#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Hungary’s smallest wine region, which lies on the slopes of an extinct volcano: Though the country’s volcanoes are no longer active, violent eruptions millennia ago … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #135: Apátsági Juhfark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

#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

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

#WineWednesday Spotlight #18: Fekete Juhfark

Somló is Hungary’s smallest appellation and once an underwater volcano. Now dormant, its slopes of ancient sea sediment, hardened lava, and basalt are home to some of Hungary’s steepest, most densely planted vineyards. Somló is also home to winemaker Fekete Béla, who only recently retired after 30 + years tending the same vineyard. Our spotlight this week is his Juhfark as reviewed by Portland-based wine writer, Christine Havens: From an obscure, nearly extinct grape variety, Juhfark translated literally means “sheep’s tail” so named because tightly clustered bunches have a distinctive curve at the tip. Found only in the Somló region of Hungary, this non-aromatic variety is typically aged in large oak barriques. Meyer lemon zest, cling peaches, chamomile, and white flowers round out the nose. It’s a broad-shouldered white with a coursing vein of acidity, along with a mineral upwelling that showcases an ashy, volcanic soil type. Although Béla recommends drinking it with roasted wild fowl, rich cheeses, smoked fish, and subtly spicy dishes are all welcome pairings. Happy Hungarian #WineWednesday!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #3: 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling

I don’t pride myself on wine parlor tricks like blind tasting, but I’d bet my first or second born on picking out a glass of just about anything from Hungary’s Somló appellation. There is such a visceral reaction to the salt, botrytis and weight in these wines. My olfactory memory is rarely this loud and clear. This is particularly the case with the 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling. It’s also strange that this grape is perhaps one of the most widely planted in Central Europe. In Croatia it’s called Graševina, Welchsriesling in Austria, Riesling Italico in Italy, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia. Why so unique in Somló? Maybe it’s because in 1752, local laws stated that if you were found adding water to wine, expect 25 lashings as the minimum punishment. If you were found to be labeling wine as Somló but using other fruit sources, you would be banned from making wine permanently and might even have your property confiscated. Perhaps this historical legacy, or that Hungarian Kings bought vineyards here, or that insurgent Hungarian troops fighting against the Habsburgs would solute the vineyards as they marched past, but what is certain is the unique community of growers here. Perhaps … Continue reading #WineWednesday Spotlight #3: 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling

Dynamic Duo Of Somló

Sometime ago, we drew your attention to this region of Volcano Gods and now we return to delve deeper and celebrate success. We are pleased to report that Istvan Spiegelberg has won the prestigious Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2014 award. “His latest releases, particularly this late-harvest juhfark, are catapulting him into the realm of Hungary’s greatest vintners.” noted Wine & Spirits Magazine referring to the 95-point rated 2010 Juhfark Szent Ilona. Somló is celebrated for its volcanic past and distinctive mineral-laced wines. The region is almost exclusively white wine territory with a long tradition of extended barrel aging. This lends an oxidative quality to the wines which aids in their ability to improve with bottle aging and stay fresh longer than the average white wine once opened. These are voluptuous, full-bodied whites enjoyed with dishes we may normally reserve for red wine, like red meats. Another tell-tell sign of wines from this region is riper fruits coupled with high acidity and smoky minerality. The five authorized grapes of Somló are Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, and Tramini. Istvan Spiegelberg and Fekete Bela are our “dynamic duo” of producers in Somló, keeping traditions alive and garnering attention outside of … Continue reading Dynamic Duo Of Somló

Juhfark-ing Around

All jokes aside, Juhfark is a grape name that is not heard too often. Meaning “sheep’s tail”, the grape is pretty much only grown in the tiny Hungarian appellation of Somló. Juhfark grape bunches grow in a distinctive cylindrical shape which recalls to mind a sheep’s tail, hence the name. The grape is early to break bud and tends to be quite high yielding. Juhfark used to be extensively grown throughout northern Hungary for this reason but soon fell out of fashion. When allowed to produce such high yields, the berries produce a neutral, high acid, uninteresting wine. However, the volcanic soils of Somló have proven to be Juhfark’s best terroir, allowing the grape to express a sense of place and varietal. As of 2008, only 358 acres of Juhfark were planted in all of Hungary, primarily in Somló, but the small amount of wine that is produced today from this grape is truly something to experience. Juhfark acts as a direct link to experience the terroir of Somló. The nose hints at green apple/pear with a floral yet herbal character. But on the palate, the fruit disappears and the star of the show becomes the unique smokey, ash, and … Continue reading Juhfark-ing Around

Countdown to MARKET TASTING NYC I

In honor of Blue Danube Wine Co.’s break-out NY Trade debut at Terroir Tribeca this coming Thursday, we plan to introduce a bunch of ultra special Hungarian wines that are being air freighted to NY as we speak. Days away, we are all wondering: will they make it in time??! The Jury is out, but the good news is that the 1st of 4 deliveries has just arrived! Will the others make it? Hard to say! Let the count down begin, 3!! Here is a sneak peak: Little appellation, big WINES Millions of years ago, Somló, Hungary’s smallest appellation, was an underwater volcano. Now dormant, its southerly slopes of ancient sea sediment and basalt are home to some of Hungary’s steepest, most densely planted vineyards. Minutely divided, these rarely trellised parcels of vines are workable only by hand. The cellars and size of the production are also the smallest in Hungary, and again worked by hand. Somló’s exclusively white wines are typically made from Hárslevelű, Furmint, Olaszrizling, or the local rarity Jufark. The soil really “gets into the wines” and they are among the most distinctive wines we have ever encountered; aromas lean towards dried fruits, dried herbs and rare … Continue reading Countdown to MARKET TASTING NYC I