The Hungarian Vintner of the Year award is the most prestigious award a vintner can receive in Hungary and this year, Mátyás Szőke is the first vintner from the Mátra wine region to ever win it in the award’s 27-year-old history.
“Wine is a unique product,” says Mátyás. “It has a soul, a personality, a history. It develops and becomes stronger and wiser in its bottle, and it eventually dies. Fruit rots, flowers wither, food goes bad, but wine is the only thing that is like a human, even in its passing.”
Mátyás has been producing wine since the 1970’s. He continues to manage the vineyards and sales while his son Zoltán, an university trained enologist, makes the wine and runs the cellar. The estate produces a wide range of mainly dry white wines from native and international varietals that are served in numerous Hungarian Embassies and featured in many of the best restaurants in Budapest.
Back in 2012 we attended the 3rd ever Furmint February tasting event in Budapest founded by Dániel Kézdy. There were 55 producers attending. At that point, I couldn’t name more than 10 producers and had tasted far less. It was equal parts significantly humbling and exciting. This year, there are 104 producers attending. The growth is clear and it’s quality driven. In 2012 Blue Danube had 2 producers with Furmint, now we have 15 and counting.
Furmint February and Furmint Day (Feb 1st) are also not limited to this tasting, but a celebration of Furmint all month, all over Hungary, and beyond. It should be said that Furmint is also produced in Slovenia (Šipon), Slovakia, Germany, Croatia (Šipon/Moslavac), South Africa, Serbia, Romania, Austria (Mosler), Crimea and even a little bit right here in California just to name just a few. However, the commercial hub and linkage to national wine identity is most pronounced in Hungary. Hungarians sing about Tokaj in their National Anthem where Furmint is the most planted grape.
Additionally, I also believe that Furmint captures the volcanic nature of Hungary. Above and beyond the thermal baths and killer mineral water, volcanic terroir runs through most of the country, not just Tokaj. A rant I’m fond of stumbling into is while there is well deserved hype over volcanic appellations like the Canary Islands, Santorini, Sicily and so on, Hungary (and others in the volcanic Pannonian basin) are rarely a part of that conversation.
Furmint, with its naturally high acidity, ability to attain high sugar levels, and ability to find balance with botrytis, is an ideal grape to embody the salt, smoke and density from these volcanic soils. Add to this that Furmint can do this as a dry, off dry, sparkling, oxidative, flor aged, reductive, and make perhaps the best botritzed sweet wines in the world and there’s reason we have 15 producers and counting.
For blogger Steve Mirsky, Furmint is Hungary’s answer to other less mainstream white wines gaining prominence lately, such as Austria’s Grüner Veltliner. “Now is the perfect time to be a hero,” he writes, “and skip your go-to Chardonnay or Riesling.”
If you’re ready to skip your usual Chardonnay for the vibrant Furmint, here is Steve’s review of the 2015 Patricius Dry Furmint from Tokaj:
Patricius began purchasing first-growth classified vineyards in 1997, now totaling 346 acres. Their wine press house built over 200 years ago and then owned and operated by the Jesuits and aristocratic families, was renovated into a state-of-the-art underground winery in 2005 utilizing gravitational technology yet preserving original architectural details. It is here that winemakers showcase the local Furmint grape’s vibrant minerality and well-balanced acidity in their lineup particularly in their 2015 Dry Furmint.
Harvesting begins in September, with fermentation and maturation taking place entirely in stainless steel allowing the grapes to showcase a darker refreshing mouth feel similar to cold cask conditioned ale complemented with a refreshing bite ranging from fresh apple to spring greens. Well balanced fruit with honeyed spice on the nose, its brisk even minerality sets the stage for a cleansed palate pairing nicely with chicken, seafood, and sushi.
Now, do you know that tomorrow February 1st is Furmint Day? Drink Furmint, whether it’s dry, off dry, sparkling, under flor, or sweet, and share your experience with your friends! Actually, the whole month of February is the month of Furmint, so enjoy Furmint! #FurmintDay
There is so much well deserved hype over volcanic appellations like the Canary Islands, Santorini, Sicily and so on, but Hungary and its surrounding regions in the Pannonian basin are rarely mentioned.
Whether from Tokaj, Somló or Mátra (to name just a few), Furmint is an ideally suited grape for these regions’ rich volcanic soils. With naturally high acidity, ability to attain high sugar levels, and ability to find balance with botrytis, it also still carries its own flavors along with the salt, smoke and density from the volcanic soils. Furthermore, Furmint can do this vinified as dry, off dry, sparkling, oxidatively, under flor, reductively, and sweet.
The second International Furmint Day is February 1st 2018. Celebrate Furmint on that day, taste it, like it, share it! #furmintday
“There’s much more to Romanian wine than cheap Pinot,”writes wine columnist Henry Jeffreys in Food & Wine. “ The country has a wealth of indigenous grapes such as Fetească Regală and Crâmpoşie for whites, and for reds Fetească Neagră, Novac and the wonderfully named Negru de Drăgăşani (it’s pronounced something like Drer-ger-sharn which sounds like a character from Game of Thrones).”
A trip to visit Romanian wineries took him to the historical city of Timișoara in Western Romania and the nearby Balla Géza Winery:
Timișoara has the feel of a miniature Vienna or Budapest. The west of Romania used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and there’s still a strong Hungarian influence. Balla Géza, owner of another vineyard near the city, Princess Winery (they do love a Princess in Romania) is Hungarian. Alongside the Romanian and international varieties he grows Hungarian grapes such as the white Furmint (famous for Tokaji) and the reds Kadarka and Kekfrankos (Blaufrankisch in Austria) He was manager for the state wine company and when Communism collapsed managed to buy up the best land at very reasonable prices, he told me with a glint in his eye.
Tourism is very important for him too. He has a guest house on site and an extremely good cook. On my visit we feasted on roast duck with quinces, stuffed cabbage leaves and roast loin of pork in a cream sauce.
Balla Géza is our first producer from Romania and Fetească Neagră is our first native Romanian red grape variety. Fetească Neagră means the “black girl” and originates from the Eastern part of Transylvania. The wine is deliciously fruity, spicy with round tannins and makes an excellent accompaniment for savory stuffed cabbage leaves.
Etty is a sommelier who sources delicious world wines at under $30/bottle. She curates artisanal, small-batch, sustainably grown, organic and biodynamic boutique wines from around the globe for PLONK. Etty’s club is designed for both the new wine lover who wants to learn about wine, as well as those like myself – jaded oenophiles who know what they like but like trying new and exciting things, and LOVE finding new, small-batch producers who are making their way in the world offering tremendous values. . . . . Why do I like her approach? Well first, I liked her wine choices. They’re great!
Color is deep garnet, with an opaque center. The nose offers dark red fruit, heat, eucalyptus, and forest floor. On the palate, I received full-bodied sour cherry, red plum, with strong tannins and mouthwatering acidity. Final notes of small stones, sodium and red currants. This is a fascinating wine; I immediately wanted another sip. For a second time, getting that memory of the fruit and a hint of bitterness on the moderate finish, I wanted this with pizza or adjaruli khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) but it would work with a myriad of flavors. It actually complemented both a wurst and dark chocolate so beautifully, but any flavorful or savory dish would complement nicely. At $22/bottle I’d like to open this with friends and some snacks just to discuss. This is a wine-lover’s delight, for sure- but a foodie wine as well. I’m going to need to find more Slovenian wines!
I’d wanted to try these wines for a while and finally had the opportunity at a Blue Danube Wine tasting over the summer. Josip Brkić is, from what I’ve heard, the only natural winemaker in Bosnia Herzegovina. Using biodynamic practices and indigenous grapes, he’s making very pure and effusive wines and Mjesecar, a skin-fermented white wine made from Zilavka, is exceptional. You can read more about it here. I hope his efforts will inspire other growers in BH to go down a more natural path. This year I’ve had a number of wines from the Balkans that have been on par with great wines from the rest of the continent, and hope this is just a glimpse of what the future holds. The former Yugoslav countries went through a horrendous period in the 90’s, and if the winemaking is one sign that things continue to improve for people in this part of the world, I’ll drink to that.
Mjesečar means the Moon Walker in Bosnian and it is Josip’s first wine made in a complete biodynamic way. All the farming and winemaking work is done according to the phases of the Moon as you can see on the wine’s label.
For Josip, producing a new wine is like giving birth to a new life. You should try it, the wine is magical.
“If I may,” the Count interjected. “For a serving of Latvian stew, you will find no better choice than a bottle of the Mukuzani.”
Leaning toward their table and mimicking the perfectly parted fingers of Andrey, the Count gestured to the entry on the list. That this wine was a fraction of the cost of the Rioja need not be a matter of a discussion between gentlemen. Instead, the Count simply noted: “The Georgians practically grow their grapes in the hopes that one day they will accompany such a stew.”
The young man exchanged a brief glance with his companion as if to say, Who is this eccentric? But then he turned to the Bishop.
“A bottle of the Mukuzani.” ‘A Gentleman In Moscow,’ By Amor Towles
One of our customers called us recently, asking if we had any Mukuzani. “I’m part of a book club and we’re reading ‘A Gentleman In Moscow.’ We’ll be making a Latvian stew and we’ll like to serve a Mukuzani with it.”
For sure, wines from the Saperavi grapes from the Mukuzani vineyard are considered by many to be the best of the Georgian red wines. Mukuzani is aged in oak casks for a longer time — at least three years — and as a result of its longer aging, it has more complexity than the other Saperavi wines.
Just as he’d suspected, it was the perfect dish for the season. The onions thoroughly caramelized, the pork slowly braised, and the apricots briefly stewed, the three ingredients came together in a sweet and smoky medley that simultaneously suggested the comfort of a snowed-in tavern and the jangle of a Gypsy tambourine.
As the Count took a sip of his wine, the young couple caught his eye and raised their own glasses in a toast of gratitude and kinship.
Drink like Count Rostov at the Hotel Metropol on Theater Square in Moscow. Pair your Latvian stew, a tasty pork stew with apricots and prunes, with a bottle of Danieli Mukuzani, the perfect pairing for the season!
“The first thing I did when my daughter was born, I dipped my finger into Tokaj and placed a drop on Aszú on her tongue so she would know where she came from.” -Peter Molnár, Patricius Tokaj Estate Manager and Winemaker.
Last month I had an amazing dinner with the best of company at Song @ntmrkt with @orshi.kiss @edanch @bluedanubewine along with Peter Molnár from @patriciustokaj.
Each of Patricius wines were unique and delicious. However, the Katinka and Aszú offer a very special experience. I don’t want to sound corny and I don’t typically purport to be spiritual. For whatever reasons even just a tiny sip of Tokaji invigorates me. It’s the cure for both emotional and physical ails. These are spiritual wines and it’s important for all of us to have Tokaji on hand, for healing as well as pleasure.
“It’s no surprise Georgia produces good wines – it’s been at it a really long time,”writes Bryan Flewelling, wine director for three restaurants in Portland, Maine after tasting a selection of Georgian wines vinified in the same way they were 8,000 years ago.
The standouts of the tasting were both produced by the Doqi winery, located in the wine region of Kakheti. One was an amber, or orange, wine made from Georgia’s most important white grape, rkatsiteli, and the other was a red wine made from Georgia’s most important red grape, saperavi. Both are vinified in the traditional Georgian quervi, large earthenware pots that are buried underground to stabilize the fermenting temperature throughout the winter months.
The Rkatsiteli Quervi was the color of lightly steeped tea, the result of extended skin contact. When red grapes are crushed and the skins are left in contact with the fermenting juice, they turn red – most of you know this. When white grapes are crushed and the skins are left in contact with the fermenting juice, a practice that’s infrequent, the wine turns amber. It smelled of spice and honey and yellow raisins. I know that sounds dessert-like, but it’s not. Imagine honey without the sweetness if you can. And, because of the long skin contact, the finished wine picks up some tannins, which is unusual for a white wine. Different and fantastic are my descriptors.
“If, occasionally, you need to inject a bit of novelty into the familiar aspects of your life,” concludes Bryan, “then these wines will be the perfect infusion.”