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

#WineWednesday Spotlight #12: Tinon Dry Szamorodni

Bordeaux vigneron Samuel Tinon, settled in Tokaj with his family after making wine all over the world. His wife, Mathilde, a wine journalist, tells their extraordinary story in a matter-of-fact way, but even her words are soaked with the beauty of Tokaj. “Wherever we were in the world, we always just thought about Tokaj, coming back here. The botrytis is perfect here, and we were fascinated by the aszú. We were on a quest, to discover the aszú berry”. In fact, “aszú”, the Hungarian word for the noble rot, botrytis, does enjoy the climate of Tokaj. Nights of thick fog are followed by warm sunshine in the fall, allowing the healthy development of botrytis. Today’s wine is dry Szamorodni. Partially botrytized bunches are picked as a whole (versus berry-selecting for an aszú wine) and fermented, resulting in Tokaji Szamorodni. Being really popular in Poland, the name “szamorodni” comes from the Polish word “as it is”, or “as it grows”. What makes this particular Szamorodni so unique and wonderful, is that Tinon went back to the original, traditional way of making this wine: aging it in partial barrels and allowing flor, the surface yeast to develop. The result is extreme complexity: … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #12: Tinon Dry Szamorodni

The Growing Importance of Eastern and Central European Wine Regions

When each month feels like uncharted and often terrifying water selling wines from the Balkans, Central Europe, and now as far as the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, it’s refreshing to look back at the progress made. Having just done so, it turns out things suddenly looks slightly less terrifying. We’ve continued to grow as a company, as a portfolio, and continued our proud tradition of steep learning curves. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve seen the market for these wines grow. We owe this growth to your support. As one form of proof, our slice of the wine world has garnered some promising press we’d like to share. All of that hand selling hasn’t gone to waste… The New York Times (Tokaji Aszu Wines Are a Taste of Hungarian Sweetness) and PUNCH (An Uncertain Future for the World’s Most Iconic Sweet Wines) recently covered Tokaj and Samuel Tinon in particular. Imbibe Magazine (East Goes West: Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads) (PDF) did a wonderful focus on Central Eastern European wine featuring Fekete Béla, Kabaj, Vylyan, Piquentum, Štoka and Orgo. Vogue even singled out both Štoka (Champagne’s Cooler Cousin: 5 Pét-Nat Sparkling Wines to Try Now) … Continue reading The Growing Importance of Eastern and Central European Wine Regions

#WineWednesday Spotlight #2: Samuel Tinon Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Our featured wine this week just appeared in an article written by acclaimed New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov. Samuel Tinon produces his wine in Hungary’s oldest and most celebrated wine region: Tokaj. The word “Aszú” refers to the dried hand picked botrytis infected grapes. Puttonyos (literally baskets) refers to the ratio of Aszú berries to base wine. For a 5 Puttonyos, the residual sugar must have a minimum of 120 g/l. These Aszú berries are then mashed into a super sweet thick black paste and macerated in a finished dry wine for a month. Finally the wine spends two long years fermenting in barrel, constantly in contact with oxygen. This balance between building good oxidation into the wine brings out an incredible aromatic profile. Here is what Eric Asimov had to say about the 2005 Tinon Aszú 5 Puttonyos: While similar, a 2005 5 puttonyos aszú from Samuel Tinon is also entirely different, as if the botrytis had taken the wine in unexpected directions that year. The peach and apple flavors beckon, as does the great acidity and balance, but the flavors seem wrapped in hazelnut and caramel, beautifully fresh and complex. Read the entire article from the … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #2: Samuel Tinon Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads

Check the story called “East goes West — Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads” in the latest issue of Imbibe Magazine. With interviews of Jeff Berlin, sommelier at À Côté, Michelle Polzine, owner of 20th Century Cafe, Paul Einbund, wine director for Frances and Octavia in San Francisco, Henry Beylin, sommelier of Los Angeles’ Gjelina, and our own Frank Dietrich, wine writer Jennifer Fiedler explores how wines from Central and Eastern Europe—what she calls the older Old World—are steadily making their way westward to some of the best restaurants’ wine lists. Twenty years ago, a Plavac Mali or Rebula would have been a rare find on an American wine list of any stature, much less at a tiny local bistro or neighborhood wine shop. But what began as a small trickle of quality Central and Eastern European wine into U.S. markets—a Hungarian dry Furmint here, a Georgian Saperavi there—has gradually grown to a steady stream, buoyed by support from dedicated importers, enthusiastic sommeliers, and a public eager to explore wines outside of the traditional canon. “[These wines] are very unique, and very expressive of where they come from,” says Jeff Berlin, sommelier at À Côté in … Continue reading Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads

The Life and Wines of Samuel Tinon

Enjoy a day tasting with Samuel Tinon in Tokaj! Writing and all photos by Colm FitzGerald of The Paprika Project. I’m sitting across the table from Samuel Tinon at his home in Olaszliszka, a tiny village in Hungary’s mystical Tokaj Wine Region. He is of medium height and build. His hair is graying and he wears rectangular glasses. Behind him, his Vizsla is curled up on a velvet armchair. To my left, a white rabbit sits on another, matching chair. Rain is coming down in waves of heavy showers and Samuel is very pleased; rain in Tokaj has been scant this summer. Together with my wife Anita, we’re sampling his wine at a long wooden dining table. Samuel is spontaneous, animated, talkative and passionate; the things I love most about the French. He speaks in concepts and rarely has simple answers to my questions. While he talks about Tokaj’s fascinating history I swirl his dry Szamorodni around in my glass and take in the dream-like scene around me: the dog and the rabbit, the sound of rain, Samuel’s French accented English and his cozy home. I then take a sip of the golden wine. It is amazingly complex and unlike … Continue reading The Life and Wines of Samuel Tinon

A Brief Introduction to the Confrérie de Tokaj

The French word “confrérie” means brotherhood and is used extensively for cultural or religious partnerships between groups of people. The Confrérie has a long history in Tokaj. It was originally set up in 1987 by the state winery, Tokaj Kereskedőház, as La Confrérie “Vinum Regnum, Rex Vinorum”(King of Wines, Wine of Kings) de Tokaj. The members goal was to promote the wines and gastronomy of the Tokaj wine region. Starting in 1999 La Confrérie “Vinum Regnum, Rex Vinorum” de Tokaj was managed by Tokaj Renaissance, a producers’ association, and the twenty Tokaj Renaissance members became members of the Board. Tamás Dusóczky, who has worked internationally to rebuild the image of the Tokaji wine since the fall of Communism, received the majority of votes and thus became Grand Maître. After 15 years of service, Tamás recently stepped down but remains an honorary board member. The most recent reincarnation of this group is the Confrérie de Tokaj (Tokaji Borlovagrend) which was formed in 2012 by 100 founding members, many of whom are winemakers. In addition to reforming the Confrérie and initiation ceremony, members travelled to Burgundy to learn more about famous auction Hospices de Beaune, and organize their own annual wine auction. … Continue reading A Brief Introduction to the Confrérie de Tokaj

Hungary: The New France

Hungary is neither new, nor French, but both countries are lands of developed terroir. In fact, the concept may even be older in Hungary. The vineyards around the city of Tokaj were recognized as special early on and ranked through a formal classification in 1770, a century before Bordeaux received similar treatment. Tokaj is as faceted and hypnotic as Burgundy, Somló an enigma like Hermitage and Eger something of a mini Loire, but Hungarian wines are not French facsimiles, they are utterly different. What underlies the wines of both is the slow understanding of relationships between land, vine and wine that farmers have formed over centuries into the distinct archetypes they are today. The French models are better recognized, marketed and never suffered 50 years of collectivized production, but these things have little to do with the Hungarian wine Renaissance happening right now. Let’s taste it! It is not by accident that Samuel Tinon, French vigneron by birth makes strongly Hungarian Tokaji. He grew up on the estate of his family in St. Croix-du-Monts where his sister makes botrytis wines today. His restless curiosity took him around the world, studying, tasting and making wine. Samuel was drawn to Tokaj by … Continue reading Hungary: The New France

Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka and their 2013 Hárslevelű

The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Friends of Wine of Olaszliszka) “Olaszliszka is an important village, it is our village. We feel like guest, we try to do something for the village. There a group of motivated people who all want to build and give value to this village. This is the start: Let’s do it.” — Samuel Tinon Olaszlizska is the largest village along the Bodrog River between Tokaj and Sárospatak and dates back to the 12th Century. It has formally been attached to the Tokaj appellation since 1560. Despite suffering through Ottoman times and a plague in the 1730’s, this village has been noted for top crus and famous wines for hundreds of years. Olaszliszka along the Bodrog river The soil is riddled with volcanic stones and Nyirok (red clay) 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 historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka. Much like Burgundy, although many of the same grapes and styles are produced throughout the appellation, each village has a distinct identity. Tour of the vineyards in Olaszliszka Sourcing from vineyards like Csontos, … Continue reading Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka and their 2013 Hárslevelű