Ode to Saperavi by James The Wine Guy

Schuchmann Kakheti Saperavi '11 by James the Wine Guy

“I’ve been a big fan of Saperavi for quite some time” says James Melendez AKA James the Wine Guy in a recent video featuring the Schuchmann Saperavi 2011.

“This is a fantastic, beautiful bottle and Saperavi is a star, king amongst red wines, grape varieties in Georgia. I am so happy great grape varieties like this one survived.”

Watch the video:

Visit a Winery: Füleky in Tokaj

The newly updated 18th century mansion that houses Füleky.

The Region
Tokaj, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been long renowned for its intoxicating sweet wines. It is located at the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains, at the confluence of the Bodrog and Tisza Rivers. The rivers provide the right mix of moisture to infect the ripe grapes with Noble Rot, a type of fungus responsible for concentrating all the sugars in the grape.

The most popular grape grown in the region is the native Furmint, which is enjoying a renaissance as a quality dry wine, something not seen very often just 10 years ago. There are several other widely planted indigenous white varieties in the region such as Hárslevelű and Kövérszőlő.

The Winery
The history of the estate dates back to György Füleky who was the founder of the First Tokaj Wine Growers’ Society. The 18th Century Baroque winery sits at the center of the town of Bodrogkeresztúr and went under a serious modern renovation in 2011. Founded in 1998, the Füleky estate owns 25 hectares of some of the best historical vineyards in the region. Making dry, late harvest and Aszú wines, the distance from the Bodrog River in tandem with the marshlands is key.

Things to do and see
Visit Füleky for winetasting, vineyard tours, and dinner in their 18th century mansion.
See the winery’s suggested weekend itinerary.
Tokaj is home to many wineries, making it possible to visit a few in one day.

The winery has no onsite hotel, but very close by is the luxurious Andrássy Wine and Spa Hotel. Beyond accommodations, the resort offers spa and wellness services as well as gastronomic experiences at their on-premise restaurant.

Website: www.tokaj.org
Phone: (+36) 47 396-478
Address: H-3916 Bodrogkeresztúr, Iskola köz 15.
Email: info@tokaj.org

Hungary’s Red Gold: Red Fangs Paprika, Kékfrankos and Kadarka

paprika hanging

“I must tell you: Hungarian paprika is the best. This is not arrogant nationalism. This is a fact.”—Flora Gaspar

My paprika education and enjoyment started and continues with Flora Gaspar at Da Flora restaurant in North Beach. Flora is someone I like to reserve at least two hours for even when I only have a few wines to share. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Hungarian history, language, food, and culture are based on decades of personal experience and heritage. That’s the first hour. The second hour is dedicated to her opinions about the first. She tackles all of the things that make wine and food so endlessly engaging. I’ve shamelessly plagiarized her insight and stories to further your Hungarian indoctrination. And although her restaurant (everyone should go) just turned 20 years old, importing Paprika under her Red Fangs label is just getting off the ground. To tie everything together, Flora has shared some of her favorite Paprika laden recipes, paired them with two Hungarian wines I will be bombarding you with in the coming months, and of course the opportunity to purchase some Red Fangs yourself.

Paprika hanging

Before we get to the wines, recipes and the stories behind them told by Flora below, there are few things worth pointing about consuming Paprika.
• Paprika is the single largest natural source of Vitamin C – at least 5-6 times more than citrus.
• Vitamin C was discovered by Hungarian Professor Albert Szent-Györgyi earning him the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1937.
• You will never get scurvy.
• Don’t burn it. Turns bitter.
• The brighter more fiery the red color, the more mild it is and vice versa.
• It’s a uniquely Hungarian cultural product that cries out for two other Hungarian cultural products, Kadarka and Kékfrankos.

Katrin and Birgit Pfneisl
Katrin and Birgit Pfneisl

Speaking of, the 2012 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos Újra Együtt, 2013 Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám, and 2013 Eszterbauer Kadarka Sógor are arriving in a few short weeks. Much like a great Cru Beaujolais and a piquant Merguez pair well together, these two light reds have the spice, fruit and structure that make the paprika pop and get you ready for the next bite. I often think of both grapes as the love children of Cabernet Franc and Gamay, but there is plenty of “I’ve never had something like this before” going on with each as well. In terms of style, there is nothing carbonic going on, fermentations are native, and both are elegant and bright without being overly polished. Great wines to pair with food in general, and something truly special and homegrown when paired with some red gold.

Janos, Miklos and Ildiko Eszterbauer
Janos, Miklós and Ildikó Eszterbauer

Please enjoy the following stories and recipes, try them at home, open up some bottles, and do a little armchair traveling to Hungary.


This dish was her favorite. Sissi, Empress of Austria-Hungary was the most romantic woman of the 19th century. Preferring to ride a horse rather than sit on a throne, she galloped through her adopted Hungarian country-side, secretly and un-escorted, visiting the local estates for a sip of champagne. Wild by nature, she despised the controlled atmosphere of the court at Vienna and helped the Hungarians to negotiate their equality with Austria. She loved the people and she loved their food. After her declaration, chicken paprikas became popular at the most elegant tables of Europe.

Auguste Escoffier, the pivotal chef who established how we eat, course by course, liked chicken paprika so much that he display-cooked it at his pavilion in the Paris World Fair at the turn of the century. Later on it became a classic on the menu at his restaurant, the Ritz.

• 8 small bone-less, skinless chicken thighs [ free-range is best ]
• ½ white onion, diced
• ½ cup good quality chicken stock [ naturally home-made would be better ]
• 1½ cups crushed tomatoes, fresh when in season, or drained san marziano
• 1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced in lengths (be sure to remove seeds and veins – they are bitter)
• another red or yellow bell pepper, diced fine
• some spoonfuls of fat- preferably duck or goose, but olive oil will do
• dollops according to taste, of sour cream and a little heavy cream
• salt
• 2 tbs sweet paprika, you may add 1-2 tsp hot if you like

Brown thighs in fat, remove. Sautee onions in same pan, add salt, diced bell pepper, stir and scrape till wilted. Add paprika and tomatoes, stir nicely for a minute. Add chicken and stock, let bubble; reduce heat and let simmer 40 minutes. Meanwhile sautee pepper lengths till al dente. Add them 10 minutes or so before meat is tender, then remove some of the sauce into a pan where cream, sour and heavy have been warmed together. Oops! I forgot! Add a good pinch of paprika to brighten and heighten! But do not go overboard – chalkiness can occur… And never, never let the paprika burn, let it see short heat so it can release its flavor oils, but then turn the fire down, or add liquid, or both. Now pour the cream with sauce into the paprikas pan and stir gently.

Traditionally galuska, Hungarian egg noodles are the side. Or use gnocchi or fingerling potatoes to sop up the sauce. A small cucumber salad, sprinkled with paprika is also most appropriate. A delicate red from western Hungary, like a Kékfrankos would be elevating!


This is the Hungarian equivalent to spaghetti with garlic, pepperoncino, and olive oil: a dish created by poverty or what is always in the pantry. During the last and terrible days of World War II people pooled their lard, paprika, onion and potatoes into the communal cauldron, finding a rare pleasure in this simple, nourishing dish, coziness steaming from the starch, stamina from the alearian, excitement from the Magyar chile.

During the war my aunt Eva lived through constant hunger and weeks in dungeon-like cellars. Years later, safe in her family home in Pest she rejected my offer to cook her roast duck leg with croquettes, requesting instead paprikas krumpli. These are her strict instructions:

• 3-4 medium yellow potatoes
• 1 finely diced white onion
• Stock or simply water
• 1-2 TBS sweet paprika ½ tsp hot [optional ]

Mince onion very fine and add to pot with fat or olive oil, sautee till golden. Peel and quarter potatoes, throw into pot with salt and paprika. Swirl around for a minute or so , then add stock or water to cover. Lower heat to simmer cover, with lid, and cook about 20 minutes, or till tender. Keep your eye on the liquid, you want it to be nearly absorbed, but too dry, and then again not too saucy – the potatoes should soak up and have just a little left over. With the introduction of a sausage or hunk of ham it becomes a Brueghlesque feast, alone it is sheer comfort. These paprika-infused taters are a nice side dish as well. Have a glass of dark beer, or some earthy red wine, perhaps a Kadarka.

Savor the Experience Tours — and Blue Danube wines — with Andrew Villone


On the second day of our Kabaj visit we met a group of cheerful US tourists that were just starting a tour through Slovenia and Croatia. Their tour leader was Andrew Villone — a longtime friend of Blue Danube Wine Co. — who had just moved to Slovenia from Seattle with his Russian-born wife and two children to grow his Savor the Experience touring business.

With Andrew at Kabaj
With Andrew at Kabaj’s

“I love it here,” he told me later that night as we were sipping our Cuvée Morel on the terrace. “Running Savor the Experience from Ljubljana is so much more convenient than from Seattle. And we don’t regret the big city. The life here is much better for my wife and my kids. Plus the schools in Slovenia are excellent.”

We also talked about his plans to introduce special Blue Danube tours for wine and food lovers. The itineraries would be designed around visits to Blue Danube producers, where guests could enjoy exclusive wine tastings and food pairings. I thought this project could surely appeal to our customer community in the US.

The group left the following morning — some still sleepy as they stayed until 3am in the Kabaj cellar with Jean-Michel! — in Andrew’s passenger van for more wine, food, and cultural adventures.



Andrew has now unveil his Exclusive Blue Danube Tour itineraries for 2015. I’ll let him describe them in his own words:

It’s pretty simple. When you want great wines and insight to wine makers from Central and Eastern Europe you know and trust that Frank and his Blue Danube staff will take care of you. When you are looking to combine your enthusiasm and love of wines with travel and culinary delights then come with Savor The Experience Tours and our combined 25 years experience of running tours in Europe. Meet the wine makers, learn their stories, indulge in delicious food and wine every day, discover some hidden gems along the way and come home with a one of a kind experience.


Each of our tours spotlight multiple Blue Danube wineries (Bibich, Kabaj, Milos, Batic, Coronica just to name a few) with tastings and quality time spent with the winemakers. Two complimentary bottles of wine are sent pre-tour to each guest, reflecting the wineries visited on that specific tour. The full line of Blue Danube tours are “all inclusive” — every meal and all drinks are included. That means if you come on one of our tours without a dime in your pocket you’ll still be taken care of the whole way. We’ll even treat you to a postcard and a few espressos if you’d like!

For our first tour season we are offering three different tours that focus on Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. And plans for a tour of Blue Danube’s Austrian and Hungarian wineries is already in the works.

Island of Hvar
Island of Hvar

10 day tour in-depth exploration of local wines and foods in Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, ancient Bosnia and alluring Montenegro. But there’s more to the places than just the wine cellars and dinner tables. Guests won’t miss out on the rich culture and fascinating histories from the oriental mystique of Sarajevo and Mostar to the traces of the Venetian empire in Hvar and Montenegro and finally to the grandeur and romance of Dubrovnik.
BD Wineries featured: Bibich, Caric, Milos, Brkic

Tasting Wine at Piquentum
Tasting Wine at Piquentum

8 day tour highlights the wine, food and hidden sights from a variety of regions stretching from Slovenia’s wine regions of Vipava Valley and Goriska Brda to Croatia’s Istria region. Savor all these fresh, organic and local culinary delights that both countries have to offer. It’s a unique experience where each day presents a special opportunity for guests to sit down, talk with and learn from a myriad of friendly local producers, wine makers and chefs in their cellars, houses, kitchens and gardens.
BD Wineries featured: Batic, Kabaj, Santomas, Piquentum, Coronica


Adriatic 2 Alps Gourmet
13 day tour begins in southern Croatia, runs along the Dalmatian coast up to the Istria region before reaching the beautiful hill towns and foodie capital of Slovenia’s Goriska Brda. It combines many guests’ favorites from Slovenia and Croatia. Highlights include Dubrovnik, Vis Island, Peljesac peninsula, Rovinj and Ljubljana. Along the way there are hidden churches to visit, traditional fishing boats to sail in, amazing castles to explore and beautiful spots such as Lake Bled to soak in the atmosphere.
BD Wineries featured: Batic, Kabaj, Milos, Piquentum, Coronica


If these none of these tours fit your schedule or you’d prefer to have a private tour with just your friends and family, we offer custom tours. Or perhaps you’d like to add a visit to Vienna, Venice or a relaxing long-weekend on one of Croatia’s beautiful islands before or after a tour? We can do that too. We create custom tours for groups as little as two people. Please contact us to and let us make your dream trip come true.

Andrew Villone.

Enjoying the sunset in Ljubljana
Enjoying the sunset in Ljubljana

Tokaj Today

Eric exploring the carved tufa stone cellars beneath Tokaj
Eric exploring the carved tufa stone cellars beneath Tokaj

In preparation for the 3rd Annual Great Tokaj Auction, Tom Gardyne of The Drinks Business, asked Eric Danch to explain the current state of Tokaji wines in the US market.

Q. What’s demand like for Tokaj at present?

Difficult question. It’s like asking what was the demand for Grüner Veltliner in the late 1980’s. Once people became comfortable with Austrian wine, the range of styles, and how to navigate the umlaut, it became a standard on every serious wine list. As for Tokaj, even though for the past 500 years the traditional wines like Aszú, dry Szamorodni, Sweet Szamorodni, late harvest, and Eszencia warranted the world’s first wine appellation system (over 100 years before Bordeaux), the quality dry wines are just over a decade old. That said, there is no doubt that unique grapes are planted in unique places coupled with an incredible producer renaissance. This is what’s exciting about Tokaj right now and people are taking note. We should also remember that Tokaj was once in high demand and a muse for Leo Tolstoy, Pablo Néruda, Balzac, Flaubert, Diderot, Catherine the Great, Goethe, Peter the Great, Bram Stoker, and Voltaire to name a few. No reason that kind of demand and appreciation won’t happen again. In our experience, it’s already happening in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

Q. Where’s the main interest coming from? – eg – private collectors – wine investors – high-end restaurants?

The main interest is all over the map. While it’s true that there is a collector audience and classically trained wine buyers often feature some sort of Aszú, the main interest has simply been fueled by something uniquely delicious with a great price to quality ratio. We’ve seen growth across the board from neighborhood wine shops to Michelin starred restaurants. For people who are into Vin Jaune or Sherry, Dry Szamorodni is a must try. For those into Chenin Blanc and Riesling, please try some dry and off dry Furmint, Hárslevelű or Sárga Muskotály (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). For those looking for unparalleled sugar, fruit and acidity, get some Aszú. And finally, for anyone who enjoys deeply volcanic wines, please try all of the above.

Drink Eszencia with a spoon

Q. Would you say there’s much of a secondary market for Tokaj in US?

I’m not too familiar with this end of the market, but the third Confrérie de Tokaj takes place this April and attracts buyers and collectors from all over the world. This event is sure to grow and proceeds are already helping rebuild and improve the infrastructure of the region.

Q. Is it still very niche – or is knowledge and interest in Tokaj spreading?

In some ways, Tokaj will always be somewhat niche simply because it’s not big enough to satisfy worldwide demand. Bordeaux is roughly 20 times larger in terms of vines planted for instance. At the same time, there is still exponential room to grow in terms of by the glass placements, the $15-25 retail sweet spot, and not relegating the sweet wines only for special occasions or pigeonholed as “dessert” only wine. Concerning knowledge, while many wine shops, wine professionals and inquisitive consumers might have a coffee table book on wines of the world and books focused on regions like Burgundy, Champagne, Piedmont, Rioja, and Napa, there has been very little printed in English that’s current about Tokaj. There are of course some, but they need to be sought out. I’d also personally love to see Tokaj appellation maps alongside the other great classical wine regions of the world. Lastly and most importantly, people need to go there, eat, drink, explore and meet the people. It’s an incredible
place to grow wine.

Underground wine cellars
Underground wine cellars

Read the published article here.

Miloš Stagnum: The Perfect Thanksgiving Wine


Stagnum, the flagship wine made from Plavac Mali grapes by Frano Miloš and his children is my first choice for Thanksgiving. Stagnum is the Latin name for the small Croatian town Ston where the Miloš family lives and tends their organic vineyards. Here,the Pelješac Peninsula connects with the Dalmatian mainland less than 50 miles north of Dubrovnik. If there is one Plavac which truly represents the land from where it comes and what this popular Croatian grape tastes like, it’s Stagnum. It’s not cheap but worth every single drop. The 2006 vintage we offer is excellent, making this wine a special treat for every wine lover. Miloš makes Plavac Pur!

Frano Miloš
Frano Miloš


Ivan, Franica, and Josip Miloš
Ivan, Franica, and Josip Miloš

The main reason that Stagnum fits so well on our Thanksgiving dinner table is its versatility. Naturally, Plavac pairs well with BBQ meats of all kinds. More surprisingly is that it also works very well with Turkey, Chicken, and even more gamey fowl. Most visitors to Dalmatia are amazed when they experience that Plavac also is a great match for Oysters regardless of how they are prepared: fresh on the shell with just a touch of lemon juice, or baked with bacon, hot sauce, and other flavorful condiments.

Plavac also reminds us that there is an immigrant in every American. Keep in mind that Zinfandel is a direct relative of Plavac Mali and came originally from the Dalmatian coast to California.

Pelješac Peninsula
Pelješac Peninsula


Zinfandel: A Sort of Homecoming by Cliff Rames

Carole Meredith Solves the Mystery of Zinfandel

Variety Focus: Zinfandel at UC Davis, Dept. of Viticulture and Enology

A memorable stay at the Kabaj Guest House

In the Kabaj Cellar

After landing at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport from San Francisco, we were less than 2 hours away from the Kabaj-Morel Guest House. The drive took us through the the Veneto flatlands until we reached the Friulian Hills and crossed seamlessly the Italian/Slovenian border. A few more kilometers driving through rolling hills of Brda and we were arrived at our destination: a deep yellow colored house glowing in the sunset, a large terrace overlooking small hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards and a big welcoming hug from Katja Kabaj.

View from our room
The view from our bedroom
Our balcony
Our balcony on the second floor, facing the vineyards

Jean-Michel was busy talking to other guests but suddenly he was in front of us: “Let’s go to the cellar, let’s taste some wine!” he said. And here we are in the cellar underneath the house, with a glass of of golden Tocai — as Friulano is still called in the region. Not a bad way to fight the jet lag!

The Kabaj-Morel house and entrance to the cellar
Fun in the cellar
We’re having some fun in the cellar

Jean — as his family calls him — is a force de la nature, larger than life. He works all day and then at night entertains his guests, sometimes until 3am! He makes his wines in his own image: intense and generous, in a no—compromise style: he will not play the ratings game. But even without trying his wines are internationally highly rated. Jean was even named a Top 100 winemaker of the Year 2013 by the American Wine and Spirits Magazine.

And Jean loves big bottles: magnums, double magnums, jeroboams! He has a humid and cool area in the cellar where he ages these big bottles wrapped in plastic to protect the label. What a feast to be able to taste an old vintage like the 2007 Beli Pinot that Jean opened for us!

An old magnum
The place where Jean ages his big bottles
Cellar Tasting
The 2007 Beli Pinot was absolutely delicious!

But this was just the beginning of the evening. The cellar tasting was followed by a four-course tasting menu showcasing the local specialties:

Flan with Fennel, Prosciutto and Arugula
Barley Risotto
Barley Risotto with Porcini
Grilled Steak with Polenta and Eggplant
Sweet Gnocchi with Cinnamon and Berry Sauce

After a good night of sleep and a solid breakfast of prosciutto, cheese, homemade jam, and a couple of foamy cappuccinos, we were back on the road for a tour of Goriska Brda.

Breakfast is also a feast at the Kabaj-Morel house
The medieval village of Šmartno, cultural monument
An old street
The old streets of Šmartno

The last day, Jean drove us around to see the vineyards. It rained a lot in July and August and the vintage will not be easy but Jean, hedging his bets, owns a mosaic of small lots spread across the hills, with different elevations, sun exposure levels and even one vineyard on the other side of the border.

Goriska Brda and the Veneto flatlands in the background
The grapes are almost ready to be harvested.

“I’ll mostly do big bottles this year.” Jean told us after looking at a grape that showed some signs of rot. “Small quantities and in big bottles, that’s how I see it for this vintage.”

It was time to leave , but not yet! Jean had woken up early in the morning to prepare his famous Goulash and we had to try it! The meat melted in our mouth and the Rebula had surprisingly the right amount of tannins and acidity to go well with the dish.

Our last treat: Jean’s Goulash!

Katja and Jean-Michel, we can’t thank you enough for your hospitality and generosity! And thanks to my husband Matthieu for his beautiful pictures!

Dynamic Duo Of Somló

Istvan Spiegelberg and Bela Fekete

Sometime ago, we drew your attention to this region of Volcano Gods and now we return to delve deeper and celebrate success. We are pleased to report that Istvan Spiegelberg has won the prestigious Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2014 award. “His latest releases, particularly this late-harvest juhfark, are catapulting him into the realm of Hungary’s greatest vintners.” noted Wine & Spirits Magazine referring to the 95-point rated 2010 Juhfark Szent Ilona.

Istvan Spiegelberg Top Winemaker

Somló is celebrated for its volcanic past and distinctive mineral-laced wines. The region is almost exclusively white wine territory with a long tradition of extended barrel aging. This lends an oxidative quality to the wines which aids in their ability to improve with bottle aging and stay fresh longer than the average white wine once opened.


These are voluptuous, full-bodied whites enjoyed with dishes we may normally reserve for red wine, like red meats. Another tell-tell sign of wines from this region is riper fruits coupled with high acidity and smoky minerality. The five authorized grapes of Somló are Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, and Tramini. Istvan Spiegelberg and Fekete Bela are our “dynamic duo” of producers in Somló, keeping traditions alive and garnering attention outside of Hungary.

Istvan Spiegelberg, former DJ and BMW test driver, founded his eponymous winery in 1993. Making wine was just a hobby for Istvan at the beginning but now his wines are considered cult collectibles. He farms just 3 hectares of vines, mostly by himself, and employs minimal intervention in the winery, crafting wines at his image: unconventional and stylish. We asked Spiegelberg to tell us more about Juhfark and his award-winning wine and this is what he had to say:

Juhfark used to be grown, not just in Somló, but also in Tokaj. The varietal has a naturally high sugar content and is susceptible to rot, making it difficult to grow. Due to this, the grape was prohibited during Communism, a regime that favored high yields with minimal difficulty to produce bulk wine. Only a few in Somló, notably Fekete Bela, continued to grow Juhfark and even prevailed against the ban. Thanks to the work of Fekete Bela and others, the grape was revived and gained notoriety. Juhfark represents “Hungarianism” and is something very interwoven into the culture as a unique representation of the place.

“It’s only every 10 years that you have a good vintage with Juhfark.”

Concerning the 2010 vintage, Spiegelberg went on to explain that this was one of the most difficult vintages due to heavy rain. The relentless rains made most winemakers very anxious, leading them to harvest before the grapes achieved ripeness. He lost a significant amount to rot. October 2nd was the date he decided to harvest and what he ended up with were small yields of shriveled, yet healthy grapes. The sugars had concentrated which produced a semi-dry wine. In the end, just 220 used barriques were filled with the rich, high alcohol wine that is now known as one of Spiegelberg’s best.

Bela Fekete

While Istvan Spiegelberg represents a new guard of Somló winemaking, Fekete Bela is very much the traditionalist. Approaching 90 years of age, “The Grand Old Man of Somló” still tends his 4 hectares of vines himself. Bela purchased his vineyards over 30 years ago, allowing him plenty of time to become intimately connected to his vineyard and understand its true expression. The vines are dry farmed with little to no synthetic treatments. Grapes are picked when they are fully ripe, even if Fekete’s neighbors start picking much earlier. After a long successful career including several Decanter awards and high ratings in wine publications such as Wine & Spirits, Fekete and his wife Bori have decided that 2013 would be their last vintage. This is the perfect season to enjoy his unique Hárslevelű, Juhfark, and Olaszrizling.

Visit our current inventory of Somló wines here.