Hungarian Beaujolais Nouveau

November 20, 2007

New wine has started to become a fad in Hungary over the past years. I am not going to spend a lot of time on this as I am not a huge fan of this category. Beaujolais Nouveau is the predominant vin de primeur, new wine, in France. It is made from the Gamay grape and they use a unique fermentation process called carbonic maceration. This means they do not crush the grapes, but ferment them the way they are harvested. This wine is drinkable, that is if you like this kind of stuff, just a few weeks after harvest.

The past few years you are seeing more and more “Uj Bor”, new wine, on the market in Hungary. Some of these are made in the Beaujolais Nouveau style, yet some use more traditional malolactic fermentation (much more typical in Europe.) One of the better new wines is St Andrea‘s Uj Bor. Instead of Gamay, they use local varietals such as Kekfrankos, but they do make the wine using the carbonic maceration process and it does resemble Beaujolais Nouveau. St Andrea’s Uj Bor 2007 does taste new. It is not bad, but don’t expect much complexity or finish. It is very fruity, super simple, with small to medium weight (which to me is important as super light with no structure is a really bad combination) and a lot of freshness. Despite being a red wine, you drink it chilled. I am not sure if it is to suppress the taste with the cold temperature or to enhance its freshness 😉

Anyways, I do not think I will be buying a lot of these, but it is definitely worth a try one time.

Name: St Andrea, Uj Bor, 2007

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: 12 euros (retail price 5 euros)

Got it at: Gerloczy Kavehaz, Budapest, Hungary

St Andrea, Uj Bor, 2007

Rose Bubbles

November 17, 2007

Let me start by saying that I am not a big Champagne fan. In fact I only like very few Champagnes, most of them are rose. My favorite, if I have one, is Laurent Perrier‘s Rose Brut. I like it perhaps because it is made from pinot noir, one of my favorite grapes, and I can taste the connection. Or perhaps because of the memories I have attached to this rose, the details of which are completely off topic now 😉

So the problem with LP’s Rose is its price. I do not like to spend a lot of money on a category that I am not fond of, even if the wine in question is one of the standouts. So I am always on the quest to see if there is an alternative. Let’s just say it is not easy to find. That is what I thought, until I came across Franz Weninger’s Brut Rose this past summer.

Franz Weninger is an Austrian wine maker near the border of Hungary. Weninger has three properties. One in the central Burgenland region of Austria, one in the Sopron/Balf region of Hungary and a joint venture with Attila Gere in Villany, one of the best red wine appellations in Central Europe. Mr Weninger has entrusted the operations of the Sopron/Balf winery to his son, Franz Reinhard, who is making some really interesting wines. One of these is a quite untraditional, yet quite tasty, sparkling rose brut made from the Central European Kekfrankos varietal.

The Weninger Kekfrankos Rose Brut is a fantastic sparkling wine. If you like rose Champagne, you will like this one. The bubbles are a bit more sumptuous and a bit rougher than those of LP’s rose, which means the wine is a bit less elegant but also very approachable and not intimidating by any means. It is fruitier than the LP, and because of the Kekfrankos grape, it has a bit higher acidity, but all in all I think it compares favorably. If you want to celebrate, I still recommend the LP rose, but if you want to just open a bottle of sparkling wine on a hot summer night, I think the price/value ratio of the Weninger rose brut is hard to beat. Good luck finding it, though, Franz Reinhard does not make more than a couple of thousand bottles a year. I really think there is a large market for high quality and not so pricey sparkling wines internationally. Any wine importers reading this blurb?

Name: Weninger Kekfrankos Rose Brut, NV

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 18 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Weninger Kekfrankos Rose Brut, NV

There are two regions in the world that use this phrase labeling their wines. Both are absolutely fantastic and both are among my favorites. One of them is the Tokaj region of Hungary, which produces some of the best dessert wines in the world. The other is the Barolo region in Piemonte, Northern Italy.

Barolo is arguably the most highly prized of Italian wines. It is generally quite a fruity, big heavy wine with lots of tannins. In some ways it is the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux, though in actuality, the nebbiolo grape that is used in Barolos is more similar to Burgundy’s pinot noir. Nebbiolo is just as finicky and hard to grow as pinot and it requires similarly cold nights and sunny days. It is also as many sided as pinot noir, wines made from nebbiolo can have completely different tastes, such that you would have a hard time determining that the varietal is identical. You will also not find it in many places outside of Piemonte and a little patch of Sardegna. Some wine makers have recently experimented with nebbiolo in California but I do not know of other regions.

There are two schools of making Barolos, if you will: traditional and modern. Traditionally they left the grape’s skin on during the fermentation process, which lasted a long three weeks. This process extracted a huge amount of tannins from the skin of the nebbiolo, which is a varietal that is already extremly high in tannins. As a result, traditional barolos were literally undrinkable for the first 10-12 years, which is about how long it took them to start to soften up. During this time, according to traditional methods, the wine spent at least 4-5 years in large Slavonian oak barrels and then continued to be aged in bottles. Barolos are, as a result, some of the best aging wines in the world.

The new school is quite different. Partially to cater to modern taste and partially because of market pressures to get to sell wines earlier than the required 10-12 years, many wine makers in the Barolo region have changed the old methods. These days the fermentation process is much shorter and the aging is no longer in large Slavonian oak casks, but predominantly in small barriques from France. The French barrique softens the wine quite a bit and because the skin is only left on for a shorter period during the fermentation process, the tannins are not as dominant. Still, Barolos must age at least three years, mostly in oak barrels, and five years if the wine is labeled Riserva. As a result, modern Barolos are drinkable after a few years. They also taste much different, much heavier and complex than traditional ones.

Tonight we tasted a modern Barolo from the Prunotto wine house (vintage 2001.) This wine spent 24 months in small oak barrels, combination of French and Slavonian, and then another 12 months in bottles before it was put on the market. The wine is bone dry, still very high in tannins, full of black fruit and liquorice. As soon as you smell the wine, it hits you over the head. Once you taste it, the wine just takes over. It is one thing to call this a big wine, sure, but it is aggressive. It dominates everything else that may be hitting your taste buds and not just when you drink it but for many minutes afterwards. Barolos are different. They really are a category by themselves and this Prunotto is a fine example of that. Pair them with heavy meat stew, a fillet mignon with gorgonzola, or game such as wild boar or something else that stands up to it. You will feel like a king.

Name: Barolo Prunotto, 2001

Rating: 9 out of 10

Body: Full

Price: 33 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Barolo Prunotto, 2001

Otto Legli is running one of the premier wine houses in the southern Balaton region of Hungary. With the exception of one rose, he makes pretty much only white wines, which is typical for this region. Legli has a whole range of of whites from light, smart, fresh ones to full bodied and oaky Chardonnays.

Today we have a quick review of the Legli 333 vintage 2006, which is more on the fresh, light end of Otto’s spectrum. He aptly calls this wine 333, because he starts selling it every year on the 333rd day. It is a cuvee of early riping varietals, Irsai Oliver, Muscat Ottonel, Zenit (which in France is called Muscadet) and MĂźller Thurgau. All four of these are very typical white varietals to Central Europe, with the exception of Zenit or Muscadet, which is grown most in the Loire Valley of France. The wine is of course young, refreshing, has a definite muscat undertone but still dry. It is better for a summer night, but pairs well with fish any day of the year. Most of the time the 333 does not see the summer as at this price it sells out in a few months long before summer’s arrival. After all, Legli only makes about 2,000 cases of the 333 each year.

Legli’s winery is open all year to visitors on weekdays 9am-5pm and no appointments are necessary. I have not been yet, but I bet it is a fun few hours if you are in the area.

Name: Legli 333, 2006

Rating: 7 out of 10

Body: Light

Price: 4 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Legli 333, 2006

Dammit Wine

November 15, 2007

The other day I went into my local wine store to pick up some every-day table wines. The guy smiling on the picture (if you click on the above), who happens to extract millions from me every month, haha, tells me that they just got several new shipments. I guess it is that time of the year. They had many new wines I had never heard of and one of these was St. Andrea’s A Kutya Fajat 2006. A Kutya Fajat literally means the tree of the dog in Hungarian, but really this is the equivalent expression for the English “Damn it”. What a name for a wine!? I loved it and of course had to get a bottle.

First of all I have to say I am biased about the wine as I love the winery, St. Andrea. St. Andrea is one of the most edgy and progressive wineries in Hungary. They are brave, they innovate, they are really pushing the edge of the traditional Eger region. I mean how can you call a wine “Damn It”?

Damn it is a cuvee of Kekfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I guess you could call it a Bordeaux style blend, but the taste is distinctly different and in a good way. This is a medium bodied blend, quite fruit forward, a bit of cherries, fairly simple, but not empty, it does have substance probably partially due to the fact that it spent 12 months in oak barrels. It is the perfect table wine can you drink any night, summer or winter and it is also very flexible to pair with food. It is what I would call a happy wine. It is fruity, tastes great, does not make you think, and it is inexpensive. What a great combo.

These guys, St. Andrea, also make some really fantastic Bull’s Blood (not that cheap stuff you remember from 20 years ago), Pinot Noir and a higher-end Bordeaux style blend called Merengo. Merengo is a plush wine and while I do not have one on hand, I will probably get a bottle and write it up over the next few months. Cheers.

Name: St. Andrea, A Kutya Fajat, 2006

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 7 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

St. Andrea, A Kutya Fajat, 2006

Hungarian Viognier

November 14, 2007

Viognier for most people brings the association of France’s Rhone Valley or alternatively new world appellations, such as the Central Coast of California or Sonoma County. It is rarely grown in the old world outside of the Rhone. Some Hungarian wine makers have recently started to experiment with varietals that are not typical for the region, though most of these experiments have revolved around better known varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. Rarely does the Viognier grape show up on the shortlist of grapes to invest in.

This is not the case with late wine maker Tibor Gal. Mr. Gal was one of the premier wine makers in this small country. He had decades of international experience in several well-known wineries spanning through South Africa to Italy. In the early 1990s he was the lead wine maker at Ornellaia, one of Italy’s most famous wineries, now owned by Robert Mondavi.

Mr. Gal’s passion was to revive Hungarian wine making traditions and put Hungary back on the International wine map as a leading producer, if not measured in quantity but quality. Indeed his work as a mentor and leader was a huge part of the recent International success of Hungarian wines. Unfortunately he passed away in an auto accident in South Africa in 2005 at the age of 46. He is survived by his son who is also a wine maker at the family winery. Luckily the tradition lives on and the winery and their product is stronger than ever.

One such top performing product is the 2005 Gal Tibor Viognier, for which the vines were originally planted by Mr Gal. This wine is a good example of taking a grape that is typical in one old-world appellation, plant it in another part of Europe and actually achieve fantastic results (not unlike some of the innovations Italian wine makers have done with French varietals.) The wine is plush (almost in a Vouvray style), has quite a bit of complexity, exotic fruit with a fair amount of wood used resembling new world style whites. To me it is between a Vouvray and a California Chardonnay if that makes any sense. I like it, though, my wife thinks the oak is overbearing. It certainly counterbalances, perhaps too much, any acidity you would get from the fruit. Nevertheless, I like the wine a lot and I have been a repeat purchaser over the past year.

By the way, if you happen to be in Hungary, the Gal Tibor winery in Eger is worth a detour for a day or so. They have a wonderful cave tour with tasting and snacks lead by English speaking guides.

Name: Gal Tibor Viognier, 2005

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Price: 20 euros

Got it at: Decanter, Budapest, Hungary

Gal Tibor Viognier, 2005


November 8, 2007

You should always do what you do best. In the case of Australians and wine this means Shiraz. These days it is a hip thing to make wine from the Rhone varietal Syrah and call it Shiraz, but really this should be reserved for the Australians, just like Champagne is reserved for the region around Rheims, France.

I like Australian Shiraz. Yes, it is a fruit bomb, yes, it is not very sophisticated or elegant but it is damn good. It just tastes good, it invigorates every tastebud in your mouth, it just takes over from the time it enters your mouth. The other funny thing about Shiraz is that I never had a bad one. Somehow Australians tend to make decent wine, in that most do not rock my socks off, but they never disappoint. You have an expectation and an Australian wine virtually always meets it. I cannot say this for many other nations frankly, as I cannot count how many times I have been disappointed with wines from France, Italy, Hungary, Austria and I could go on. The old world makes some of the most incredible wines in the world, but they also make some of the worst. This is not so much the case with the new world and definitely not with Australia. Maybe the weather? Or is it culture?

I am babbling about this because we picked up a bottle from one of Australia’s largest producers, Penfolds. It is not a pure Shiraz but a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is from their low-end range of Rawson’s Retreat. The wine is cheap (about 8 euros) yet it meets that quality standard you would expect and actually get with Australian wines. It is fruity (very fruity), you discover some dark plumb, maybe a bit of coffee and has strong spicy nose, maybe with a hint of liquorice . You can distinctly taste both the Shiraz and the Cab in this wine, which makes it somewhat interesting. If you do not feel like you want to get out of your comfort zone and do not want to spend a fortune on an expesive Napa Cab, I suggest you grab one of these bottles. It will meet your expectation.

Name: Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet, Rawson’s Retreat, 2006

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Full

Price: 8 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet, Rawson’s Retreat, 2006

Affordable Rhones

November 8, 2007

I have a love-hate relationship with Rhone wines. Some of my favorite reds, and actually even whites, are from Rhone appellations, such as the Châteauneuf du Pape or nearby Gigondas. I do not generally like other southern Rhone appellations, such as the Côtes du Ventoux. Unfortunately the rule of get what you pay for really applies here it seems. Côtes du Ventoux is generally cheap and not so good and Châteauneuf du Pape is expensive and good. Too expensive at that, at least too expensive for daily consumption.

Recently we were at our favorite local wine shop and picked up a bottle of CĂ´tes du Ventoux to cook with. Our expectation was fairly low, but definitely had to taste it. As they say, you should never cook with a wine that you would not drink. It actually was not bad.

The wine in question is the La Vieille Ferme Rouge, 2005 produced by the Perrin Family, who incidentally blog about winemaking in the Rhone in English (!). The wine is pretty mass produced, very low priced, yet is totally acceptable quality. It is rich and fruity, as most Rhones are, high in acidity, tarty and rather spicy. The blend is 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Carignan and 15% Cinsault matured in oak barrels (though not barriques) for 10 months. In my humble opinion, or as we geeks say IMHO, it is one of the better Ventouxs out there. At about 7 euros in Europe or $8 in the US, you have to try this wine.

Name: La Vieille Ferme Rouge, 2005

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Cost: 7 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

La Vieille Ferme Rouge, 2005

While most of this blog is about wine, occasionally I talk about other liquid beauties. This one is about an interesting grappa we picked up in the small village of Anagni, an hour outside of Rome. I used to really dislike grappa primarily for its harsh, alcoholy taste that I can only appreciate in a loud bar on a Friday or Saturday night (presumably because other sensory experiences overshadow the horrible taste.)

So about 6 months ago we were hanging out in one of our favorite Italian restaurants and the Italian sommelier asked if we wanted to finish the meal with a shot of grappa. We declined. No thanks, the veal was amazing and frankly I do not want to kill my money’s worth AND pay for it. He asked what we did not like in a grappa, went back to the bar, brought back 2 full shot glasses and was insisting though that we try his 80 proof “gasoline”. While I never liked grappa, I figured at this point there was no way back. At least I did not need to pay for ruining my dinner.

He asked that we just simply sip on it and try to appreciate the taste. I was amazed. The grappa was smooth, it did not have any overpowering alcohol taste, it was full of fruit and left a beautiful finish in my mouth. The grappa that changed my mind about grappas was Moscato Poli. The experience was an eye opener and yet again in my life I learned not to judge and generalize.

Ever since that night I have been seeking out other grappas I may like. I had some limited success, though I admit I have also found some not so good ones reminiscent of the ones I have had in the past. Last time we went to Italy I had to ask for expert help and get a recommendation from a local Enoteca about interesting grappas. The chief of the shop told me that if I have never had one, I must try a Prosecco Grappa. A Prosecco Grappa I asked? Is it bubbly like Champagne? It turns out that while most of the Prosecco varietal is used to make sparkling wine, like they do with other varietals, the grape and especially its skin is also used to make grappa. Because most people associate Prosecco with a Champagne-like bottle, the Prosecco Grappa also comes in a similar shape.

The gentleman described the grappa as soft, flowery, aromatic and his words “for her” pointing at my wife. He was not far off in the description, though I am not sure what he meant by the last part as she drinks me under the table most of the time 😉

The grappa was (yes it is unfortunately gone) Grappa Prosecco di Valdobbiadene from the Marzadro Distillery. The distillery is the middle of Prosecco vineyards at the foot of the snowcapped Italian Alps in the Trentino region of Northern Italy. This part of Italy is so close to Austria that you have a mix of Germanic precision and Italian La Dolce Vite in people, architecture and wine. This grappa feels and tastes like that. At the end of the day, how many grappas have you seen in a Champagne bottle? If you can get your hands on it, even if you do not like grappa in general, I highly recommend trying this one.

Name: Grappa Prosecco di Valdobbiadene

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium to Heavy

Price: 21 euros

Got it at: Enoteca Lo Schiaffo Di Tagliaboschi, Anagni, Italy

Grappa Prosecco di Valdobbiadene IGrappa Prosecco di Valdobbiadene II

One of the most unique wine regions I have ever been to is the Ahr region in Germany. It is unique, in that the Ahr is I think the northernmost predominantly red winemaking area. In an earlier post I was shocked that they made wine in Holland, but that is white wine. That is somewhat understandable. But the Ahr is almost as far north as the Maastricht area of Holland, and it makes predominantly red wines! Just to put it in perspective, we are talking about a region that is about 350 miles/550 kilometers north of Burgundy.

The Ahr sits in a narrow valley in which the predominantly western cold winds are blocked creating a micro-climate that is fantastic for making Pinot Noirs. Because the Ahr is so far north, it enjoys lower intensity sunlight but for significantly longer hours of the day than the Burgundy does and at the same time the valley cools down considerably at nights, which is very good for the Pinot grape. Couple this with unique slate/volcanic rock that is predominant here and you have a small area (you can drive through it in about 10 minutes) that is remarkably well suited for growing world class Pinot Noirs.

We have visited three of the best winemakers of the Ahr Valley, Jean Stodden, J.J. Adeneuer and Meyer-Näkel. They are all quite different in their styles, Stodden perhaps the most elegant (also most high in acidity), Adeneuer quite Burgundy like and Meyer-Naekel perhaps the most approachable of the three.

FrĂźhburgunder is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape that is predominantly (or only?) grown in the Ahr Valley. Even in the Ahr it is much less planted than its cousin, the Spätburgunder, which is the Pinot Noir. Meyer-Näkel’s 2006 FrĂźhburgunder is a great representation of the FrĂźhburgunder varietal. It is medium bodied, very straightforward, a bit of berry fruit, some complexity, but somehow something is missing from it. It is elegant, made in Burgundian style but unlike the top end Burgundies (my favorites) this one delivers most of its “value” in the first two seconds as you sip it and then it stops. It is not that it does not have a finish, but the finish is sort of flat, does not say much.

FrĂźhburgunder is an interesting varietal and I think Werner Näkel, the winemaker, brought out much of this grape’s potential, but perhaps because of style in which this wine was made, I have to compare it to Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and I would favor the latter. One thing I liked about the other winemakers in the Ahr, namely Stodden and Adeneuer, is that they are distinctly different than Burgundies, and in my mind they are in a different category. Watch this blog for reviews of other Ahr wines in the future.

If you love quality unique wines you have to give this FrĂźhburgunder a shot. In Europe you should be able to get it from the winery itself and in the US these guys carry it:

Cellars International, Inc.
1780 La Costa Meadows Dr, Suite 100
San Marcos, CA 92078
800.596.WINE (9463)

For more information on the Ahr Valley and our experience there you can read a post here.

Name: Meyer-Näkel’s FrĂźhburgunder, 2006er

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 17 euros

Got it at: Meyer-Näkel Winery, Dernau, Germany

Meyer-Näkel’s Frühburgunder, 2006er IMeyer-Näkel’s Frühburgunder, 2006er II