#WineWednesday Spotlight #135: Apátsági Juhfark

Boom: Volcanic Wines Are Heating Up Around the Globe writes Wine and Spirits columnist for Bloomberg News Elin McCoy. As she was attending the International Volcanic Wine Conference in New York last month, she was wondering why volcanic wines were getting such a buzz recently. She asked master sommelier John Szabo, the author of Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power and organizer of the conference: Wines from the several types of volcanic soils—lava, pumice, ash, basalt, and more—can vary widely, but most share complex aromas, mouthwatering high acidity, and salty, savory, earthy flavors. The porosity of these soils stores more water, which contributes to the wines’ characteristic freshness and exuberance. But we shouldn’t underestimate the power of romance: But the image of volcanoes may be the secret reason these wines are getting buzz. As Eric Guido, director of wine and marketing at Morrell and Co., emailed me: “Just think of the romance that surrounds wines grown in soils born of molten earth and ash!” She highlights eight volcanic wine regions around the world including Somló, Hungary’s smallest wine region, which lies on the slopes of an extinct volcano: Though the country’s volcanoes are no longer active, violent eruptions millennia ago … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #135: Apátsági Juhfark

#WineWednesday Spotlight #129: Apátsági Furmint

“A lot of dry Furmint is tart, lemony, and not that interesting, but this one is a revelation: it is dense and soil-expressive without sacrificing the variety’s trademark freshness,” writes the SommSelect Wine Team. Sourced from dry farmed vines growing on basalt-rich volcanic soils, the Apátsági Furmint 2015 is their Sommelier Selected Wine of the day: Today’s dry and delicious Furmint, from the tiny region of Somló in western Hungary, is the first dry Furmint we’ve offered but hardly the first one I’ve tasted—just one of the very best. It is a game changer: Lots of dry Furmint is dominated by high acidity—acidity which makes the variety so successful and ageworthy as a late-harvest sweet wine—but this one has serious depth, rich texture, and soil character reminiscent of top Alsatian whites. There’s profound minerality from Somló’s basalt-rich volcanic soils and lots of aromatic complexity. It grabbed our attention, and it deserves yours; Somló and Apátsági may be unfamiliar names now, but wines like this are going to change that. To accompany the wine, they recommend a chicken paprikash, a comforting dish with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and fragrant with sweet or hot Hungarian paprika and sour cream. It’s a great … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #129: Apátsági Furmint

Furmint February!

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, … Continue reading Furmint February!

The Red, White, and Botrytized from Hungary, Austria and Romania

Hurricane delays and late container planning be damned, new arrivals from Hungary, Austria and Romania have finally landed in California. From out west in Sopron and Carnuntum, down in Somló and Lake Balaton, further still to Szekszárd, heading back northeast to Tokaj, and finally all the way over to Romania’s Minis region, these wines are a validation that the farming, winemaking and understanding of terroir are getting better and better year after year. The Reds: Wetzer, Muhr-van der Niepoort, Heimann, Eszterbauer and Balla Géza Only 10 years in, but using maps from the 1840s to find the best vineyards, Peter Wetzer’s 2016 vintage is our Hungarian foil for Cru Beaujolais. It doesn’t taste like Beaujolais, but the balance of spice, earth and structure makes the same person happy. Just about an hour north in Austria’s Carnuntum, the 2015 Samt und Seide from Muhr-van Der Niepoort has more limestone than Sopron’s slate, and is proof of how reflective of terroir Blaufränkisch can be. Further south in Szeskszárd near the Croatian border, we finally have some Kadarka back in stock. Once the most planted red in Hungary and a muse to composers like Franz Liszt (Hungarian Rhapsodies…), it nearly disappeared during Communism. … Continue reading The Red, White, and Botrytized from Hungary, Austria and Romania

#WineWednesday Spotlight #112: Apátsági Juhfark

“I was intrigued to see Matt Kramer’s article this summer highlighting four wonderful wine regions to visit: Santa Barbara, the Douro Valley, Ribeira Sacra and Tokaj,” explains wine lover and blogger John Brooks in his recent blog post The Charm of Somlo. But on one of these trips, he found the lesser-known and tiny Somló appellation and the vineyards growing on this cone-shaped volcanic mountain: The grapes in the vineyards on the hill at Somló include furmint and harslevelu–as do the vineyards in Tokaj–and olaszrizling, a soft and fruity grape known as welschriesling in Austria (unrelated to the better known riesling). But the signature grape of Somló is juhfark–Hungarian for “sheep’s tail” because the long and tightly clustered bunches which curve at the end bear resemblance to a sheep’s tail. Juhfark, which is only grown in any significant quantity in Somló, is considered something of a transparent grape–it takes on the characteristics of the place it is grown. In Somló, the juhfark grapes get good sun, producing a wine of richness–on a frame of strong minerality with the hints of saltiness that can be found in some volcanic soils. Accompanied by Eva Cartwright, owner of the Somló Wine Shop, he … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #112: Apátsági Juhfark

#WineWednesday Spotlight #88: Apátsági Hárslevelű

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. His Hárslevelű just received a great review in Wine & Spirits Magazine: 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 … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #88: Apátsági Hárslevelű

Meet Zoltán Balogh of Apátsági in this video from Terra Hungarica

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:

Reflections from a Final Meal in Budapest

“Munchausen, I know you Christians are judges of good wine. Here is a bottle of Tokay, the only one I possess, and I am sure that never in your life can you have tasted better.” – The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1785 I was recently reflecting upon my last meal in Budapest that I happily consumed just over a week ago. Despite being fed whipped pig fat, goose cracklings, paprika laden stews, kolbász, pickled everything and so on 3-4 times a day for 11 days, I still felt compelled to order basically the same thing when finally given the chance to order for myself. I even upped the ante a bit and went right for rooster testicles and cocks comb stew with an Irsai Olivér Fröcs (aka Spritz). There was so much delicious fat, bright raw onions, smoke, garlic, paprika, and fermented flavors over the course of the dinner that it was difficult to think about drinking anything other than Hungarian wines. Maybe a volcanic Canary or Etna here or there or perhaps some Chenin or Riesling, but after you had a Tokaj Aszú with over 300 grams of residual sugar, 12 g/l total acidity and 7% alcohol that … Continue reading Reflections from a Final Meal in Budapest

Basalt buttes, a massive lake, and volcanic traditional method. 3 New arrivals from Hungary

There are a slew of brand new producers from Hungary landing in the coming months. For many, this will be their very first time in the United States. This is of course an exciting and somewhat terrifying proposition. How will a Kéknyelű from Badacsony be received? Traditional Method sparkling Furmint from outside of Tokaj? Hárslevelű with Benedictine roots planted on a Basalt volcano? I have no idea and I can’t wait to get started. Upon our last visit to the Hungarian appellation of Somló we were fortunate enough to run into Zoltán Balogh from Apátsági Winery. Their estate and cellar were originally owned by the Benedictine Pannonhalma Archabbey. After WWII, the land was expropriated and redistributed during Communism. It was brought back to life in 2001 with 5 people (including the grandson of the last winemaker before the war), 3 hectares, no herbicides, no pesticides, and using large oak fermenters. Their 2013 Hárslevelű exemplifies what Zoltán admires about the appellation as a whole, “When you have Somló acid, why not find balance with sugar.” A concentrated and alive wine. Speaking of acid, but without skin contact and botrytis, Somló is also home to Kreinbacher. While they do make some still … Continue reading Basalt buttes, a massive lake, and volcanic traditional method. 3 New arrivals from Hungary