After communism ended in the 1990’s, a rush of investors, both foreign and domestic, bought up vineyards with the intention of resurrecting this dormant legend. The potential in the wine was re-realized almost immediately. However, the world’s thirst for sweet wines had turned dry. A blessing in disguise, clever producers began to experiment with making dry wines. Today, it is the dry wines that offer winemakers and enthusiasts the greatest insight into the character of the specific vineyards.
The volcanic Csontos vineyard
In addition to the classical aszú and modern dry wines, adventuresome wine makers are reviving almost forgotten traditional styles and experimenting with new styles. What is most amazing, is that regardless of forms, the distinct signature Tokaj leaves on its wines dominate. The natural conditions in the region are so unique, nothing like Tokaji can be produced elsewhere—even with all the knowledge and technology available now. There is a Renaissance under way in Tokaji, unlike any the wine world has ever seen. It is quite possibly the most exciting place to be drinking from today. Read the full story…
With Sherry fest in full swing in NYC , here is an unexpected connection worth sharing.
A few months ago at a Wine and Spirits magazine event, I had the pleasure of pouring the 2007 Samuel Tinon Dry Szamorodni for Sherry aficionado and Spanish chef Alex Raij of Basque restaurants Txikito and La Vara. Like dry Sherry, the distinctive character of the Szamorodni is partly derived from a veil of natural yeast—called flor in Spanish—that develops on the surface of the wine as it ages.
As a special example of the maligned style of dry Szamorodni, the Tinon spoke to her. In the spring of 2014, it will be paired with a dish Chef Raij will prepare as part of a James Beard House dinner. She also recently added the Tinon to the wine list at La Vara. I find it inspiring that one of New York City’s most discerning Spanish chefs sees connections and harmony between Spanish cuisine and a little known style of Hungarian white wine. Connecting seemingly disparate cultures in this way is good. It enhances their appreciation and hopefully inspires others to see associations that are less than apparent.
Tokaji and Sherry are more alike than meets the eye. Despite many fundamental differences such as climate, geology, alcoholic fortification, botrytis, culture, and latitude, the two wines and regions mirror each other in beautiful ways. Jerez has Palomino, whereas Tokaj has Furmint. Muscat surprisingly, vitis vinifera’s forgotten king, is shared by both. Their vineyards grow only white grapes and are affected by bodies of water. The unmistakeable character of a great Sherry or Tokaji derives from the anomalously biologically active cellars these wines are raised in.
Uncompromising in style, singular in experience, both can be found arrestingly dry, sweeter than honey, and all permutations in-between. Like Sherry, durability allowed Tokaji to rise to legend status. Impervious to oxidation, infinite in complexity, capable of lasting into eternity, if you drink Sherry, drink Tokaji and visa versa.
Jean-Michel and his family farm small plots of vineyards, where the Alps meet the Adriatic, on the Slovenian/Italian border in Goriška Brda, Slovenia. The name of the winery, Kabaj, is his wife Katja’s maiden name; Brda is their terroir: a special intersection of climate, geology, and culture that Jean intertwines into wine. Reflective of the diversity of their origin, there is something primal about them. Kabaj makes no fresh wine. Everything is aged and made to age. Dense in character, but never heavy, tension is drawn from minerality and grape tannin more than acidity. Less fruity than savory, the whites often have a textural quality akin to fine tea. They hate to be cold and typically show their best just below the temperature of their environment and company. The reds, made primarily from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, are vinified in typical Bordeaux fashion and are intensely mineral and savory. Bordeaux varieties have been planted in Brda so long they are considered the local red sort.
The W&S TOP 100 wineries of the Year are the 100 from around the world that got the best overall results in W&S tastings throughout the year. They will be profiled in the Winter issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine and honored at the annual 10th annual Top 100 Tasting in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 15th.
Here are Kabaj’s W&S tasting notes:
2010 Kabaj Ravan: 91 points “If you have no patience for oxidative whites, steer clear. But if you’re open to the charms of this wine, it delivers remarkable freshness. Look past the resinous, tree-sap aroma and you’ll find a rich, earthy wine with yellow spices and flavors that are more wheat berry than nutty. Its mineral character would meld with a mushroom pilaf with fresh thyme and sage.”
2010 Kabaj Rebula: 92 points “A woman walked into a bar and said, “I’ll have an orange.” The bartender looked confused. “Orange wine?” he asked. “Yes, an orange,” she said. True story, and a strong case for a glass of this ribolla, which is neither red nor white. The color is spot-on orange, the aromas and pleasantly bitter flavors hover between white flowers, dried pear, orange pith, the pink of peach pit, and red notes of bosky cherries. The wine’s direction and freshness seems to come from its pithy tannins rather than acidity, confounding any categorization other than orange. ”
2008 Kabaj Merlot: 92 points “Gamey and closed off when first poured, this is all about structure, a dark, savory red with scents of tree bark and fresh pomegranate, amaro spices and meaty black juice. Some acidity brightens the wine, shot through its black tannins, lending a clean, fresh appeal. Serve with a well-aged cheese, like Vella Jack.”
2007 Kabaj Cuvée Morel: 92 points “From the compelling herbal aroma to the generously textured fruit, this melds the best elements of merlot (60 percent of the blend) with cabernets sauvignon and franc and a small addition of petit verdot (4 percent). It’s as dark and savory as a digestif of herbal bitters, balanced by dark fruit that lasts with freshness. Decant it for venison or other robust game.”
Gifted Tokaj vigneron Samuel Tinon charts the life of a traditionally cultivated vine planted on the slopes of the classified vineyard of Hatari between the villages of Olaszliszka and Erdőbénye in the year of 2013. It is a vine that our band of merry Blue Danubian’s selected on their trip this past January to the legendary appellation to be charted through the vintage. Here are his photos and his words.
September 4 2013,
6:00AM at sunrise. Wonderful! We are very close to having a top dry furmint base and start studying the terroir of a first class vineyard. Also, we have to decide today wether to harvest next week for an Auction lot in 2014. Only one week to wait.
We had another GOOD rain on September 1st.
August 8 2013,
This summer is too hot and I have a bad feeling about this. Even the color of the vine in the picture indicates that it is too dry and hot.
August 25 2013,
These pictures were made just before the first quality rain (around 30l/m2)… The vintage starts to move in a very good direction. The Orbánc is stopped.
August 28 2013,
With a group of top sommeliers from Germany. Nice conversation around your vine…:):):)
July 3 2013,
Ready for the 4th of July!
July 31 2013,
July was just hot and sunny. Our first good rain came only yesterday (30 liters/m2) (see the picture below). The flowering result is ok but notice some huge differences in berry size. The vines also caught Orbánc (this is unusual and I am trying to stop it).
One month to go and then we will have some sugar in the berries.
02 June 2013
Flowering… this is GOOD news, for You, For Me, for All. From now on, we can estimate 100 days to get mature grapes, which takes us to around september 10th…
This is just prefect, not too early, not too late. If we have some good rain at the equinox, it will be in the pocket.
10 June 2013
Mother nature is doing its job. You can see the berries now.
To be honest, I am scared about the weather situation: some crops were totally destroyed last week by botrytis! Botrytis was on the grape, before flowering, like in 2010. Today we finished our second spray.
We will have some almond, cherry and wild strawberry too…
01 May 2013
I will send you a photo every other day as this is actually too much work.
You can already notice the new grapes.
Meanwhile, the second market started yesterday following the auction. I’ll call you tomorrow.
Good luck with today’s wine presentation.
03 May 2013
Keep going… Hopefully, we will have time to clean up your vine this weekend.
13 April 2013
Spring arrived in Europe on Saturday 13th. In less than 2 weeks, nature exploded and we believe again: a crop is possibly coming along.
Just in time.
With this temperature, we’ll be busy next week on all fronts.
Next Saturday, on April 27th, we’ll have our Tokaj Spring Wine Auction. The Gala is fully booked. And we are closing today for the blind tasting.
Probably lucky with the weather.
29 April 2013
We have a huge acceleration of vine growth thanks to ideal temperatures (30°C-18°C), which gives the plant a phenomenal growing potential.
So that I can share this feeling with you, I’ll try to send you a picture every day this week.
Last Saturday, on April 27th, we had our First Tokaj wine auction and it was a complete success:
Founded by Ilse Maier of Geyerhof and her friend of many years, Burgenland red wine specialist Birgit Braunstein, the WildWux project takes a holistic approach to wildlife and environmental protection. The goal of the project is to go beyond organic viticulture and give back part of the vineyard to nature under the supervision of wildlife specialists. 30% of the vineyard is been restored into a wildlife corridor that preserves biological diversity and protects local species such as the red-backed shrike, the inches ios, the European tree frog, the bumble bee, and the spermophilus, in their natural habitat.
“Preserving nature and utilizing the vitality of the soil” is Ilse Maier’s motto at Geyerhof. The family has been managing vineyards organically for many years, focusing on a sound eco-system and healthy soils.
Organic viticulture is much more than avoiding chemicals. For the Maier family, it is a trapeze act without a safety net. The vineyards need to be continuously monitored in order to catch diseases in their earliest stages. Small failures can have disastrous consequences and sometimes, it’s too late to implement remedying measures.
“We have worked on specialized know-how during the last fifteen years and this has taken a great deal of hard learning, courage and patience,” says Ilse Maier.
Once the grapes are harvested and brought in the cellar, there’s not much to add or alter to make the wine and only a limited amount of sulfites are added during wine production.
We are excited to introduce to the US one of the two wines released by the Wildwux project (there is also a Red Cuvée produced by Birgit Braunstein): the 2012 Geyerhof Wildwux. Made with organic Grüner Veltliner, it is quite restrained, harmonious, and complex, with a refreshing acidity and high minerality.
Going back to LA for Blue Danube Wine Co. Summer School after living in Brooklyn for the past year, felt more reunion than class. The massiveness of this personal experience dawned when the Summer air hit me outside LAX and memories forgotten and familiar swirled together.
LA has changed. Not because it needed too, but because this is what it does best. It was great to reconnect with many of the people responsible for this, I did not know that I missed them so much. Seeing that what were conversations, some quite old, come to fruition and play a part, is in my world profound. Wine defines this business, but relationships give it value. For those in LA who have supported what we do, hosted us in their businesses and taught at least as much as learned, my hat is eternally tipped. The invitation we sent out for the trade tasting listed me as an instructor, the reality is that I am among the students, in LA most of all.
Extra hat tips to: Silver Lake Wine – for hosting the awesome Sunday Tasting Terroni – For hosting the Summer School Gjelina – for the 5th year anniversary party and Romanesque lunch Walts Wharf – for still being were it all began for me
…and of course Michael Newsome and Mike Tesarek my Blue Danubians in crime whom without, this experience would have not been possible.
…it is grown in IRON rich soil called Terra Rossa and tastes of IRON.
…though inky dark, Teran’s IRON cool character makes it a unexpectedly appropriate summer red.
…while perfumed and pretty it is best suited to cured and chared rare meats.
…Croatia has historic claim to the name Teran, but with their recent entrance into the EU, producers now have to find a new certainly less historic name for it.
So, what is Teran?
Italy, Slovenia and Croatia all produce wines called Teran (Terrano in Italy) that are related in both composition and form. In these three countries, the best examples classically come from patches of iron rich Terra Rossa soil that has significant influence on the wines. While there is a considerable variation in style among them, they relate to each other categorically. Intensely colored, they have typically more acid than tannin, though some extreme exceptions exist. They are ideally perfumed with brassy high toned fruit and an engaging medicinal/amaro edge that feels as nice as it smells. The sorts of grapes they are made from are related, but vary and are sensitive to the touch of the wine maker.
We regularly find ourselves captivated by these wines, regardless of their country of origin or any real differences, and we have amassed something of a selection. However, on July 1st, Croatian producers can no longer label wines Teran. Supposedly, even the bottles on the shelves (in the EU, not in the US!) will have to be changed! For many, this will be difficult or worse. These wines, Croatian or otherwise, deserves our support and investigation regardless of what we call them. It is our mission, join us. Please let me share what we know ourselves, it’s delicious…
Watch the sommelier interviews that were conducted during the tasting and notice their enthusiasm for the wines: “These are wines with a sense of place, these are wines that tell a story of a remote region, and wines that make you travel, let’s say, imaginary travel while we’re drinking them.” shares Ciprian Toma from Domaine Wine Bar.
These humble liter bottles represent half of Črnko’s total production and until the 2009 vintage, had only been sold locally in the nearby village of Jarenina from where the wine takes its name. High toned Laski Riesling and Ravenec, aromatic Muscats, and a silty minerality characteristic of the estate define the 2012 vintage. During the summers in the village of Jarenina, locals mix it with sparkling water and then proceed to consume well into the next day.
Historically, politics and wine make a bad pairing—and the combination certainly hasn’t favored the survival of indigenous grape varieties. Think of the vinepulling and planting schemes around the world that largely promoted high yields or courted commercial trends. Communism, in some countries, presented a different challenge: populations migrated to the cities or left altogether, viticulture languished, and vine varieties dwindled to a select few. The Sansigot grape, traditionally grown on the island of Krk just off the Croatian coastline, was one of Communism’s casualties until Ivica Dobrinčić of Šipun winery set about reviving the diversity of grapes that once grew on the island.
Sansigot is a black variety that, before the 1950s, made up about 20 percent of black grapes growing on Krk. It has also grown on the tiny island of Susak to the southwest, where it is described as yielding “deeply colored, full-bodied wines” (Robinson, et al, Wine Grapes). On Krk, Sipun and one other winery make a varietal Sansigot that is light-bodied, with a delicate floral aroma and low tannins—a difference Ivica attributes to the separate location and new winemaking technology.
During Communism, industrialization was the national priority, with the result that people moved to the cities to work, or emigrated. The few who remained in rural areas continued to make wine or sell harvests to the cooperative wineries, but even this died out without a market to support production.
As Ivica explains, “Due to this situation some grape varieties completely disappeared, only Žlahtina survived in a greater quantity. There were no agricultural incentives from the government so people continued being employed in foreign countries. More [Croatians] were living and working outside of Croatia than within, especially those from the islands.”
By 1997, when Ivica returned to Krk from Zagreb, where he had studied viticulture, rural communities were revitalizing and the government was once again investing
in them. As Ivica set about formalizing and expanding the family business in viticulture, other young people were returning to the islands and to traditional livelihoods, as well as beginning a tourism industry. Ivica’s father had grown Sansigot on Krk, and Ivica knew of other native varieties, such as Vrbić, Brajdica, Kamenina, Debejan, and the grape known variously as Susac, Bašćan, or Pravi Par, that still hid in long-unworked vineyards, family plots, and backyard gardens. Today, in addition to growing Žlahtina and Sansigot, he is propagating twenty other varieties for reintroduction, and has high expectations for Vrbić as the next to reach the market. “It is interesting to offer the marketplace something that only exists here, originally from this area, which has been used and produced for hundreds of years,” Ivica says.
Šipun winery is based in the medieval coastal town of Vrbnik, with half of its vineyard in the valley just to the west, and the other half in hillside sites, where the bura, the brisk north wind that scours the island, keeps fungus from the grapes. In these rocky hillside vineyards, grapes ripen well, for full-bodied wines with higher alcohol. In the valley, iron oxide tints the soils red, and wines are generally fresh and light, with less alcohol, body, and acidity.
Ivica is optimistic about the future of his hometown, citing its lack of development as a plus. “Vrbnik today has preserved ancient architecture, superb wine and gastronomic products, history and culture. Winemakers here produce wine using traditional methods in combination with technological improvements to make the best quality wine possible.” Ivica himself is part of this new wave of winemakers who look back to traditional grapes and methods as well as ahead to technology to introduce new possibilities. Indeed, as he propagates historic varieties to one side of Vrbnik, 32 meters beneath the water on the other side, he matures a thousand bottles of sparkling wine from Žlahtina and Sansigot in a cage that will be raised in two to three years to see what has developed. Not one to take an opportunity for granted, Ivica will continue to experiment with history and technology, with politics finally on his side.