A record number of lots for the 6th Great Tokaj Wine Auction

It’s hard to believe that it was three years ago this month that Blue Danubians Eric and Frank were inducted to the illustrious Confrérie de Tokaj at a ceremony during the Great Tokaj Wine Auction. This year, the 2018 Great Tokaj Wine Auction is on Saturday April 21th at the Great Synagogue in Tokaj. It will feature more than 30 wines including dry Furmint, sweet and dry Szamorodni, and Aszú from Barta, Bodrog Borműhely, Füleky, Kikelet, Patricius, and Samuel Tinon. A percentage of the proceeds will be used to invest in the next auction and for the benefit of the Tokaj wine region. The Confrérie de Tokaj was formed in 2012 by 100 founding members —many of whom are winemakers — to promote the wines and gastronomy of the Tokaj wine region. The Confrérie organized the first Great Tokaj Wine Auction in 2013 featuring exclusive lots of high quality wine for sale at the auction. If you’d like to participate to this extraordinary event and taste some rare and unique wines, you can check the program and register here.

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

Harvest report in Tokaj, Hungary: Interview with Samuel Tinon

This year, we decided to interview a few of our winemakers to get their impressions of the 2017 harvest and the overall 2017 vintage. We first reached out to Samuel Tinon on September 17th, just as some rain began to fall. Fortunately, the sparkling base wines and Sárgamuskotály (Yellow Muscat) had already been picked and most of his Furmint was still in early ripening. According to Samuel, “In Tokaj we can have up to 10 book chapters in a 2-month period. In these conditions, it is far too early to talk about vintage. Anything can happen. In a written book, from the first chapter you can get a idea of the book, with Nature not.” By September 21st, the weather had changed. Completely botrytis-free harvest had moved into botytris, or what Samuel would call “Tokaj premier grand cru only.” Sugar levels still good, acid starting to drop, but Aszú berries beginning to take shape. By September 25th, roughly 40 L/m2 of rain had fallen so it was time to harvest all the remaining botrytis-free grapes. All in all, and like all quality wine regions the world over, it’s impossible to have a recipe or a crystal ball. Best to end … Continue reading Harvest report in Tokaj, Hungary: Interview with Samuel Tinon

#WineWednesday Spotlight #79: Tinon Olaszliszka Hárslevelű

Olaszliszka is an important village along the Bodrog River in Tokaj that dates to at least the 12th century when it was simply named Liszka. It was renamed Olaszliszka after a group of Italians settled in the village —’olasz’ means Italian in Hungarian — in the mid-13th century. The village has been renowned for its top crus for hundreds of years. The terroir is rich with volcanic rocks mixed with clay soils and planted mostly to the Hárslevelű grape. The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Latin for Olaszliszka Friends of Wine) is the combined efforts of 10 local winemakers to reaffirm the village’s historical identity. Members of the association are combining their fruit sourced from vineyards like Csontos, Határi, Meszes, and Palandor that date as far back as 1641, to produce one single “village” wine. As just a village wine, should we dismiss it? Better not says Hungarian wine lover Peter Klingler, over at Borwerk: half-dried lime peel, flower meadow, peaches in summer sun, marzipan. The peaches gain the upper hand with time. A wine of depth and respect…Honey comes up, sulphured apricots, yellow-orange dried fruit, pineapple, banana. The sweetness persists in an easy existence, gently floating, pleasantly unobtrusive. And then there’s … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #79: Tinon Olaszliszka Hárslevelű

#WineWednesday Spotlight #61: Tinon Birtok Furmint

Yesterday was Wednesday November 9th and I needed something comforting. The armchair on the label of Samuel Tinon’s Birtok Furmint was inviting. According to Samuel, “It’s a wine to be drunk comfortably seated in an armchair with your feet up, in the middle of the vineyard overlooking the plain.” Perfect. Birtok means Estate in Hungarian. 2014 was a tropical year in Tokaj, hot, wet and no single vineyard wines were made. Instead, the bothrytis free Furmints were blended together to make the Birtok. Light golden, there is a nice smooth sweetness to it, balanced with acidity, minerality and stone fruit aromas. Lovely and soothing. We have just received more wines from Samuel Tinon, sweet and dry. Check them out.

Bringing Tokaj to the US – Samuel Tinon

I just happened to be listening to an interview with British wine writer Hugh Johnson last week (a major investor in Tokaj in his own right) speaking about getting the Royal Tokaji Company off the ground in the early 1990s. One of the names he mentions as ‘saving the day’ concerning the inaugural vintage was Samuel Tinon. Samuel has been going nonstop in Tokaj ever since and was even the first Frenchman to permanently settle in the appellation post Communism. Although born in the sweet wine appellation of Sainte Croix du Mont in France, he and his wife Mathilde have chosen Tokaj for wine and for raising their three children. As patient zero for botrytized winemaking, Tokaj’s sweet wines were the favored drink and muse for Leo Tolstoy, Pablo Neruda, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Diderot, and Voltaire among many others. Samuel is equally convinced of the unique quality of the place, people and wines living there today. It’s also been nearly 20 years since he’s been to California. I’ll be dragging him around the Bay November 14th-15th and presenting seven new wines plus perhaps a few special extras. Ranging from dry/off dry Furmint and Hárslevelű to Dry Szamorodni and … Continue reading Bringing Tokaj to the US – Samuel Tinon

#WineWednesday #52: Spotlight on Samuel Tinon

It is Wine Wednesday and my family and I are in Tokaj, visiting Samuel and Mathilde Tinon. The day is sunny and warm, which is excellent news for the ripening of the grapes. Thanks to the rainfall we had two days ago, the soil has now the right moisture, which will allow the botrytis to develop on the berries: 2016 is going to be a good year! Samuel takes us to the famed Hatari vineyard up the hill with glasses and a bottle of dry Hatari Furmint 2015. The wine is rich and concentrated like the berries that we taste from the vines that has not been harvested yet, as they will be saved for the Aszú production. Back to the Tinons’ house, we’re greeted by Mathilde with 2 pitchers of fresh water and 2 bottles of dry and sweet Szamorodni. Both are exquisite wines with a unctuous texture and great complexity. The dry version leaves a taste of walnut and curry spices and is delicious with the pieces of Comté cheese that Mathilde has prepared. The sweet version is rich in sugar but perfectly balanced thanks to its acidity. Mathilde explains to us that sweet Tokaji shouldn’t be restricted … Continue reading #WineWednesday #52: Spotlight on Samuel Tinon

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

3 Wines from Central Europe You Need To Know Now

Bottlenotes recommends adding these three Central European wines to your repertoire. For the past decade, wines from Central and Eastern Europe have been something of a sommelier secret stateside. The names can be hard to pronounce (hárslevelű, anyone?), but the best bottles offer exceptional value and tend to work extremely well with food. Here are the three recommended wines: Samuel Tinon Furmint Birtok (Tokaj, Hungary) Sommeliers and wine insiders have been raving about furmint for years. The grape, which is commonly used to make Hungary’s famous sweet wines, also makes an intriguing dry wine with medium- to full-body and high acidity (read: an ideal wine to pair with food). Piquentum Blanc (Istria, Croatia) Croatia may have initially gained some international fame for its red wines, but many sommeliers now feel that the white Malvasia coming out of the country is some of the best representations of the grape in Europe. When made in a dry style, it makes a crisp wine with some weight in the body, similar to dry Chenin Blanc. Orgo Rkatsiteli (Kakheti, Georgia) Georgian wines can be tricky to pin down from producer to producer. Some are quite rustic and oxidative, while a growing number offer more … Continue reading 3 Wines from Central Europe You Need To Know Now