WHO AM I? Connect the dots on the label to find out!
The grape is called Zefir, a white grape variety created in 1951 from a crossing of Leanyka from Romania and Hárslevelü from Hungary. It’s a new creation from the Pfneisl sisters Birgit and Katrin, and like its label, it’s a playful wine!
Low in alcohol (11.5%), pale straw in color, with a floral Muscat-like nose, the Pfneiszl Zefir is crisp, refreshing, with some herbal and spicy notes. Share it with some good friends on a hot summer night and as the Pfneisl sisters say, “A sip is worth a thousand words.”
Somló, a lone volcanic butte and Hungary’s smallest appellation, is a unique terroir of hardened lava, basalt, and ancient sea sediment. The Apátsági winery on the Somló hill was originally owned by the Benedictine Pannonhalma Archabbey (Apátsági means Abbey in Hungarian). After being expropriated during Communism, it was brought back to life in 2001 by Zoltán Balogh, grandson of local winemakers, and four other people including the grandson of the last pre-war winemaker.
Zoltán believes in “terroir wines”, natural wines with a distinctive sense of place. The vineyard is dry farmed without herbicides or pesticides. The grapes are hand picked very ripe and then spontaneously fermented in 600-2000 liter oak barrels. Thanks to their high acidity, the wines are rich, lively and well-balanced.
Zoltan Balogh has developed a style for ripe, full-bodied wines at Apatsagi. It works well in this hárslevelu, a wine that reminded some panelists of chenin blanc in its rich, broad texture and multifaceted flavor. Grown on basalt and vinified with ambient yeasts in 600-to-2,000-liter barrels, the wine feels like a late-harvest cuvée, rich and sweet in its notes of pineapple, pear and strawberry, but a brothy umami note holds it firm and savory. Pour it with something rich but understated, like chicken in a cream sauce. 93 Points
Like Zoltán Balogh of Apátsági winery, all producers under the Terra Hungarica flag adhere to sustainable farming without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and harvesting machinery, as well as natural winemaking, avoiding chaptalisation, the use of added yeasts, additives and manipulation techniques.
Here is a video of Zoltán Balogh made by Terra Hungarica, explaining his winemaking philosophy:
French-born Stéphanie Berecz has a soft spot for hárslevelű, with half of her 12 acres of vines given over to the aromatic variety. She makes this wine from a single, south-facing parcel of loess, fermenting it with ambient yeasts and aging it on the lees in French and Hungarian oak barrels for for to five months. That treatment has built a lot of texture into this 2015, a wrap of honeyed richness to temper the weft of tannins that give it grip. The flavors range from Bosc pear to orange oil and tangelo, with scents of lemongrass and lime leaf that give it lift. Pour it with something rich, like pork chops baked with peaches. 90 points
Stéphanie Berecz packs her estate cuvée with extract, giving the wine a broad frame and an almost meaty feel. It’s ripe but not pushed, the juicy peach notes held in balance by a firm minerality. It feels supple despite its size, a generous partner for a thick fish steak doused in brown butter. 90 points
Working with 30 producers, Terra Hungarica runs campaigns, organize tastings and – most importantly – the Mitiszol Festival, a wine event in Hungary that attracts hundreds of wine lovers year after year.
All producers under the Terra Hungarica flag adhere to sustainable farming without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and harvesting machinery, as well as natural winemaking, avoiding chaptalisation, the use of added yeasts, additives and manipulation techniques.
Here is a video of Serbian winemaker Oszkár Maurer made by Terra Hungarica, explaining his philosophy:
“Furmint, one of the primary varieties used in sweet Tokaji Aszú wine is also being used by young winemakers in Hungary to make dry, crisp white wines that are attracting global notice,” writes Jeff Jenssen, spirits, wine, food and travel writer at Wine Enthusiast Magazine in his latest article:
Furmint’s origin is firmly planted in Hungary’s Tokaj region. There are about 10,000 acres devoted to Furmint there, and until recently, all of it was used to make sweet botrytized wines similar to Sauternes from France. That, however, is changing.
The Great Tokaj Wine Auction, sponsored by the Confrérie de Tokaj, featured a number of dry wines last year. Although winemakers continue to produce the sweet wines of their forebears, much of the Furmint grown is made into fragrant and refreshing dry wines, ideal as an apéritif or paired with salty and spicy foods.
The 2015 Kikelet Furmint, produced by French eonologist Stéphanie Berecz in Tarcal, is one of the wines he recommends:
This wine is made from 100% Furmint and has an intriguing bouquet of jasmine and lemon blossom. It is crisp and acidic on the palate with pleasant flavors of lemon zest and lime juice.
József Borbély purchased his first vineyards in 1990 in Nyéklákháza, in the Bükk appellation, a wine district located in North-Eastern Hungary, right between Eger and Tokaj. The region has been making wines since the 14th century and today, it is awakening thanks to a handful of quality producers like József Borbély, who are working hard on reviving the region.
The winery is named after József’s mother-in-law Isabella Gallay. The Gallay family owned a winery and vineyards before World War I but they lost everything after the war. Now the Borbély family is working on rebuilding the family heritage. While József cultivates grapes, his younger son Roland, who has a degree in viticulture and oenology and professional experiences in Napa, Tokaj and Eger, is the family winemaker.
Near the village of Nyékládháza, they grow Pinot Blanc and Zenit, a unique Hungarian white grape variety created in 1951. The two are blended together to create a fresh and fruity wine called Bistronauta and a creamy white sur lees called Gallay Blanc. They also produce a bright and spicy red from the Zweigelt grape.
In 1945, Endre Tornai, the only survivor of his family, walked home to Hungary from the Russian front. Linka, a girl he fancied from before the war waited for him and they got married at Christmas of the same year. They bought a one acre vineyard on the Somló hill, and in 1946 they had both their first child and their first harvest.
Anna, one of his grandchildren says “my grandfather was in love with the Somló, and so is my father”. This love made the Tornai family endure, and led them to dedicate their life to the Somló.
After communism ended in ’89, they could buy back their old lands and now are farming 70 acres. They are open to innovation while working with the traditional grapes of the Somló: Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű.
The Somló is the smallest appellation of Hungary – basically one basalt hill popping up from a flat landscape. It’s one of the most expressive terroirs in the world, a truly magical place. We are excited to have another producer from this tiny yet powerful region. The Tornai Juhfark and Furmint will be available later this month!
After meeting Oszkár Maurer for the first time, my hands were sore from taking so many notes and my head was spinning. Serbia? Tokaj connections? Oldest pre phylloxera Kadarka vines in the world? Origin of Furmint? Far too much to cover in this newsletter, but here’s the pitch along with my hopes that as many people as possible try this limited wine.
Oszkár’s Kadarka, planted in 1880 in sand, is from the Sremska region in Northern Serbia, but was historically the Hungarian appellation of Szerém. Before the Ottoman Occupation in the early 16th Century, this was one of the most famous appellations in Hungary. In the mid 1400s, it’s thought that settlers from here brought grapes like Furmint and Sárga Muskotály to Tokaj and knowledge for using Aszú (dried berries) for sweetening wines. Oszkár believes that the Szerém appellation was established as early as 1452. He’s a fervent student of wine history and lectures at home and abroad.
Back in Serbia, he organically farms a number of grapes ranging from Bakator, Szerémi Zöld, Kadarka, and Mézes Fehér. Everything is done by hand or horse. Fruit trees grow amongst the vines and fallen peaches litter the ground. Bugs, rabbits, and life are everywhere. Incredible biodiversity.
In the cellar, the 2015 Kadarka was fermented in open vats with native yeasts. It was then racked into older Hungarian oak for 12 months of aging. No additions including any SO2 were made. Best when decanted, this is elegant and raw red wine from the oldest known Kadarka vineyard in the world.
As co-founder and owner of Taste Georgia, Sarah May Grunwald provides culinary and wine tours to Georgia as well as wine education services to educate the public and trade about Georgia’s ancient qvevri wine making traditions.
Of all the wine producers that we met during her numerous trips to Georgia, she considers Beka Gotsadze of Gotsa Family Wines to represent the future of Georgian natural wine:
He makes multiple wines from different varieties, has low yielding vineyards at higher than average elevation, has Biodynamic certification, makes an ancestral sparkling wine AND is not afraid of a little Flor happily growing on his wine.
His 2015 Chinuri is a marvel. Indeed, it is the best qvevri wine I tasted from the 2015 vintage. Now, while I am a huge fan of the funky, heavy skin contact wines from Kakheti, the Chinuri, still amber and made “natural” in qvevri is by far one of the purest expressions of Chinuri I have had. It is full of complexity on the nose and in the palate and it is fun. Full of citrus peel, sage, hints of nutty aromas, wet alpine stones, green plums. With each swirl it becomes so much more lively. The taste is magic.