JURIS wine tasting with the Stiegelmars

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Last week, we enjoyed the visit of Axel and Herta Stiegelmar, the charming owners of Juris Winery, who participated in a series of promotional events in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In San Francisco, they were featured at Portfolio, our annual tradeshow located this year at the San Francisco Old Mint, pouring their Pinot Noir and St. Laurent wines non-stop from 11:00am to 3:00pm.

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Herta, Frank, and Eric at Portfolio

Juris is a family estate in Gols, Burgenland, run by the Stiegelmar family since the late 1500’s. After acquiring practical experience in Germany, Bordeaux and California, Axel Stiegelmar is now considered a Pinot Noir and St. Laurent specialist, producing wines of character and style with aging potential.

Pinot Noir and St. Laurent are two difficult and fussy grape varieties that have actually many common characteristics. Pinot noir was most likely brought to Austria in the late 14th Century by Cistercian monks from the Order’s motherhouse in Burgundy. It grows well in the mild climate regions of Burgenland and Thermenregion (Lower Austria) and is recently gaining more importance in the country (1.4% of the plantings in 2009, up from about 0.8% in 1999).

The origins of St. Laurent are mysterious but thanks to genetic testing, it is believed to be a crossing between Pinot Noir and an other unknown vine. Like Pinot Noir, it came to Austria from France and is now planted in Burgenland and Lower Austria. Because St. Laurent ripens sooner than Pinot Noir, it is well suited to regions with short growing seasons like Austria. It is also one of these finicky grapes that has been recently rediscovered by Austrian growers. In 2009 it covered 1.7% of the total grape plantings in Austria, up from 0.9% in 1999.

After Portfolio, we all met again at Bar Tartine in the San Francisco Mission for a wine and food event featuring a vertical lineup of Juris Reserve St. Laurent from 2002 to 2009. My favorite was the 2005, a well-balanced wine, with rich fruits, good complexity, and an elegant finish.

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To accompany the wines, chefs Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns provided tasty little tartines, small open-faced sandwiches topped with various Eastern European inspired ingredients.

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Everybody is having a good time - Courtesy of Robin Jolin
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This was a long day! Frank, Herta, Axel, and Eric at Bar Tartine

Hungary Comes To Bed Stuy

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Brooklyn, New York’s biggest borough, is home to an ever-growing population of thirsty people. Young and old, all races, everyone is thirsty not only for good wine, but new food and wine experiences. Michael Brooks of Bed Vyne, Bed Stuy’s new boutique and community wine store, is well aware of this. Once a month he puts on an event to celebrate food, wine and art. The two event spaces adjacent to the small store are transformed into a gallery featuring a local artist (check out Juan Carlos Pinto‘s mixed media metro card portraits) along with tables of food from local restaurants and wine from the distributors that supply the store. For $5 attendees get a go-vino cup and are let loose in the maze of delicious flavors. Now that’s the way to do an in-store tasting!

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This past week I poured two of our Hungarian stars, Patricius Dry Furmint and Torley Fortuna. A bit nervous to be the only one pouring wines no one had heard of in a neighborhood that just recently opened their first wine store, my table turned out to be the hit of the party! The slight richness and creamy finish of the Furmint matched perfectly with the mussels in spicy coconut broth being served across the way, and no one could get enough of the party-in-your-mouth lightly sweet and fizzy Fortuna. As people lined up to taste wines from Hungary they asked “are you the Hungarian wine lady? I’ve been looking for you, I’ve heard great things!” It’s good to know that an area still in the early up-and-coming stages embrace unfamiliar wines with open arms.

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New York Chef Anthony Bourdain visits Bibich

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Anthony Bourdain thanking the Bibich family on his knees - Courtesy of Ante Pižić
New York chef Anthony Bourdain‘s latest No Reservations episode featuring the Croatian Coast was recently aired on the TRAVEL channel and since then, the office phone has been ringing off the hook. During his visit to Skradin, Bourdain met Alen Bibich of the Bibich Winery and his family, and really enjoyed the wines from the Bibich cellar. Meanwhile, the 2009 Bibich R6 Riserva arrives from Croatia ‘Just-In-Time’ this month!

New vintages of our popular wines on their way

The big freeze that hit Europe last February delayed most of our wine shipments but thanks to warmer weather conditions, our containers are on their way to California and New York.

Shipping wine in the winter months is in fact hazardous as it can expose the wine to extreme temperatures, which may cause it to freeze (wine freezes between 15-23 degrees F) and alter its character.

Our Eszterbauer shipment just arrived in Vienna from Szekszard:

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The new 2011 Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapam:

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One of our container was recently in the Port of Ploče on the Adriatic Sea coast, with wines from BIBICh, Miloš, and Dingač:

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From Slovenia, we have new wines from Batič, Kabaj, and Kogl:

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And some of our new releases are already available online:

From Croatia:
2009 BIBICh R6 Riserva $18.95
A roughly equal blend of native red varieties Babich, Plavina, and Lasin aged 12 months in new American oak, this wine is exceptionally food friendly and will pair with anything from goat cheese to smoked meats.

2010 Dingač Plavac $12.95
Plavac Mali grape translates to “Little Blue” grape. This grape is usually simply called “Plavac” and is the cousin of the Californian Zinfandel. It is a fairly rustic wines with lots of spicy flavors.

2010 Dingač Pelješac $12.95
Made from 100% Plavac Mali, it is peppery with bright berry flavors and gentle dusty tannins. It’s low alcohol and complexity make it unusually adept with a wide variety of food from salmon, to creamy cheeses, to spit fired lamb.

2008 Dingač Postup $24.95
Postup is the appellation next to Dingač on the south-western slopes of the Pelješac peninsula where the Plavac Mali grapes are grown. This newly released 2008 vintage is truly stunning!

From Hungary:
2011 Attila Gere Olaszrizling $12.95
This Olaszrizling (AKA Welschriesling or Italian Riesling) is fresh and lemony. Serve with salted nuts as a cocktail or with arugula salad and cold chicken for a light meal.Serve with salted nuts as a cocktail or with arugula salad and cold chicken for a light meal.

2011 Attila Gere Rosé $14.95
Attila Gere produces with his Austrian colleague Franz Wenninger one of Hungary’s top Roses and the Gere family says that the 2011 is the best vintage for this wine ever. The wine is a blend of Kékfrankos, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.

Cheers and happy drinking!

Tokaj At Terroir Murray Hill in NYC

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It’s only in the last few decades that the infamous sweet wines of Tokaji have fallen off of mainstream restaurant lists and the common-knowledge radar of average wine drinkers. Changes in the political climate of Eastern Europe are the main cause of this absence of Tokaji in the mainstream wine world. With the new generation of drinkers, the millenials, we are seeing a resurgence of appreciation for this ancient region. The enthusiasm goes beyond the famous sweet wines and explores all of the styles these aromatic wines come in.
A few weeks ago Rienne Martinez of Terroir Murray Hill and I decided to share our love of Tokaji wines with New York. We developed a pairing menu that showcased the dry and sweet wines of Patricius, letting the flavors explain why these wines have been so prized throughout history. The crowd favorite was overwhelmingly the 3 puttunyos with duck confit salad. Check out the beautiful video below, produced by David DuPuy, to get a glimpse into this special event, first of many!

Solving the artichokes and wine pairing dilemma: try the Kogl Magna Domenica Albus

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Kogl Magna Domenica Albus
Why are artichokes so hard to pair with wine? The main culprit is cynarin, a chemical compound that changes the way our taste buds perceive flavors. After eating artichokes, many people experience extra sweetness in their food and drinks, while a few others may taste more bitter flavors.

My problem is that I love wine and I love artichokes, especially when signs of springs are starting to be seen all around. So the other night, I made one of my favorite spring recipes, pasta with braised artichokes, green beans, lima beans, and bacon lardons. As for the wine, I decided to try the Kogl Magna Domenica Albus 2009.

Home of the Cvetko family since 1820, the Kogl Winery is located in Northeastern Slovenia, not very far from the borders of Hungary, Austria, and Croatia. With a humid continental climate and prolongued freezing periods during wintertime, the region is famous for its white wines.

The Magna Domenica Albus (Latin for “Grand White Estate Wine”) is the winery’s flagship wine. It is a blend of Riesling, Yellow Muscat, and Auxerrois, aged in traditional big wooden barrels. The wine had a light golden color and a lively flowery nose. The palate was dry, refreshing with a good body, notes of citrus and peach, and a relatively low alcohol content. I served the pasta with a squeeze of lemon (which I think minimizes the effect of cynarin), a dash of cream, freshly grated parmesan, and ground black pepper. That made the wine taste even better, crisp, clean, aromatic, and not too sweet at all.

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Jeff Berlin of À Côté

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Jeff Berlin

“Your wine list definitely leans toward the esoteric: Slovakian riesling, kadarka from Hungary, a cornalin from Switzerland and recently an entire zierfandler flight. How are you able to get away with a list like that?”

Jeff Berlin, the General Manager of Oakland’s À Côté restaurant is one of our biggest supporters. Jeff was recently interviewed by Wine & Spirits Magazine about the success of his unique outstanding wine list. Read the entire interview.

The 2009 Juris Saint Laurent Selection is very, very delicious

The 2009 Juris Saint Laurent Selection is very, very delicious
2009 Juris Saint Laurent Selection

As a sales rep, you never know what to expect when you taste with an account for the first time. Fortunately, my first tasting this past week with Prima Ristorante & Wine Merchants in Walnut Creek, CA was a pleasant surprise. John Rittmaster, Wine Director and Owner, has been with the restaurant and adjoining wine shop since 1994. He has developed one of the most dynamic wine lists in the area. A well respected palate, to say the least. I was pleased when he and his partner Frank Rothstein got excited about our ’09 St. Laurent from Juris, one of our Austrian producers based in Gols, Burgenland. John was so impressed that he passed along the write up below that he sent to his customer base. Thanks John for allowing us to use your wonderful post. Cheers!

“Want to know how we wine merchants spend our own hard-earned dollars? Here’s a wine that I can guarantee you will find in all of our own cellars.

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Winemaker Axel Stieglmar

Saint Laurent (Sankt Laurent locally) is one of those grapes you typically have to experience in situ, maybe from a pitcher, ever so slightly chilled, alongside one of those oversized schnitzels you can get for a few Euros in one of Vienna’s many outdoor dining establishments. It’s grown throughout Burgenland and the Niederosterreich in Austria and across the border in what’s now the Czech Republic where it is believed to have originated, perhaps as a rogue clone of Pinot Noir. St. Laurent is also known as one of the parents (along with Blaufrankisch) of the now-better-known hybrid grape Zweigelt. Identity crisis notwithstanding, there isn’t much St. Laurent exported, and what is, is often relegated to the bottom of the importer’s roster after the far more popular Austrian varieties of Gruner-Veltliner, Riesling and Zweigelt. But we recently tasted a St. Laurent right here in America that got our attention- big time- from one of the variety’s acknowledged masters, Juris.

Frank, our Sommelier and Northern European wine specialist, and I, at the same time, compared Juris’ unoaked, beautifully nuanced St. Laurent to a fine Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, like a great Chinon. There’s a dark, grapy snap to the wine that helps set off its amazing array of violet, peppercorn, black earth and cardamom aromas in sharp relief. On the palate it has ample weight and succulence but will always stand out more for its impressive zip on the finish. We loved the idea of serving this cellar temperature with a simple roast but agreed we can’t wait for a warm spring day with which to chill it off a bit and serve it with braised sausages and lentils or anything with wild mushrooms. The bottom line is that this is very, very delicious.”

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Pallets at the Juris Estate waiting to be shipped

By the way: The JURIS St. Laurent Selection is also on the wine list by-the-glass at Edi and the Wolf, THE Austrian Heuriger (bistro) in New York.

From Central-Eastern Europe with love

From Central-Eastern Europe with love
Eric, Frank, and Stetson with Judit & József Bodó, and István Dorogi.

It is difficult to convey the personal impact visiting the cellars and homes of the wine producers we met with on this past visit to Hungary, Austria and Croatia, but it goes far beyond wine. It nourished the mind and spirit, introduced us to future friends and developed existing friendships further.

We now care deeply for these places that are not naturally “home” to us. Our gratitude to those who tend these vineyards is immeasurable. From the terraced vineyards of the Wachau to the snowy volcanic hills of Tokaji, to the Golden Valley of Kutjevo and every where in between – “THANK YOU” to all who were a part of it!!

That all said…Damn!! Did we drink some great wine!!!

Of course – This thank you extends to all those homes and cellars that we have visited on past trips and will visit on future trips, too!

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Dinner with the family: János & Monika Eszterbauer, and daughters Kata and Ildikó.


Its Dungeness crab season, its Grüner Veltliner season

It's Dungeness crab season, it's Grüner Veltliner season

One reason I love the holidays is that they mark the beginning of the Dungeness crab season. This tasty treat is harvested from mid November to the end of June, along the Pacific coast from Santa Barbara to as far as the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. Being simply cooked in boiling water, its meat is sweet, tender, and slightly nutty. It is, I think, my favorite crustacean and the way I like it best is with just a squeeze of lemon, some bread and butter, and a glass of dry, mineral-driven, white wine.

So the other day, we ate our first crab of the year with some delicious 2010 Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig.

Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s national grape, accounting for more than 30 percent of the country’s vineyards and it is at its best along the Danube river were it grows in terraced vineyards on slopes so steep they can barely retain the soil, producing mineral-driven wines that can age well.

The Geyerhof winery is situated on the southern slopes of the Danube Valley east of Krems. The owners, Josef and Ilse Maier, have 15 hectares of dry-farmed vineyards on loess, sand and tertiary gravel soils and produce mostly Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. The fruit of the Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig comes from the organically farmed Rosensteig vineyard and has been manually harvested. The wine had a light golden color with aromas of Granny Smith apple and peach on the nose. On the palate, it was crisp, mineral, well structured, with notes of lime and paprika on the finish.

I am looking forward to some more Dungeness crabs this season and some more Grüner Veltliner as well!