Takler is Right Up There

October 31, 2007

One of my favorite winemakers in the world is Ferenc Takler from the Szekszard region of Hungary. Winemaking runs in the family back a few hundred years, but as with many things during the communist years of a few decades after WWII things got a bit rusty. They were forced to join a coop and their tradition, know-how and the precious land was all meshed up with hundreds of other landowners and nationalized (read: confiscated by the state in the name of public ownership). In spite of these unfortunate decades, the Takler family started to revive their name back in the early 1980s first slowly reacquiring land and building out modern infrastructure.

What is amazing about the Taklers is that they perfectly balance tradition with modern technique and take into consideration how their customers’ taste has changed over the years both in Hungary, across Europe and now in the United States. Their wines are sort of a blend of new world and old world. You basically get the elegance of the old world with the power of new world wines. It sounds a bit commonplace, but what is unique is that these guys can really pull this off better than any winemaker I know.

I got to know the Taklers via Select Wines, a reputable mail order store in New York. They carry the widest selection of Hungarian wines in the States because of their affiliation with Monarchia, one of the largest negociants and retailers in Hungary. Today’s wine, Takler’s Regnum Cuvee, is the family’s #2 wine. Regnum is a typical Hungarian Bordeaux style wine. No, I will not leave you out there hanging not knowing what this means. In Hungary most winemakers who produce Bordeaux style blends use the typical varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but they also add a Central European varietal called Kekfrankos (Blaufrankisch in Austria). Kekfrankos is slightly higher in acidity than the Bordeaux varietals and gives the blend a very nice backbone, structure. Regnum blends 15% Kekfrankos with 37.5% Cabernet Franc, 37.5% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and is aged in new oak for 21 months.

This being a Takler wine, exhibits extreme elegance that you would expect from top Bordeauxs, yet you also get the velvety texture you find in Napa Valley Cabarnets. It really is a unique combination, which to me is the best of both worlds. The wine is full of black fruit, berries and is sprinkled with a hint of chocolate and vanilla. Beautiful. If you live in the States, I highly recommend picking up a bottle from Select Wines. You do not need to be adventurous to try this one, and I promise it will be one of the best wines you have had. The Regnum does not come cheap, it retails for about $50.

If you want to go all the way out, try Takler’s #1, the Cabernet Franc Reserve, 2003, which is definitely among the top 3 wines I have tasted. Takler only made 119 cases of this 100% Cabernet Franc and most of it is already sold out. If you are lucky to be able to get your hands on it do so.

Name: Takler Regnum Cuvee, 2002

Rating: 9 out of 10

Body: Full

Price: 35 euros

Got it at: Interspar, Budapest, Hungary

Takler Regnum Cuvee, 2002

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What the hell?!

October 31, 2007

That is exactly what I said when I saw this bottle at the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece a couple of months ago. First of all the bottle stuck out like a sore thumb from about 50 other wines. I never buy wines at airports because I simply do not trust the taste of the wine buyer and the deals are just not there. Eying the bottle I was going back and forth but at the end I gave in. I hate marketers, how can they convert a poor victim like me who knows well enough that the product sucks into a buyer? And the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc. A SavBlanc from Greece? Give me a break.

So I opened the wine a few days ago as we did not have more whites at home and we needed a white to go with dinner. To be reasonably nice, the wine was drinkable. If you had whites from Greece, imagine a light Santorini crossed with a fruity California Chardonnay. I know, I know, nothing could be further from each other in taste, but still, bear with me. The wine was fruity with definite SavBlanc characteristic, but it was really empty in the acidity department. Something did not hold it together. Drinkable, but not exciting. Tastes exactly what you would expect a Greek Sauvignon Blanc to taste.

As you would expect from looking at the bottle, the glass is worth more than the juice inside. Also, as you would expect from the bottle, it is way overpriced. The bottle is cool and I will keep it around as a souvenir.

Name: Esthitos Sauvignon Blanc, 2006

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: approx. 16 euros

Got it at: Thessaloniki Airport, Greece

Esthitos Sauvignon Blanc, 2006

The Netherlands???

October 30, 2007

OK, so I have been around the world and tasted some weird stuff. Let’s just say I have had both red and white wines produced in French Polynesia to be going out on a limb about weird wine. But I figured that makes some sense. FP is a French territory, lots of French people move there and while it is tropical, there may be a patch of land where grapes would make it. So you can imagine my utter shock when we hang out in a wine bar in Amsterdam and are confronted with a Dutch Riesling. Dutch wine? This is impossible.

Just to put it in perspective for North Americans (if any of you read this garbage) , this place is at a similar latitude as Calgary, Alberta in Canada. That is not to say Canada does not make some amazing ice wines and British Columbia some decent riesling, but I was still shocked that wine is made in The Netherlands. Our bartender informed us that in the south part of the country there are some microclimates that are acceptable for winemaking and recently some have taken up the trade.

One of the producers is the Hulst family’s Apostelhoeve. Please do me a favor and don’t try to pronounce that! The funny thing about these guys’ wine is not their name, but that they actually make some decent wine. In fact I was quite amazed about their riesling. Supposedly they make the best riesling in Holland, which probably just means they are better than the only other one that can pull off not freezing the fruit in a country where winter starts in September. Nevertheless, I did like the wine and I would compare it to some of the dry rieslings I had in the Mosel valley of Germany in terms of style and character. The wine was high in acidity, but not in the way of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, rather high in acid with quite a bit of concentration of fruit. A nice combo. It also had a decently long finish for a white wine. Totally approachable alone, but would be perfect with some juicy fish. So I was double shocked, first I could not believe the Dutch make wine and second I could not believe that they make decent wine. Either that or I had a lot to drink before I tasted it. Based on my recollection I would get it again, but good luck finding this treasure outside of Dutchigistan.

Just as a side note, we also tasted the Auxerrois from Apostelhoeve and that was much more what I would have expected from this esteemed land. Translation: don’t ever get it.

Name: Riesling, Apostelhoeve, 2005

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: 11.50 euros

Got it at: Cave Rokin, Amsterdam, Holland

Riesling, Apostelhoeve, 2005

Mysterious Organic Stuff

October 30, 2007

I admit I generally dislike organic wine. This is in spite of the fact that I vastly prefer organic food to generic stuff you get in supermarkets. The reason I dislike organic wine is because I have never had a decent one out of about 15-20 kinds I tried, ranging from well known labels such as Bonterra to obscure ones from unknown (at least to me) French regions. They were all extremely mediocre at best.

So the other day we are shopping at this organic store, Napos Oldal, in Budapest and there is a wine rack full of wines I have never seen before. Just for sh**s and giggles I figured I would pick up the cheapest bottle and if it tasted vile I would just pour it down the drain. I proceeded to pick up the bottle without even really reading the label. When I got home, I found out that the wine is non-vintage!!! A great place to start I thought to myself…

So one night I pulled the cork on this beast called not sure what. The only thing written on the label is Roble Camino. I guess Roble means oak and indicates that the wine spent some time in oak, but not enough to be labeled crianza (which is aged at least 6 months in oak and a total of 2 years). Don’t ask me about the varietal, I have no clue, but low and behold, the wine was OK. It was one of the better, if not the best organic wines I have had. It was smooth, with a touch of oak, very nicely flowing, not much complexity, but definitely did not stop early on the finish. While I would not call this great wine, it was one of the biggest surprises this year. I would buy it again but the store no longer carries it.

Name: No clue 😉

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: approx. 7 euros

Got it at: Napos Oldal, Budapest, Hungary

Roble Camino

Campania’s Little Gems

October 30, 2007

I first learned about Campania’s wines in A16, a neighborhood restaurant in the Marina district of San Francisco a few years back. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I had barely heard of Campania beforehand. Campania is a major region in Southern Italy boasting Naples, the largest city in Italy south of Rome. It is also the home of the Amalfi coast, Pompei and fantastic wines made from the Aglianico grape.

Because by the time I had the chance to travel to Campania I had learned quite a bit of its wines and tasted about two dozen different reds I very much looked forward to visiting the region and get to see some of its wineries. Wineries in Southern Italy are nowhere near as commercial as they are in Northern Italy (at least compared to Tuscany or Piemonte) and this means less of them have English speaking staff and even if they do, you need to call ahead and make appointments. Well, me being absurdly hard headed, I did not call ahead. I chalk it up to pure luck that we ended up not only visiting but also staying overnight at the Agroturismo (sort of like a bed and breakfast) of one of the region’s prestigious wine houses, Mustilli in Sant’Agata dei Goti.

At the Agroturismo we had a chance to taste some of Mustilli’s wines and bring back home a couple of bottles. One of these was the Mustilli, Conte Artus, vintage 2003, a perfectly balanced blend of Aglianico (50%) and Piedirosso (50%). In case you have never heard of the grape Piedirosso, which I have not, this is also a varietal typical to Campania. It is also one of 3,000+ varietals found in Italy, so if you have not heard of it don’t sweat it.

I tend to think Aglianicos are fantastic, but I get a bit too much acidity in most, which renders these fantastic food wines (especially with tomato based pasta dishes) but they are not to be had alone. I am not certain if it is because of the Piedirosso grape, but this wine was definitely more drinkable standalone than typical Aglianicos. It was a bit heavier than other Campania wines I have had with a bit of a dark cherry tone both in the taste and in the color. Other than that, I do not remeber anything to write home about it. Its bigger brother I tasted at the winery, the Briccone Vino da Tavola Rosso Mustilli was in a different category. There is still a bottle of that in my wine rack so watch for a write-up in the next month or so.

Name: Mustilli, Conte Artus, 2003

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Medium to Heavy

Price: approx. 10 euros

Got it at: Mustilli Winery, Sant’Agata dei Goti, Campania, Italy

Mustilli, Conte Artus, 2003

Lebanon

October 30, 2007

So yes I do have a diverse taste and the more esoteric a wine is the more likely I will want to try it. While I had Lebanese wine before, it was the Chateau Musar, which one can find in most serious wine shops in the US and even in Europe. Bekaa Valley is the most important wine region in Lebanon and wine making there goes back as much as 6,000 years. I guess that puts California (which is the region that made me love wine) to shame, at least in a historical sense.

So the first wine of this blog is about Chateau Nakad‘s Prestige du Nakad vintage 2003, which I picked up in a cute little wine shop in Amsterdam. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and some Cinsaut and while it is made in the Bordeaux style it tastes nothing like its cousins from France. Fruity, but not in the new world sense, complex, yet medium bodied and a completely unfamiliar “Lebanese” finish which I seem to recall from Musar’s wines. This is definitely wine that can stand on its own without food, though it is perfect with red meats as most Bordeaux style wines are. I would not serve this bottle for guests who are not adventurous as it does have a peculiar taste if even you are used to old world wines.

Name: Chateau Nakad, Prestige du Nakad, 2003

Rating: 7 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 12.50 euros

Got it from: Cave Rokin, Amsterdam, Holland

Chateau Nakad, Prestige du Nakad, 2003

Let’s get started…

October 30, 2007

So I am totally selfish about this project. The primary reason to keep this log is because I love trying new wines but my memory is so short that after a few days I have no clue what I drank and how it tasted. More and more often I remember bits and pieces about some red or white, perhaps via an association with food or a place, but being 100+ years old I can never remember the name of the wine, let alone the vintage or what I liked about it. So let this log serve as a helpful memory jog for my alcoholic habit. In the meantime I hope the nonesense I come up with is helpful for someone else as well, but if not, so be it. Cheers…