Market Tasting NYC at Terroir Tribeca went off without a hitch. For those who could not be there, it was a blast and we missed you! Center stage Tokaji/Somlo wowed and dazzled, to oooohs, aaahhs and the odd exclamatory foot stomp. Part of the Blue Danube Wine Co. mission is to see the greatness of these historic regions realized again. These precious few samples were an important step. To all the producers who sent them, you rule. As do all the other producers wines who were poured. All together this was one of the finest events we have participated in and it would not be possible without your wines! A special thanks to co-host Indie Wineries, made us feel like family.
If you type “Somló, 8481 Doba, Hungary” into Google Earth, you will virtually hover over an irregular oval in a sea of quadrilaterals. For those who have forgotten geometry, Somló hill and the vineyards circling its flanks look just like what they are: a long-extinct volcano rising from a flat patchwork of otherwise angular fields.It is a striking geological formation, about three-quarters of a mile in diameter, whose combination of ancient seabed and volcanic basalt soils set Somló apart as a uniquely white-wine region—and the only dedicated region whose wines more than hold their own with the better-known whites of Tokaj.
At Blue Danube’s recent trade tasting in Manhattan, I had the opportunity to sample six Somló wines from two producers. The grape varieties are familiar from Tokaj, to the east—Furmint, Hárslevelű, Olaszrizling (Welschriesling)—with the addition of the rare Juhfark, which grows only in Somló. The two producers, Fekete Béla and Spiegelberg, are clearly different in style. Also, the Furmints are notably lighter and leaner than the Tokaj examples I tasted, and are higher in acidity and minerality, a trend I suspect would extend to the other varieties equally.
The trio of wines made by Mr. Fekete are slightly older (vintages 2007 and 2008) than those of Spiegelberg (2010), and each carries the slight touch of oxidation that adds, for some tasters, an extra spice of interest to its flavor. Fekete’s wines directly channel Somló’s terroir—at their base is a clean minerality that lingers on the palate once the top aromas disperse. The 2007 Furmint is a clear example: bright dried apricot, muted honey, and hay aromas tantalize the mind with sweet ideas, but steely acidity and mineral notes soon sweep in to dispel any soft notions. This is a bone-dry ode to the land, with the zing of a wine made for food. This rigor shows in all three of Fekete’s wines, with the 2008 Hárslevelű possibly the most mineral, and the 2008 Juhfark a fascinating array of dried fruit and honey on the nose and high floral aromas on the palate combined with that high acidity, slight oxidation, and a flavor of viny vegetation that seems primordial.
The wines of Istvan Spiegelberg are fresh-tasting and show slightly more the hand of the winemaker. Fekete’s alcohol level is higher, at least in these vintages, but Spiegelberg wines have more weight on the palate. The vibrant acidity and mineral foundation are their shared Somló trademark. Spiegelberg’s beautifully integrated 2010 “Wedding Wine” blend of Jufark, Hárslevelű, and Furmint carries the delicate floral qualities of the Jufark grape followed by vanilla aromas that suggest oak aging. The dry Furmint has tangy sweet-sour apple and honey flavors, and the Olaszrizling is a marvel: an intensely sweet aroma of dried apricot and honey, although totally dry, and a round and creamy texture offset by acidity.
Acidity Is the Key
Somló wines need food, but I was stymied when I tried to conjure Hungarian foods to complement them. Instead, I focused on the wines’ earthy flavors and vibrant acidity and found a model to follow: Champagne. The earthy notes will highlight mushrooms or root vegetables, while the acidity works one of two ways, searing through any butter, cream, or cheese you’d care to dish up, or acting like a wedge of lemon over light fish dishes and salads. (For smoked salmon on buttered toast with crème fraîche and dill, it does both.) Think “Champagne” and pair these wines with hearty foods such as butternut bisque, cream sauces, bacalao, and dim sum dumplings, or lighten up with white fish or scallops prepared with a little bacon. Truffle fries? Oysters? Go ahead, the volcano gods would approve.
What a memorable way to begin my career with Blue Danube! The other Saturday, Frank and I introduced some of Blue Danube’s current Slovenian portfolio at the Slovenian fair in San Francisco. It was both charming and informative discussing Slovenian wine with Slovenians. More than once did a Kabaj wine invoke a smile and a personal history.
Cheerful strains of a Slovenian folk duo consisting of an accordion and a stringed fretted bass instrument echoed in the hall while some of the more free spirited Slovenians danced. The entertainment made for a great tasting atmosphere. The crowd favorite of the tasting was the Crnko Yellow Muscat. One of my favorite wines we were tasting was the Stoka Teran 2009-a fleet wine with an intense raspberry flavor, and touches of cinnamon and pepper. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a more delightful introduction to Slovenian wine culture and Slovenian culture at large. Plus, now I know how well the Stoka Teran pairs with mushroom brie.
Today is Blue Danube Wine Co.’s break-out NY Trade debut at Terroir Tribeca. Too close for comfort, all the samples have arrived. Were it not for Zsuzsa’s hard work, Fed-Ex and customs would have never known how bad we needed these wines! Double luck: Frank Dietrich swang by JFK via SFO to pick up the J and J Eger Kekefrankos we were also waiting on! That means all our samples have arrived on time for the tasting. We are so proud to be a part of this vinous cultural process and so excited to share (drink) these wines we love so much. You soon will too!
NYC, here we come!!
Tokaji—Eden Abandoned—No region has impressed us at Blue Danube Wine Co. as the volcanic hills of Europe’s first protected wine region, Tokaj-Hegyalja. It is to us what Burgundy is to others. A chain of 400 volcanoes of impossible geological and microclimatological complexity, a long history as a wine region and a plethora of indigenous varieties and styles of wine, we can’t get enough of it. Some say there is a wine renaissance underway in Tokaj today; we are inclined to agree.
Bodrog is one of the rivers responsible for the humidity in Tokaj’s vineyards. The Borműhely or “wine(bor) work shop” belongs to Janos Hajduz and Krisztián Farkas. They maintain tiny parcels of vineyards in great sites to make their pure, modern/classical wines from. Harvest for the dry wines is typically conducted mid October by hand and careful sorting eliminates botrytis. After a gentle crushing, the grapes are fermented spontaneously at unregulated temperature in barrels coopered of local Szerednye oak. Sur-lie aging, regular batonage, full malolactic fermentation and 6 months élevage proceed bottling.
2011 Bodrog Borműhely Hárslevelű-Furmint blend ”Löszbor”
2011 Bodrog Borműhely Furmint “Lapis”
Demeter, Zoltan can be credited, if not for introducing quality dry wine to Tokaji, then certainly perfecting it. He is the young “Godfather”. Having made more Grand Cru single vineyard dry wine than maybe anyone else in the region, the close relationship Demeter shares with the sites he farms are evident in his nuanced wines. As vigneron he is equal parts philosopher and craftsman. His home and cellar are filled with antiques, things made to last. Made in the same spirit, his wines are chiseled, multifaceted and brilliantly transparent of character, like flawless diamonds. They could be compared stylistically to the most powerfully structured Grosse Gewächs.
2009 Zoltan Demeter Hárslevelű “Szerelmi”
2011 Zoltan Demeter Furmint “Veres”
József and Judit Bodó are from Csallóköz, an ethnic Hungarian region in Slovakia, which is not exactly a wine growing area. Following her love of wine, Judit went to work for a producer in South Tirol who later hired her onto a project in Tokaj managing the affairs of a small artisan winery. After the birth of their son, József and Judit decided to focus on their own family winery. He more on the vines, her on the wines. In 2005, they harvested fruit from 1 ha and in 2006 Bott became a registered winery. Today the couple tends about 5 ha spread among various sites most near the village of Erdobeny, each year adding to their holdings what the previous vintage allows them to afford. Heeding the dream of his wife to have their own winery in Tokaj, József took on the labor of actually looking for the vineyards. Considering that they are relative new comers to the region and their minuscule production, the substantial acclaim the Bott wines have received both locally and internationally is remarkable.
2011 Bott Furmint “Csontos”
2011 Bott Hárslevelű “Hatari”
Before phylloxera, 100’s of grape varieties populated Tokaj-Heyalja’s historic volcanic hills. The rare Kövérszőlő (Que-veyr-soo-loo), or “fat grape”, once an important local variety, is among the few that are not lost, and it is a specialty of 3rd generation Tokaji winemaker Sarolta Bardos. After extensive experience at some of the biggest and best wineries at home and abroad, Sarolta is today fully dedicated to the 6 hectares of vineyards she planted in 99′. Her incorporation of lesser varieties along with the classical Furmint and Hárslevelű and the unique style of her wines suggest a wine maker looking to distinguish herself from the rest of the region’s producers. Savory and deeply textured, dark, not in color but mood, very sophisticated.
2010 Nobilis Hárslevelű
2009 Nobilis Kövérszőlő
The crazy Frenchman of Olasliszka may save one of the most anomalous styles of Tokaji from extinction: dry Szamorodni is a wine born of fresh and botrytis fruit that is briefly macerated on the skins and aged extensively in barrel under a flor of Cladosporium Cellare, a fungus unique to Tokaj cellars. It is a wine beyond compare. Samuel Tinon grew up on his family’s estate in Sainte-Croix du Mont, near Bordeaux. He graduated in viticulture and oenology in 1989 travelling the world as a flying winemaker in Australia, Texas, Chile, and Italy. The Tokaj adventure began in 1991. He was the first Frenchman to settle in the region. During 15 years, he worked as a consultant and followed the evolution of the Tokaj styles for numerous companies. Today, he owns a few hectares of densely planted head pruned Furmint and Harslevelu that average 90 years of age, on the classed slope of Hatari near his home and cellar in Olasliska. His wines are reference point Tokaji, made in antique styles, a window to the future and past. “I’m not a revolutionary. I came with an idea, to build something.”
2007 Samuel Tinon Dry Szamorodni
2005 Samuel Tinon Tokaji Aszù 5 Puttonyos
The Dorogi brothers are close friends with the Budo’s. Judit introduced us one night and we tasted an exceptional line up of their expressive, traditionally styled wines from the 8 hectares of mixed vineyards they farm. Locally famous names like Elöhegy, Lönyai, Thurzó, Mézes Ma’l grace the labels of their dry and off-dry wines. Their sweet Aszú and Esszencia wine are blends of these sites. Fermented only with native yeast typically in old 220 liter Gonci, (glass for the Esszencia) at cellar cool temperatures, fermentation is slow, sometimes taking years for the sweetest.
In honor of Blue Danube Wine Co.’s break-out NY Trade debut at Terroir Tribeca this coming Thursday, we plan to introduce a bunch of ultra special Hungarian wines that are being air freighted to NY as we speak. Days away, we are all wondering: will they make it in time??! The Jury is out, but the good news is that the 2nd of 4 deliveries has just arrived! Will the others make it? Hard to say! Let the count down begin, 2!!
Here is a sneak peak:
We, Blue Danubians, are accustomed to remarks noting the exotic names and natures of the varieties we source, so to praise the likes of a grape as common as Pinot Noir feels quite strange to us! Occasionally a wine demands it though. Vylyan Pinot Noir is possibly the most decorated wine in Hungary: awards and accolades cover the bottle like the pins of a military general.
Vylyan planted Pinot Noir vines where fog gathers and grapes ripen slowly, in a belly button shaped depression smack dab in the middle of Villány, Hungary—basically their Cabernet country. It should be illegal to invoke Burgundy when talking about Pinot Noir that is not actually Burgundian, but since it is not, lets compare Vylyan’s to Volnay. Expressive, spicy, slightly rustic with firm structure and sappy richness, Vylyan is not so different. The biggest difference might be the large Hungarian oak casks used to age it.
Refreshingly, this is not Pinot for tomorrow, it is for laying down and then pondering over years later. On the other hand, Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars—a regular customer—has enjoyed cases of the 2008. And if iconic Venice Beach restaurant Gjelina likes the 09 as much as we do, it will pour the 3rd vintage of it as their “by the Glass Pinot Noir”, so it ain’t just for aging.
In honor of Blue Danube Wine Co.’s break-out NY Trade debut at Terroir Tribeca this coming Thursday, we plan to introduce a bunch of ultra special Hungarian wines that are being air freighted to NY as we speak. Days away, we are all wondering: will they make it in time??! The Jury is out, but the good news is that the 1st of 4 deliveries has just arrived! Will the others make it? Hard to say! Let the count down begin, 3!!
Here is a sneak peak:
Little appellation, big WINES
Millions of years ago, Somló, Hungary’s smallest appellation, was an underwater volcano. Now dormant, its southerly slopes of ancient sea sediment and basalt are home to some of Hungary’s steepest, most densely planted vineyards. Minutely divided, these rarely trellised parcels of vines are workable only by hand. The cellars and size of the production are also the smallest in Hungary, and again worked by hand. Somló’s exclusively white wines are typically made from Hárslevelű, Furmint, Olaszrizling, or the local rarity Jufark. The soil really “gets into the wines” and they are among the most distinctive wines we have ever encountered; aromas lean towards dried fruits, dried herbs and rare spices, heady, dense, gripping, chock full of smoky minerality and longevity. For US fans of this sort of thing, they make an unforgettable and rare treat.
In a past life, German/Hungarian Istvan Spiegelberg was a DJ and test driver for BMW. Making a bit of wine in Somló was just a hobby, his intention was not to make some of Hungary’s most cultish. Only a few years ago, Istvan traded in the fast lane for the farm. His home/cellar among his 2 hectares of vines has no running water or electricity. Still, he can regularly be found on Facebook.
Istvan, a self-described “minimal interventionist”, spends most of his times in his vineyards and cellar, so minimal is really more thoughtful. Grapes are hand-harvested, mainly by him. The wine is fermented in 500 liter used Hungarian oak barrels. No artificial yeasts are used for the long slow fermentations. All wines age at least 12 to 16 months in large oak barrels to the soothing sounds of Gregorian chamber music. The wines taste almost the same from barrel as bottle. Profound, stylish, modern, both futuristic and ancient. Dream wines.
2010 Spiegelberg Jufark, Hárslevelű, Furmint “Wedding Wine”
2010 Spiegelberg Olaszrizling Szent Ilona
2010 Spiegelberg Furmint Szent Ilona
“The Grand Old Man” of Somló, Fekete Béla, is Somló embodied. To know his wines is to know Somló. Like Spiegelberg, his presence there began as a hobby. While on a trip to buy grapes for his garage production, a farmer offered to sell Fekete his vineyards as he was getting too old to work them himself and Fekete accepted. There must be truth to the pro-ported health giving properties of Somlói: at 86, Fekete still tends his 4 hectares of beloved Fehérvári-cru. Care of the vines is his first interest, all work is by hand and the vines are cultivated with little or no synthetic treatments. Careful hand harvesting and sorting is followed by spontaneous fermentation in old, 1200 liter, casks of Hungarian oak, and 2 years aging before bottling. The wines are honest, engaging and highly expressive of the region. Appropriate to open the day they are released, they will likely last for decades and only deepen in their exotic, particularly mineral aroma and texture.
2007 Fekete Furmint
2008 Fekete Hárslevelű
2008 Fekete Juhfark
Do you know the relationship between the Dalmatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski, Dobričić, Plavac Mali, and Zinfandel? Do you want to learn more about Southern Croatia’s major wine regions: Skradin, Hvar, Brač, Vis, Korčula, Postup, Dingač, and Konavle?
The third edition of Vinologue Dalmatia is the best source of information for those looking to experience great Southern Croatian wines and understand their historical and regional background. This enotourism guide features 88 up-to-date winerie profiles, hundreds of full color photos, and tasting notes for 180 wines.
Like all Vinologue Guides, it includes detailed maps, GPS coordinates, history, language, descriptions of wine regions and native grape varietals, and how to understand Croatian wine labels.
It’s available for immediate download to your smartphone, e-reader, tablet, or computer.
Almost 200 years after the Zinfandel wine grapes arrived in America via the Austrian Imperial Nursery, the almost extinct Dalmatian grape and original Zinfandel Crljenak Kaštelanski has arrived in California via the Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis.
Crljenak was discovered in September 2000 in a vineyard of mixed planting along the Dalmatian coast by Dr. Edi Maletic and Dr. Ivan Pejic of the University of Zagreb. Along with Dr. Carole Meredith of UC Davis, they had been looking for a Croatian Zinfandel for many years, collecting and analyzing many samples of old Croatian varieties. Fortunately, DNA testing at Dr Meredith’s lab quickly revealed that Crljenak and Zinfandel were the same variety. The quest for Zinfandel’s roots was finally over.
In 2008, at the request of Dave Gates, vice-president of vineyard operation at Ridge Vineyards, Drs Pejic and Maletic sent vines of Crljenak to the Grape Registration & Certification Program at UC Davis that tests the grapevines for viruses and diseases. Several other native varieties were thought to be valuable to California growers and were sent as well, including Plavac Mali, Babic, Debit, Dobricic, Glavinusa, Pribidrag, Skrlet, and Zlahtina.
The now certified and disease-free Crljenak will be propagated and planted at Ridge’s Lytton vineyard in two more years. It will also be repatriated to Croatia to provide Croatian vintners with a clean disease-free vine to plant.
Dear Friends of Blue Danube Wine,
We are happy to invite you to “Out of the Blue” a casual impromptu pre-holiday trade only tasting. Thanks to your support the Blue Danube Wine Co. portfolio is evolving. We are delving into regions, varieties and styles that demand further study and that the market has shown a taste for. Monday September 17th we will present our deepest selection of wines from Croatia and Slovenia as well as all wines which are now available in our TAKE 5 sales promotion.
At this tasting we will pour the wines of ten leading estates. Some of them see their first premiere in the U.S., many are the new vintages which just arrived. This is a rare opportunity to taste them in a comprehensive line-up.
Thank you for your interest, we hope to see you at the tasting!
Frank, David, and Michael
(and Stetson from New York)
2308 South Union Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
good parking on surrounding streets
Monday September 17th 2012 – 12pm-4pm
Light food served by Bacaro LA
After 3 weeks of Friday nights at Alphabet City Wine Co finishing with my #2 East Coast tasting, I need a break. These guys don’t just sell wine, they use it. They drink it, they share it, they drink it, they sell it, drink some more, share some more, then close the shop to head over to Edi and the Wolf for more of the same. Its fun, but brutal. Party aside, manager and co-owner Keith Beavers talks about wine with the same hurried enthusiasm as a 12 year old geeking out on Star Wars (Keith’s second passion).
Late night while gulping Črnko – Jareninčan with Keith, I compared the wine to Princess Lea and that was that, we were doing a tasting, next week in fact. Keith was not present due to an emergency research trip to study pina coladas in Mexico. Luckily his debaucherous Muay Thai trained, photographer/romeo/assistant-manager Ben Kaufman, pictured drinking from the bottle, was on hand to hold down the fort. We poured a really challenging line up that included the Crnko, the 09 Kabaj Rebula and the Dingač Vinarija – Pelješac.
Initially I saw no apparent way to line up these 3 aromatically and texturally disparate wines. Ultimately the right order started with the savory low alcohol Pelješac lightly chilled, followed by the dense, exotic Rebula a touch warmer and finishing with the light, juicy Crnko quite cold. Overtime I have learned to ignore conventional methods of lining the wines we work with because in a word, they are un-conventional. Just like the boys at ABC Wine Co., delightfully un-conventional. These dope free tastings are 6-9 every friday. Check-em out.