The month of June has flown by for us, in part because we have been so busy with wine tastings and learning about wine this month. Just yesterday we completed #WineStudio Session XIV – Hungary and Slovenia with Old World Vines. #WineStudio is a Twitter-based wine tasting and discussion organized by the folks at Protocol Wine Studio. They are wine geeks with a passion for teaching and promoting wines from around the world.
Each month they choose a wine region or varietal wine and organize a series of tastings around that theme. They provide the tasting samples, some background on the wine and we join in the conversation on Twitter, Tuesday evenings at 6 pm. It is a fast-paced hour of sipping, Tweeting and learning. You never quite know what direction the discussion will go, or what you will learn, but that’s part of the fun.
The four week session began with our introduction to Katy Bendel Daniels and Old World Vines, her wine import company. Katy’s passion for the wines of Central Europe was sparked by a trip to the area several years ago. During that and subsequent trips she had the opportunity to meet winemaking families in Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Czech Republic. The individual stories of these families and the quality of the wine they are producing moved her to begin importing these wines to the US. Old World Vines now imports wine from Greece, Hungary and Slovenia. Most are small family operations, some with very limited production.
The second week we moved on to taste two wines from Hungary. Hungary has a winemaking history going back centuries and is perhaps best known for producing Tokaji Aszú a concentrated, sweet, botrytized wine. This wine was prized by nobility throughout Europe as far back as the mid-1600s.
Hungary was well known for its food and wine culture before Soviet occupation. During occupation, families lost their farms to collectivization and quantity rather than quality was the focus of wine production. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain Hungarian families have been able to regain property and quality wine production has returned.
White grape varieties predominate in Hungary, but some red wine is produced in the southern portion of the country. We tasted one white and one red wine from Hungary.
2011 Erzsébet Pince Király dűlő Furmint — very light yellow in the glass with spicy aromas and a whiff of citrus. Minerality and stone fruit flavors predominate with back notes of citrus. This wine has a nice weight in the mouth, it’s just a bit round, great depth of flavor and crisp acidity. ABV 13%. SRP $31.95
This very flavorful white wine sips nicely on its own, and would be enjoyable on a warm afternoon. I can imagine it would be delicious as well with Chicken Paprikash seasoned with hot paprika. I have a delicious recipe I may just have to dig out!
Pince translates to “cellar” in English and Király dűlő to “kings vineyard”. The Erzsébet Cellar is located in the famous Tokaj region and the original cellar dates back to the 1700s. It was used by the Russian Wine Trade Company as a fermentation and aging cellar for their prized Tokaj wine.
The Erzsébet vineyards are located in the Mád district of Tokaj, up in the northeastern portion of Hungary. The Király vineyard, which is planted mainly to Furmint, grows in rhyolite bedrock with clayey Nyirok soil. The vineyard has a beneficial southern sun exposure. This versatile variety is also used to produce the highly-prized Tokaji Aszú (along with Hárslevelű and Sárgamuskotály).
Vineyards in the Tokaj region have been classified since the 1720s (that pre-dates the Bordeaux classification of 1855 which classified the Châteaux rather than the vineyards) into first, second, third class and unclassified vineyards. Erzsébet Cellar vineyards are classified first and second.
Winemaking is as low intervention as possible. The grapes were gently pressed, using a tradition press, and fermented in second and third-fill Hungarian oak barrels.
2011 Bock Cellars Kékfrankos — smoky, dark fruit aromas followed by bright red fruit and berry flavors and great acidity. The body is light to medium with smooth tannins. The combination of lighter body, bright fruit and medium tannins makes this an excellent warm-weather red wine. ABV 13%. $22.95
If you’re a fan of flavorful, lighter bodied red wine, produced in a cooler climate, this is one you will enjoy. It’s easy to enjoy on a warm day and will pair well with lighter fare. The flavor of the variety shines through, not being muted by oak aging. This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in second-use Hungarian oak barriques.
The Bock family’s history in Hungary dates back to the 1720s when the family immigrated to southwestern Hungary from Germany. Over time the family became well known for producing quality wines. During Soviet occupation the family lost their land without compensation, but have since gradually bought back vineyards. From the original purchase of 5 hectares in 1990, the Bock family have increased their vineyard holdings to 70 hectares.
The wine region of Villány, in the southwestern portion of Hungary, is close to the Croatian border. Limestone and marl soil predominates in this region, and it is primarily a red grape growing region. Cabernet Franc does particularly well in this region in addition to Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) and Bock Cellars is known for producing blends of indigenous and international varieties.
Hungary is a small country with a relatively small wine production. Most Hungarian wine is consumed in the country, but production is gradually increasing so importers like Katy now have the opportunity to bring us these delicious wines.
Fun fact: in 1857 Hungarian immigrant Agoston Haraszthy founded Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County. Still in operation today, is the oldest commercial winery in California.
Week number three of #WineStudio brought us to Slovenia, the first of the Yugoslav nations to declare independence in 1991. Also with a wine culture dating back to Roman times, if not before, its wine culture in the western part of the country is closely tied to Italy. Friuli-Venezia Giulia located in northeastern Italy is just across the border. The first Slovenian wine we tasted is one such example.
Wine production, mainly by a large number of individual growers farming very small vineyards, is mostly white and mostly from indigenous varieties. Some international varieties are grown, but not in large amounts.
2011 Erzetič Rebula — light yellow in the glass with delicate floral and crushed rock aromas. Flavors of white flowers and lemon combine with minerality, juicy acidity and a light body. The finish is long with a bit of citrus pith and texture. This wine just keeps on giving up flavors. Truly amazing. ABV $22.95
Grapevines were first planted on this property in 1725. It has been and continues to be a family operated winery with the younger generations of the Erzetič family work beside the older generations.
Rebula, also known as Ribolla Gialla, is indigenous to northwestern Italy and western Slovenia. Erzetič Winery is located in Višnjevik within the Brda district of the Primorje region, near the Italian border. Vineyards here are planted at elevation and on hilly terrain requiring hand harvesting. The soil is composed of marl and sandstone with limestone underneath.
Grapes are destemmed, then chilled and pressed. Cool fermentation takes place in stainless steel, as does aging before bottling. This fresh, flavorful, lively wine is reflective of the terroir and the variety. No wood aging and just straight-forward vinification.
2011 Kupljen Rumeni Muškat — darker yellow in the glass with obvious aromas of orange blossoms and flower stems. Sweet orange and floral flavors combine with citrus pith and herbal flavors. The finish, though sweet and long-lasting, has adequate acidity. Like dessert in a glass. ABV $22
Vino Kupljen also has a long history producing wine, dating back to 1836. Kupljen is located in northeast Slovenia, and bordering Hungary and Croatia, in the Podravje wine region. Here the climate is continental, with less influence from the Adriatic than in the Primorje region. Mostly white wines are produced here from indigenous varieties with a smattering of international varieties.
The final evening of discussion was just as lively as the prior three evenings. We discussed our favorite wines among the group, Erzetič Rebula and Bock Cellars Kékfrankos for me. Others loved the Kupljen Rumeni Muškat and of course there were votes for Erzsébet Pince Király dűlő Furmint, a variety so closely tied to the history of Hungary.
We learned it is easy to travel in Hungary and Slovenia, the people are friendly and the food is as delicious as the wine. No need to speak the language, but try and learn a few phrases and do make an effort to use their language.
We all seemed to gain confidence with regard to wine from these two regions. We at least are familiar with a few of the indigenous varieties and can look for them on wine lists and in wine stores. And Katy suggested we ask for them in restaurants.
We were very impressed with all of the wines in this collection. The dry white wines were flavorful with great acidity and the sweet white wine had adequate acidity for a clean finish. The one red wine in the group was perfect for summer weather. If these wines are at all reflective of Hungarian and Slovenian wines in general, then they most certainly will succeed in the world market.
Whenever we explore a new wine region we end up learning not just about wine, but about geography, geology, weather and history. It’s always lots of fun. This exploration of Hungary and Slovenia was no exception.
Thanks to Katy and Old World Vines for sending us the samples and thanks to Protocol Wine Studio for your organization of the month-long program. We have learned a lot, enough to order Hungarian or Slovenian wine from a list with confidence. You hit another one out of the park. Well done!
Reference: The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition, Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson