“I like extreme life and extreme wine. No fancy hotel rooms, commercial style: this is not our life.” Jean-Michel Morel
“Orange wine” has been recognized by US sommeliers and fine wine shops for more than 10 years, but has only recently become part of the wine drinker’s vocabulary. For the un-initiated, “orange wine” is not made of oranges. Its ancient production began in present day Georgia, which happens to be where Neolithic humans first domesticated Vitis Vinifera in pursuit of more and better wine. Historically, white grapes and red grapes were processed similarly: crush grapes, add to container, ferment, drink. Like red wine, “orange wine” can range from delicate to strong. This depends on the type of grape, the length of maceration, amount of oxygen, temperature of fermentation and so on, just like with red wine. Some “orange wines” are not actually that orange in color, making the term a little misleading.
“Orange wine” is just wine in the Republic of Georgia between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, and Slovenia and Croatia between the Alps and Adriatic. Both areas are typified by their varied topography, climate, abundance of biological diversity and diverse native wines.
In the early 90’s, French educated Jean-Michel Morel, winemaker of Kabaj in Goriška Brda, Slovenia, married into the Kabaj family and began to make wine from grapes the family was selling. He liked “orange wine” and in 1999 he fermented their Jakot (formerly known as Tokaj) with the skins. Kabaj calls this wine “Ravan” after one of the best positions they farm. This was the start of their first “orange” wine. Little was written on the topic, so Jean-Michel’s taste led him to Shavnabada Monastary outside Tbilisi —the capital of the Republic of Georgia— in 2004. It is the same year he imported his own Qvevri (earthen amfora made specifically for wine production) to Slovenia.
Fast forward a few years and the Kabaj winery has received international attention for elegant “orange” wines and beautifully earthy reds. Wine & Spirits Magazine has listed Kabaj as one of the Top 100 Wineries in the world for 2015, an honor the winery also received in 2013. We hope that you will try a few of Jean’s wines for yourself.
In a rare moment of not being late and or lost en route to a winery, we had the fortune to eat and drink our way through the Central Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) in Budapest this past spring. Built in 1897 and comprised of three enormous levels (10,000 sq meters), it looks like a combination of a train station and a massive Church devoted to everything I want to eat and drink. It’s one of the finest markets in Europe. Taking into account that all of our new Blue Danube Wine arrivals from Austria and Hungary were grown within 2-3 hours drive from the market, I’d like to use the adage of what grows together goes together to introduce them.
Starting in the basement level, it’s readily apparent that you’re entering ground zero for fermented fruits and vegetables. Pickle art is definitely a thing, and many venders grow their own produce. Much like a Viennese Heuriger grows and makes its own wines, the co-fermented field blends like Peter Bernreiter’s 2014 Gemischter Satz, 2014 Grüner Veltliner and 2014 Heuriger Liter all have the brightness and aromatics for furthering fermented consumption. A little further West along the Danube is the small town of Oberfucha where Geyerhof has been making wine here for over 400 years. Specializing in single vineyard wines, the 2014 Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig and 2014 Riesling Sprinzenberg are both intensely mineral and focused. These are not from the grassy Sauvignon Blanc end of the Grüner spectrum. These are serious and yet effortless wines to drink.
Only a 15-20 minute drive from the Market, Törley has been making sparkling wines since 1882. Using native grapes like Királyleányka (an aromatic Muscat like grape) along with Grüner, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they make both a Charmat method Törley Gala and a transfer method Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut built for all things pickled. The Gala is also a killer base for aperitifs and cocktails or for washing down a garlic riddled Lángos.
In addition to seasonal fruits and vegetables, the ground level is where you’ll find all of the specialty producers. Starting with paprika, whether it be sweet, mild, hot, as a cream, as a paste, or as dried pepperoncini, is a diverse Hungarian staple. No matter what the application, slightly chilled light reds handle the sweet smoke and spice when traditionally cooked with fat and oils. The cured and smoked meats infused with Paprika go without saying.
Along the Austrian border in Sopron, the 2012 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) is Gamay like in weight with spice and tea balancing fruit. About an hour north in Gols, the 2011 Juris St Laurent is thicker skinned, smoky and primal. Ideal for a heavier dishes. If you cross Kékfrankos with St Laurent the child is Zweigelt, and the 2014 Familie Maier liter is one of the best values in the portfolio. Estate fruit aged in Acacia barrels, it’s bright, unique and just plain crown-capped delicious. 90 minutes south of Budapest, the 2013 Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám and 2013 Sógor Kadarka both have spice, fruit and a mineral vein ideal for soups and stews. Further south near the Croatian Border, the 2014 Gere Portugieser, 2013 Vylyan Portugieser, and 2009 Vylyan Pinot Noir all enjoy limestone based soils and great exposures. Slightly darker and concentrated than the rest but still suited to a light chill. A great compliment to grapes like Lagrein, Schioppettino or a cool climate Cabernet Franc.
It would be sacrilege not to mention the creamy goose and duck liver, Magalica pig fat, and ornate pastries synonymous with Hungary, but that will have to wait until the new wines from Somló and Tokaj arrive.
Until then, I hope this lends some context to the wines and inspires a trip to this remarkable market. If you do go, please look up Taste Hungary and schedule a market tour. It’s easily one of the most informative food and drink induced comas in Central Europe.
Perhaps you have heard the expression “Ask and you shall receive”? Over the years, many of you have asked us for a wine club or a way to save on ever increasing shipping costs. Well, we are excited to announce that we have an answer to your requests: Club Vino Danubia!
The main benefit of the club is free UPS Ground shipping on all orders of a multiple of 6 bottles. That means you can stock up without worrying about any extra shipping fees!
There are so many other advantages to becoming a member: pre-sale offering of new wines, an exclusive newsletter with special offers and pairing suggestions, as well as special wine consulting assistance.
We invite you to join today for the low annual fee of $49. If you order just twice a year, the membership practically pays for itself.
After signing up, take advantage of your membership and purchase one of our 6-pack Danubia samplers. This 6-Bottle sampler includes three whites: the 2014 Bernreiter Grüner Veltliner from Austria, the 2013 Brkić Čitlučka Žilavka from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the 2014 Gere Olaszrizling from Hungary, and three reds: the 2012 Dingač Pelješac from Croatia, the 2013 Schuchmann Saperavi from Georgia, and the 2012 Plantaže Vranac ProCorde from Montenegro.
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With the holidays rapidly approaching, have you thought about sending some great wines to your clients or personal friends and family? We’re here to help you with your wine selection. Contact us for all your corporate and personal gift needs.
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I’m sitting across the table from Samuel Tinon at his home in Olaszliszka, a tiny village in Hungary’s mystical Tokaj Wine Region. He is of medium height and build. His hair is graying and he wears rectangular glasses. Behind him, his Vizsla is curled up on a velvet armchair. To my left, a white rabbit sits on another, matching chair. Rain is coming down in waves of heavy showers and Samuel is very pleased; rain in Tokaj has been scant this summer.
Together with my wife Anita, we’re sampling his wine at a long wooden dining table. Samuel is spontaneous, animated, talkative and passionate; the things I love most about the French. He speaks in concepts and rarely has simple answers to my questions. While he talks about Tokaj’s fascinating history I swirl his dry Szamorodni around in my glass and take in the dream-like scene around me: the dog and the rabbit, the sound of rain, Samuel’s French accented English and his cozy home. I then take a sip of the golden wine. It is amazingly complex and unlike anything I’ve tasted before. “This is the center of the Tokaj pyramid,” he says. “But people are forgetting about Szamorodni. I hope there is a future for it.” I hope so too, I say to myself with the wine’s nutty flavor still lingering on my tongue.
Originally from Sainte-Croix-du-Mont near Bourdeax, Samuel Tinon first came to Tokaj in 1991. Over the years his work as a wine consultant has led him to Italy, Chile, Texas and Australia. Indeed, the small plane found on his logo, is a nod to his life as a “flying winemaker”. Together with his wife (whom he met in Tokaj and strangely enough is also French) he raises his three sons and makes dry and sweet white wine in this tiny Hungarian village. He began making wine here in 2000. This struck me as being quite peculiar. Why Tokaj? Why not Bordeaux or some other more famous region? The answer lies in Tinon’s unwavering belief that Tokaj is as good a wine region as any. “And I like the challenge,” he says with a cheeky grin.
Earlier that day we descended down stone steps into Tinon’s wine cellar. “This is why I bought the house of course,” he told us. The first chamber contained barrels and the odd tool. Passing under a low archway we came to a tunnel-like room with musty, cool air. Here he keeps a few dozen bottles of rare Tokaji Essencia, a concentrated nectar made from the free run juice of botrytisized grapes. Many consider it to be the absolute pinnacle of sweet wine; something few ever actually taste. Covered in fluffy mold, the bottles conjured up images of long-lost pirate treasure. I immediately got the feeling that these bottles are some of Tinon’s most prized possessions.
Next, the three of us hopped into Tinon’s VW Transporter van and made for his Határi vineyard near the neighboring village of Erdőbénye. We passed black elderberry orchards along the crumbling, dusty road. I asked Tinon about his family estate in Bordeaux, about his life in Hungary and if he misses France. “At the time I didn’t want to take over the estate from my father,” he said. “My sister runs it now and we keep in contact. But we don’t discuss winemaking too much. It’s better not to influence each other, you know? But it’s all about family. Going on holidays together, these are the important things.” The van teetered back and forth as we began climbing up a dry grassy hill. “I don’t really miss France. I’m happy here,” he said with a shrug. Looking around at the landscape I was surprised how much it resembled California: dusty and dry with scrubby straw-colored grasses, the exposed earth at the roadside full of shale fragments and the rolling hills dotted with stout bushes.
We parked beneath a mature walnut tree and Tinon led us up the sloping vineyard. His grapevines, mostly Furmint with some Hárslevelű, are grown on individual wooden stakes. At first glance the plants appeared small and unimpressive, but then Tinon pulled back a handful of leaves, revealing bunches of plump gold-green fruit . “I believe this vineyard was planted in 1920, but you know, legends are never very far when you speak with people in the village. It’s difficult to know what true information is and what is the evolution of information,” he said chuckling.
We took in a hazy view of Erdőbénye and gentle, wavy hills stretching to the southeast. A cooling breeze cut the heavy, humid air. Samuel continued talking in a stream-of-conscious manner yet it was anything but boring. Anita and I listened intently as he spoke about grape clones, the serious issues winemakers face with climate change and his battles with wild pigs raiding the vineyard. He told us that Tokaj once had 100 varieties of grape before the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic. After plucking a grape from a plant Tinon took a bite. “Ah, you see…,” he said holding up the grape. “To see the ripeness you must look at the seed. If it is brown, they are ready. We need more rain though.”
Driving back to Olaszliszka, Samuel shared the realities of making wine in today’s market. “Lots of people lose money in the wine industry. It’s a very hard business and the situation is always changing. We are just working with what nature gives.” While he seems quite philosophical in one moment, the next he’s talking figures and facts only someone with profound industry knowledge would know.
Down a dirt road on the outskirts of town, we arrived at a set of four wine cellars dug into the ground. They had identical heavy iron gates and wooden doors. He unlocked the first, in which he ages dry Szamorodni, and we passed into a dark world of cool air and mustiness. There is no electricity here and so Samuel showed us around with a headlamp. It was typical of other cellars I’ve seen, aside from one thing: clumps of thick, fluffy mold plastered the cellar walls. “I’ve never seen a cellar with this much mold,” I said to him.“Then you have not seen a good cellar!” he said smiling widely. “People think everything has to be like a hospital or something, always looking clean and sterile. No, the air is very, very clean here. The mold is necessary to create the right balance in the cellar. It is a symbiotic relationship.” He then unplugged a barrel and showed us a layer of native yeast that protects the wine. Szamorodni (a Polish word meaning “as it comes off the vine”) is made using a mixture of healthy, shriveled and botrytized grapes creating something altogether different from other white wines. Tinon is one of only a few winemakers still making a serious effort to produce it.
In Tokaj, Samuel Tinon is an outsider. He’s a Frenchman in Hungary’s most prized appellation. What he’s doing, however, is very Hungarian. “I want to make the full range of traditional Tokaj wines,” he says to me now back at his house. I’m enthralled by his dry Szamarodni—it’s nutty and musty, yet fruity at the same time. We sample his sweet Szamorodni which is also shockingly good. It holds the same earthy body as the dry Szamorodni but with the sweetness of dried apricots. You could say it’s a gateway wine to Tokaji Aszú —an ” Aszú light” if you will.
With the rain still coming down in lashing sheets he brings out his 2006 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú. His take on Hungary’s legendary sweet wine and what King Louis XV called “The wine of kings and the king of wines”, is one of the best— if not the best—I’ve ever had. I’m no expert but simply calling this masterpiece a sweet wine doesn’t do. It is a rich, luxurious and nutty experience that transcends its classification. “It’s very, very good,” Anita says smiling and shaking her head in disbelief.
Samuel Tinon is up to something. He comes off as a patient and methodical man, yet he possesses a frenetic and infectious enthusiasm for his work. He seems all consumed by his winemaking and it translates into wine that is pure pleasure. He’s also incredibly good company, and while I’m looking forward to drinking his wine again, I’m just as excited about spending more time with the man himself.
Samuel Tinon: +36-47-358-405 | email@example.com
In the Spring of 2013 we hosted Judit and József Bodó of Hungary’s Bott Winery in California. With their giant map of the Tokaj appellation, box of soils, and rock samples, I dragged them all over the Bay Area for the usual sales gambit. In addition to all of the tastings, dinners, and semi desperate pleading with many of you for some sit down time, we also took a short trip to California wine country.
The shared experiences and risks of growing grapes and making wine for a living quickly bypass the often stale formalities between strangers. Within minutes Judit and Cathy Corison were digging into gender politics of the wine business and József was on his hands and knees inspecting old vines at the Library Vineyard with Tegan Passalacqua. After their first (ever!) encounter with Mexican food, our final stop was with Steve and Jill Matthiasson.
As it turns out, Jill has both Hungarian heritage and a penchant for Furmint and Hárslevelű. We tasted through the one another’s lineup, ate oranges off their tree (too cold in Tokaj for citrus), walked through the vineyards, and the Bodós attempted to hide their feverish jealously over the new Matthiasson tractor.
While Jill already wanted to make a California version of these two native Hungarian grapes, I like to think the Bott wines pushed her over the edge. The problem was finding some. As if turns out, there is one acre of Furmint and Hárslevelű on the Limerick Lane property in Sonoma.
In Tokaj the Bott’s Csontos and Határi single vineyards run along the Bodrog River. The Limerick Lane site (originally owned by a Hungarian immigrant) is tucked along the Russian River. In Tokaj there is a kaleidoscope of volcanic soils. At Limerick, old clay and rock.
The differences are of course many, but the approach to farming (dry, SO2 when needed), winemaking (native fermentation), and going for a dry barrel fermented style are shared between the two. In 2014 the Matthiassons made their 1st vintage.
A few vintages ahead (over 500 for the Tokaj AppellationJ), the newly arrived 2013 Csontos Furmint and 2013 Határi Hárslevelű both tame intensely pure acidity with the weight and texture unique to Hungarian volcanic whites. For anyone looking to turn a Chenin or Riesling addict onto something else — these be them. They are delicious.
Silvio Črnko says in this video (see below) that he drinks his Jarenincan white blend every day, and who can blame the man from Stajerska, Slovenia, just across the border from Austria? A blend of several white grapes, it has a charming nose of flowers and orange peel and a nice crispness on the palate. You’ll enjoy it so much that you won’t worry about what to pair it with.
Our time in Khvanchkara was only long enough for us to fall in love. It is a magnetic location inhabited by people who would live nowhere else. Aleko’s Guesthouse is a window onto this special place. The wines and accommodations reflect the local way of life. It as as easily accessible as could be for such a remote wine region which only a few years ago could only be accessed by Jeep. Aleko is a proud young champion of Khvanckhara. His wines and hospitality had us shouting as we drove away: “We will return!”
-Stetson Robbins on his visit to Guesthouse Khvanchkara
Aleko Sardanashvili is the owner of this traditional guest house located in the Racha-Lechkhumi region of Georgia. Racha is about a three hour drive from the capital of Tbilisi, in the northwestern part of the country.
Aleko is from this part of Georgia originally, but spent several years living in Tbilisi before moving to Malta for eight years. During his time abroad, he gained experience in the tourism and hospitality industries.
After spending so much time away from home, Aleko decided to return and apply the skills he gained in his own village. First, he starting making wine, like so many in Georgia do, and then he opened a guesthouse for visitors.
The Guesthouse is named after the regions famous wine appellation, Khvanchkara. The wine is a high-quality, semi-sweet red blend of the native grapes Mujuretuli and Alexandrouli. Velvety smooth texture with bright fruit character, it is no wonder why Khvanchkara is so revered. Try this typical example from Teliani Valley to experience it for yourself.
With three bedrooms, the Guesthouse and can accommodate up to ten people at one time. Aleko wants you to experience “true Rachan life” by sharing authentic local cuisine and, of course, his own wine. He can also provide tours through the neighboring villages based upon your interests.
To view more pictures of the beautiful Guesthouse, check out the Facebook page.
2014 Slovenska Istra Ludvik Nazarij Glavina Refosk: A terrific bargain and great introduction to refošk, this bright and juicy wine shows lovely aromas of violets and spices, with brambly black raspberry flavors and a light meaty note. Serve with pork shoulder. 89 points -Stephanie Johnson
Our notes: LNG are the initials for Ludvik Nazarij Glavina who reestablished the Santomas estate in 1997. It is primarily composed of fruit harvest from younger vines. Despite its tremendous value and liter volume it is made entirely from grapes they grow that undergo the same rigorous selection.The easiest drinking of the Refošk Santomas produces, it remains distinctly Refošk. At once nimble and deep. Forest fruit is accented by a spicy Mediterranean twang. It’s a light but highly expressive, surprisingly complex wine. Bottles like this are customarily consumed with local ham (Pršut) that benefits from the dry “Bora” wind which imparts the same savory notes found in the wine, but is quite versatile elsewhere; even with some seafood. The fact that it comes bottled by liter only adds to the value factor and makes it perfect for a party.
Bottlenotes latest Regional Spotlight is on Slovenia, a small country with a rich winemaking culture.
Slovenia’s climate is ideal for grape growing–its neighbors are some of the best winemaking regions in the world: Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. The climate changes dramatically as you travel from north to south. The vineyards on Slovenia’s northern border with Austria survive cold chills from the Alps, while the southern regions bathe in Mediterranean sun and sea breezes. The best wines from Slovenia are white, and each of the three major wine regions has its specialties.
Read more about the major regions and grape varieties here.
Traveling to Croatia and looking to experience BIBICh wines outside the winery? BIBICh now has four shops to serve you! All of the shops carry the wines, spirits, and local delicacies produced by the winery.