 1800s.

Today, Kolonics farms about 9 hectares of Olaszrizling, Furmint, Juhfark and Hárslevelű in thick basalt crumble soil. The area is also covered in chestnut and walnut trees at an altitude just above the frost line. No herbicides, pesticides, cover crops are cut by hand, and he uses orange oil and hand sprayed SO2 when needed.

His barrel regiment of large 1500L Hungarian oak and Acacia barrels, many around 60 years old, are adorned with the names of Kings and Saints of Hungary. According to Károly, “I usually say that when you taste a wine and you speak about the barrel you do not speak about God but of his dress.” As for winemaking, grapes are destemmed, pressed, and then usually spend 6-8 hours of maceration before the native fermentation begins. All wines are barrel fermented and aged, full malo and only racked once before bottling.

The wines are certainly a nod to the style of Fekete Béla (rich and densely and layered), but picked a little earlier and with less than half of the élevage which is a nod to the style of Apátsági. Being able to taste a fresh Tornai Juhfark then follow up with Apátsági, Kolonics and Fekete Béla is my argument (so far) for how special Somlói wines are.

Harvest with the Apatsagi family
Harvest with the Apatsagi family

APÁTSÁGI, Somló, Hungary
2016 Apátsági Hárslevelű
2016 Apátsági Furmint
2016 Apátsági Juhfark

Speaking of Apátsági, we are very happy to have the new 2016 vintage. As Zoltán says, “People have been growing grapes on Somló for a thousand years. Therefore, I’m not taking an enormous risk in doing the same thing.” That said, 2016 was catastrophic with around 70% hail damage. They rushed out and sprayed chamomile tea and other organic treatments, but such is the cost when you’re farming organic and bad weather hits. The prices are a tad higher to help mediate this, but the grapes that survived have produced exceptional wines. Zoltán picks later than anyone else we work with on the hill, but the sweet/salty acidity they are able to keep in balance is astonishing. The chemical analysis and the way the wines taste and feel don’t make any sense. It also keeps the theme of me not fully understanding but loving the intensely mineral, smoky and oxidative freshness of Somló alive.

Sampling Kadarka with Zoli Heimann
Sampling Kadarka with Zoli Heimann

HEIMANN, Szekszárd, Hungary
2017 Heimann Kadarka

Zoltán Sr. was living in Budapest during the land redistribution post Communism. His father was pensioned in Szekszárd, so he decided to sell his house in Buda and move down as well. Starting with just .5 hectares (.25 allowed person during Communism) they started their first commercial vintage in 1991 with the late Tibor Gál Sr. advising them. His wife Ágnes was the first formally trained winemaker in the family and can still can be found on the sorting table and helping her son Zoltán Jr. (now in charge of winemaking) with all aspects of the cellar. And while they started with mostly Merlot, Cab Franc, and Kékrankos, Kadarka was always the most refreshing and unique.

Zoltán Sr. still remembers when the whole house would smell like Kadarka when they opened the fermentation vats when he was a boy. Largely ripped out during Communism, there are now 29 clones being rediscovered and Heimann has 7 planted. I was lucky to taste the very first 2006 Kadarka last winter. They are on the right track and the 2017 harkens back to those fresh smells filling the house.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #158: Kolonics Juhfark

Kolonics Juhfark Karvaly
Label showing Károly Kolonics’s great-grandparent György in 1882

A few weeks ago, journalist Chris Wilson attended his first wine tasting brunch: ten Hungarian-inspired small plates and ten different Hungarian wines, hosted by the Hungarian Embassy in London. Impressed by the breadth of styles and flavors of the wines, this was for him a revelation.

Also organizing the tasting was British wine writer Oz Clarke, an Hungarian food and wine enthusiast who sees a bright future for Hungarian wine around the world. Among his top 10 Hungarian wines that he recommends, here is the Kolonics Juhfark:

Once we’d got over the similarity of the producer’s name Kolonics to the word ‘colonic’ and stopped sniggering into our shirtsleeves here was a wine that was rich and full with concentrated tropical and stone fruit characters and a chewy, Burgundian texture. Made from the Juhfark grape – which means ‘sheep’s tail’ due to the long, cylindrical shape of its bunches – this hails from Somló where 80% of the world’s Juhfark is planted.

Károly Kolonics (pronounced Kolo-nitsch) is one of our newest producers from Hungary. He is a 4th generation winemaker whose grandparents were born and raised in Somló. His labels show photos of his great-grandparents from the late 1800s. Today, Károly organically farms about 9 hectares of Olaszrizling, Furmint, Juhfark and Hárslevelű. All wines are fermented with native yeast and aged in large 1500L Hungarian oak and Acacia barrels to get less oak contact. According to Károly, “I usually say that when you taste a wine and you speak about the barrel you do not speak about God but of his dress.”

Oz Clarke also recommends Stéphanie Berecz’s Kikelet Hárslevelű from the village of Tarcal in Tokaj:

A muscular straw-like nose with a dash of stone and stone fruit. This is lush and pure with a tangy and chewy profile – lots to get the tongue and teeth around. There’s apple blossom too and a sappy finish. Winemaker Stéphanie says that her wines are the first dry wines to be made in the region of Tarcal – she believes that only when you make dry wines can you understand the nuance and specifics of the terroir without characters being masked by sweetness.

Read Chris Wilson’s article and discover Oz Clarke’s top 10 Hungarian wines here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #157: Shavnabada Saperavi

Winemaker Giorgi Abramashvili
Winemaker Giorgi Abramashvili in the cellar at Shavnabada

For Food & Wine‘s executive editor Ray Isle, Georgia is “The Oldest Newest Wine Region in the World.”

Tasting traditionally made wine in Georgia,” he writes, “is like taking a trip back through those eight millennia.” But things have changed significantly since the Soviet era and many traditional winemakers are now bottling and selling their wines in Tbilisi and abroad.

That’s the case of the Shavnabada Monastery just outside Tbilisi where the monks have restored the old wine cellar and are now making and exporting Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Saperavi in the traditional qvevri style.

We’re in the cellar at Shavnabada, a Georgian Orthodox monastery originally built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 17th, shut down again in the Soviet era and reopened after that. Eleven monks live and work here. All around the stone building the boxwoods are in bloom, and the air is filled with their scent. Brother Markus’ cell phone rings—the ringtone is the brrring, brrring of an old-fashioned rotary phone. He glances at it and puts it back in the pocket of his robe. As to why they started making wine again, he says, “Georgia is a country of hospitality. When someone comes to your home, you need to offer them bread and wine.”

A 2004 Mtsvane, a white wine that spent 13 years sealed in qvevri, is the color of burnished wood and tastes of nuts and smoke. A 2007 Saperavi is darkly currant-y, dry, and tart. He comments as I drink it, “We don’t filter our red wine or use any additives—that’s not a respectful thing to do to wine. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Typically, as a professional, I spit wines that I taste. At the moment that seems wildly inappropriate. Besides, the Saperavi is gorgeous. I drink it. Brother Markus adds, “Our purpose as monks is to make people happy. It’s not to make money. We put our soul and our heart into our wine, and that’s why it’s different. God is always present in this process.” 

Not doubt the monks have put their heart and soul into their Saperavi, aged for almost 10 years buried in the cool old cellar. Just take a sip, close your eyes, and you’ll feel transported to another time and place.

Read the whole Food & Wine article here.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #157: Heimann Bikaver

heimann bikaver
Photo: russian_in_wine

“When it comes to Hungarian wines, Tokaji immediately comes to your mind, but what about reds?” asks wine lover Dmitry over at russian_in_wine.

Both Eger and Szekszárd can legally make Bikavér (Bulls Blood), Hungary’s traditional full-bodied red wine, a Kékfrankos based blend that is rich, spicy and fruity. But what sets Heimann’s Szekszárdi Bikaver apart is the addition of the tannic Sagrantino, a red grape indigenous to the region of Umbria in Italy:

Bikavér (bool’s blood) is a full bodied red blend produced in the northern part of the country in Eger (Egri Bikavér) and in its southern part in Szekszárd (Szekszárdi Bikavér). It’s 300 km between these 2 regions, so as you might expect climatic differences are notable.

Talking about grape varieties it makes sense to mention that a lot of international and local varieties are allowed in the blend. Blaufränkisch (locally named Kékfrankos) usually forms a foundation of the blend and adds tannin and spiciness to the wine. Kadarka (also known as Gamza) requires careful yield control, with the right viticultural approaches it adds concentration and softness to the blend. International varieties in the blend might be represented by Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and some others.

This specific Szekszárdi Bikavér has an interesting component in the blend – Sagrantino, a grape variety that one usually expects to see in Italian Umbria, not in Hungary. So looks like local regulations are pretty liberal and allow winemakers to experiment with structure of their blends. IMHO the downside of such flexibility is that it’s tough to identify some distinctive characteristics of Bikavér wines that can be easily recognized and appreciated by consumers. It depends on the style that a specific producer decided to concentrate on.

Follow Dmitry’s exploration of the world of wine on Instagram and here is where you can find Heimann’s delicious Szekszárdi Bikaver.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #156: Gallay Zweigelt

Roland and Jozsef Borbély
Roland and Jozsef Borbély

Bükk benefits from a merry band of winemaking talentwrites Budapest resident and wine writer Robert Smyth. “Discovering relatively unknown wine regions,” he adds, “is one of the great joys of being into wine.

The region sits silently, and all but forgotten, between the really rather famous, not to say legendary regions of Eger (to the west) and Tokaj (to the east), and was previously known in professional circles as a region to overlook, to put it mildly, for its paint-stripping, acidic excuses for wines.

However, a number of boutique producers are now turning out some rather fine and subtle stuff, which often strikes a balance between vibrant aromas, ripeness of fruit and zesty (but not bitingly sharp) acidity. Bükk, with its broad range of soils and nicely positioned vineyards that gain ideal exposure to the sun for ripening, is, therefore, something of a hidden treasure, especially when the winemakers treat the terroir with respect.

Gallay is one of Bükk’s hidden treasures. Father and son József and Roland Borbély farm 11 hectares of vineyards in a sustainable way and are working hard to revive the region with wines from the local white grape Zenit and red grape Zweigelt that highlight the terroir of the appellation.

Some of the wines tasted from Gallay and Zsolt Sándor are worthy of being placed on the same table as the best of Austria. Gallay’s single vineyard Zweigelts, from the Lippa and Zúgó vineyards, show how the grape can articulate its terroir.

Read the whole article here. Intrigued by Gallay’s wines? You can find them on our webshop.

Moldy grapes are better

botrytis infected grapes
botrytis infected grapes

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 into the mix as well. He’s growing grapes like Szerémi zöld, Bakator, Mézes fehér, and Kövidinka (planted 1925) that we’ve rarely encountered anywhere else. His 1880s Kadarka is one of the oldest in the world. On top of that, he uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides and works mostly with only hand and horse. He’s a wealth of knowledge, incredibly driven, and we are just getting started with him.

Oszkár Maurer
Oszkár Maurer

Oszkár Maurer

2016 Kövidinka: Planted in 1925 in Nosza hills between Subotica (Serbia) and Szeged (Hungary), it’s winter hardy, resistant to botrytis, and ripens late. With Oszkár’s farming and sandy soils, there’s a nuttiness that’s not oxidation, and a sweetness that’s not residual sugar. Herbal and dry at 10% alcohol.

2016 Kadarka Újlak: The Újlak Dűlő is a 250 meter limestone and clay hill with slate at the top. The plant material is from a 1912 site and grows right along side with Furmint. Kadarka is thin skinned, late ripening, susceptible to botytis, drought tolerant, and can’t handle cold winters. Once coaxed to ripeness, it’s spicy, fresh, and aromatic at just over 10% alcohol. It’s a light chillable red without relying on whole cluster or carbonic for fruit and lightness.

2017 Mézes Fehér: Planted near the volcanic Fruška-Gora mountains, the nearly extinct Mézes Fehér grape, literally ’honey white’, is certainly an appropriate name. Picked with about 20% botrytis, it was then on the skins for a couple of days, and then pressed off into barrels for 16 months. Bottled unfiltered, it looks like bourbon and smells like a hot toddy. It’s retained remarkable acidity, has plenty of structure, and is just over 1 g/l RS. Dry botrytis from 2017. Nothing else like it and delicious.

There’s also a major historical linkage between Maurer’s region and Tokaj. At one point, they were arguably considered equally in terms of quality and prestige. For a variety of reasons (changing borders, Turkish wars etc…) many from Maurer’s region then moved to Tokaj. Before I get too long winded, here’s a quick breakdown:

Zoltan Demeter and Samuel Tinon
Tasting Aszú with Zoltán Demeter and a selfie of Samuel Tinon

Demeter Zoltán

2013 Eszter Föbor 500ml: Aka a sweet Szamorodni. 200+ g/l RS, honeyed spice, sweet acidity, and magically refreshing. It’s almost like it finishes dry while simultaneously coating your palate. The sheer concentration and energy Zoltán puts into this (both his own and the grapes) is one of the reasons I keep returning to Tokaj.

2010 Aszú 500ml: Only 2 cases imported. With only a few more grams of RS than the Eszter, the extremely high extract, acidity, and age make this something completely different and compelling. Show stopper. I don’t have much to say other than please try this wine.

Samuel Tinon

2017 Olaszliszka Hárslevelű: The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Latin for Olaszliszka Friends of Wine) is the combined efforts of local winemakers to reaffirm the historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka. Sourcing from vineyards like Csontos, Határi, Meszes, and Palandor that date as far back as 1641, members of the association are combining their fruit to produce one single “village” wine. Tinon’s rendition is like drinking a margarita with a mezkal floater. Lemon lime, salty, bright, and a hint of smoke.

2009 Dry Szamorodni 500ml: Still one of the greatest and most surprising finds vintage after vintage. This is a late harvest pick fermented dry under a yeast veil until dry. Never fortified, single vintage, and this is the benchmark producer. If you’re into sherry and Vin Jaune, you’re professionally obligated to venture into dry Szamorodni ☺

Krisztian, Janos, Stephanie
Krisztián Farkas, János Hajdú of Bodrog Borműhely and Stéphanie Berecz of Kikelet

Bodrog Borműhely

2016 Botrytis Selection Furmint: This is a rare creature and a one off so far in our relationship with Krisztián and János. Coming mostly from the Halas vineyard (next to Lapis, closer to the creek), this Furmint was harvested like a Szamorodni (fresh and botrytised), but for one reason or another, the spontaneous fermentation went nearly dry (around 2 g/l RS). But unlike a Dry Szamorodni which is aged oxidatively and often under a veil of yeast, this was topped up and kept fresh. This is a rare balancing act of botrytis and a fresh wine coming together naturally.

2015 Lapis Furmint: The Lapis Vineyard is near the town of Bodrogkeresztúr and looks down onto the Bodrog River and its floodplains. The 0.7 ha that they farm is 155m up and in a breezy spot making dry wines possible. If there were to be reclassification of the Tokaji vineyards, this would be a strong contender for a Great Growth. This is also a great example of how just three years of aging adds creaminess without losing freshness. Sweet smoky aromatics and salty acid goodness.


2016 Origo: This is a brand new project for Stéphanie. Over time she’s come to believe that the best way to capture the “Kikelet,” meaning “spring,” is to blend Furmint, Hárslevelű, and Kövérszőlő when possible. Her style is already more or less based on short macerations, no crushing, and not racking until bottling. This 2016 was fermented in barrel, aged 5 months, and then kept fresh under screw cap. This “Origo” is a pure look at the origin of what she loves about her terroir and the kind of acid and soil driven wines she loves.

2016 Lónyai Hárslevelű: In contrast to the Origo blend, she never blends anything with Lónyai. This is a stand alone site. Tarcal is usually defined largely by loess soils, but it is of course more complicate than that. There is also chalk, dacite, and perlite that make vineyards like Lónyai susceptible to erosion but not as water retentive as clay. The acids here are sour and need aging, but once they balance out, it’s one of the most elegant and intense Hárslevelűs in the region. Built to age, ideally we drink this 3-5 years after vintage.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #155: Gotsa Family Wines Chinuri

Gotsa Chinuri
Gotsa Chinuri from Asureti Valley, Georgia

“We’re on at least the third wave of orange wine,” thinks wine writer Jon Bonné in his article, The Insider’s Guide to Orange Wine, where he reviews the essential producers, wines, and vinification methods for this particular wine style.

Orange wines, also called amber wines, are made from white grapes that ferment on their skins for a period of time. The result is a densely textured, amber-to-orange colored wine. This unique winemaking style was traditionally used in Georgia, Northern Italy and Slovenia and has recently seen growing popularity among wine lovers. Orange wines are now made throughout Europe and in the new world as well including California, Oregon, Australia, and Chile.

One of the essential wines isted by Jon Bonné is the Gotsa Family Wines Chinuri, an amber-colored wine from Georgia, fermented on its skin in a clay vessel called qvevri:

Gotsa Asureti Valley Chinuri: Beka Gotsadze’s winery is high in the hills outside Tblisi, and his wines—all aged in qvevri—are a very good reference point for Georgian wine, even if they aren’t wholly traditional. Chinuri is a relatively common white variety in the region, and there’s a creamy side to the ripe apple and persimmon flavors.

If you’re curious about orange wines, check our skin-macerated wines from Georgia, Slovenia, and Croatia on our webshop.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #154: BIBICh R6 Riserva

bibich winery and r6 label
BIBICh winery, Skradin, North Dalmatia

The meals that we eat during the week are usually quick and easy to prepare. It’s also the time when we would like to drink something good but reasonably priced and not too complicated. These are the “weeknight wines” that Eric Asimov describes in his latest column 20 Wines Under $20: When Any Night Can Be a Weeknight.

Weeknight wines may not require your complete attention but they still need to be interesting and full of character. Fortunately for us, there are many distinctive and inspiring wines from all around the world that are moderately priced because they come from lesser-known wine regions or grape varieties.

Among the great weeknight wines that Eric Asimov recommends is one of our favorites, the Bibich R6 Riserva 2016:

The phrase “Mediterranean wines” rarely conjures up Croatia, but the country has a gorgeous coastline along the Adriatic Sea, made notable by the beautiful cities of Split and Dubrovnik. Alen Bibic of Bibich makes wine in the region of Skradin north of Split, focusing on indigenous grapes, like this blend of babic, plavina and lasin. It’s deliciously spicy, with just a touch of oak.

We have a great selection of delicious and distinctive weeknight wines under $20 on our webshop. Check them out!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #153: Monastery Tvrdoš Vranac

Tvrdos Vranac
Photo: SommSelect

“How could we not offer this wine,” asks David Lynch, Sommelier & Editorial Director at SommSelect. “Tasting this 2015 Vranac, I’m reminded of some of the brisk and deeply hued reds of Italy/Slovenia’s Carso/Kras region, and of Austrian Blaufränkisch as well.

Aged for two years in those ancient wood barrels, the 2015 Tvrdoš Vranac is a nearly opaque ruby-black in the glass, with garnet reflections. The nose is powerful and perfumed, leading with notes of crushed blackberry, cranberry, wet rose petals, dark chocolate, cedar, and exotic spice notes galore. It is deep, rich, and tangy up front then buttons up into something tangy and refreshing, with lots of floral notes on the finish. It benefits from 30+ minutes in a decanter before service, as well as a cooler temperature (60 degrees) to accentuate its fruit character and moderate its acidity. Characteristic of the 2015 vintage all over Europe, this is plenty ripe and accessible now, and is most definitely a “food wine” as opposed to a “cocktail wine.” I’d say go whole hog and do an ultra-authentic “Bosnian Pot” (Bosanski Lonac) to go with it. The melding of flavors will not only be classic but spot-on.

“I’ve said it many times before, ” adds David Lynch, “but still: there’s no reason to drink generic labels when wines like this exist at this price.”

Follow David Lynch’s pairing recommendation and enjoy Monastery Tvrdoš Vranac with an earthy, hearty, rustic Bosnian Pot. Živjeli!

Georgian Wines are Exciting!

Brand new qvevris ready to be used

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.

Rolandi Burdiashvili
Frank Dietrich with Rolandi Burdiashvili, winemaker for doqi wines

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 Wine Thieves and a new vintage of doqi Rkatsiteli Qvevri. Thanks to their tannic structure, they work very well with roasted meat, stew with walnut sauce, and any cheese.

If Rkatsiteli is the “King of Kakheti”, Mtsvane is its queen according to Aleksi. It’s an ancient Georgian grape variety, even older than Rkatsiteli according to some ampelographers. Full-bodied and yet more delicate and elegant than Rkatsiteli, it exhibits some spicy tea-like aromas when aged in qvevri. Check our new vintage of Mtsvane Qvevri from doqi.

Kisi is an exquisite rare variety from Kakheti. Floral and exotic, with notes of orange zest, it has a large aromatic spectrum. Try the newly arrived Kisi wines from doqi and Wine Thieves, they’re absolutely delicious with seafood and Asian cuisine.

Beka Gotsadze
Beka Gotsadze

Chinuri is from the Kartli region in Central Georgia where the country’s capital Tbilisi is situated. Maybe named for the color of olive tree leaves (“chin” in old Georgian), the grape has high acidity, herbal notes and fruity aromas. Gotsa Family Wines makes an organic qvevri aged Chinuri that is savory, nutty, and tannic with a beautiful amber color.

Amiran Vepkhvadze in his vineyard
Amiran Vepkhvadze in his vineyard

Tsitska and Krakhuna are two grape varieties from Imereti in Western Georgia. They’re both late ripening with ripe fruit aromas. Amiran Vepkhvadze farms small plots of these rare varietals without chemical treatments and ferments them in locally made qvevris. The result is amber in color, richly textured and aromatic. Also from Amiran, Otskhanuri Sapere is a rare, indigenous red varietal found only in Western Georgia. The wine is deeply colored with tannins and very high acidity. It can age very well and be kept in the cellar for several decades.

Shavnabada winemaker Giorgi Abramashvili and his assistant
Shavnabada winemaker Giorgi Abramashvili and his assistant

Last but not least, Saperavi is Georgia’s most famous red grape. Deeply colored, full-bodied, with high acid and full flavors of black berries, mint, tobacco, pepper. When aged in qvevri, it acquires a rich, velvety texture. Try the amazing 2007 Saperavi made by the Shavnabada Monastery. On a more fruity side, doqi has both a qvevri and non qvevri Saperavi and Wine Thieves just released an organic qvevri Saperavi.

There’s a fierce competition between Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara as to which wine is the best sweet wine in Georgia and both top the list of Stalin’s — born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in Gori, Georgia — most favorite wines.

Kindzmarauli is a microzone in the Kakheti wine district along the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. It is famous for its dark semi-sweet wines made from Saperavi.

Khvanchkara is a appellation located in Racha, Western Georgia on the southern slopes of the Lechkhumi mountain range with vineyards planted between 450 and 750 meters (between 1500 and 2500ft) above sea level. The wine is made from the Alexandria and Mudzhuretuli red varieties and is vinified naturally sweet by keeping fermenting grapes in cool temperatures.

Set up a nice cheese platter with aged Cheddar, Blue Cheese, and nuts and compare the newly released Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara 2017 both from doqi and tell us which one you prefer. Gaumarjos! To your victory!