A Different Kind of Wine Seminar with Blue Danube
A Different Kind of Wine Seminar with Blue Danube
Posted May 11, 2016
You know it's a different kind of wine seminar if the white wine you sample has more tannins than the red...
That was precisely the case at our recent Wine Talk Wednesday. We promised attendees they would try wines unlike any they've ever had before. Judging from the response, I think we lived up to our vow.
Before the event got started, I chatted briefly with Stetson, our representative from Blue Danube, an importer and distributor of central and eastern European wines.
First, I had to ask him two burning questions about a Hungarian white, 2011 Fekete Bela Juhfark Somlo:
1) Does Somlo really look like a hat? Especially one God would wear?
Somlo is an extinct volcano in western Hungary. Its basalt soils yield unique, full-bodied white wines like the 2011 Juhfark, more savory than fruit-forward. I read that Somlo is sometimes referred to as the Forgotton Hat of God. Stetson assured me that this has become a popular nickname since a recent Saveur article on Hungarian wines, but he has not heard it much in Hungary.
Looking at the image on this wine's label, we briefly debated its resemblance to a hat. What do you think? See the image at right
2. More importantly, is this wine really recommended to newlyweds to drink on their wedding night?
Turns out, this folklore still circulates. Newlyweds are told - or warned - that drinking Juhfark on one's wedding night will bring them male heirs.
Neither of us have tested this theory.
With my curiosity temporarily slaked, it was time to get the seminar started. We dove right in with a Slovenian "orange" wine. After having chilled this bottle in preparation for the event, I was informed the (French-born) winemaker prefers to serve his wines at cellar temperature (55F). Despite this, the wine showed well.
I had to ask Stetson how he felt about introducing a baker's dozen of virgin orange wine drinkers to Kabaj.
Kabaj, Stetson answered, is good for the initiated and un-initiated orange wine drinkers. The winery's intention is the same as top producers in any region: to express the best their vines can offer.
Stetson explained that Goriska Brda, where Kabaj is located, is a region that has traditionally made "orange wine." The term "orange wine" can be misleading, as it is more a technique than a category. As with all wine, it requires good grapes and knowledge. In short, "orange wine" is made by processing white grapes as red grapes - fermenting the juice with the skins. Depending on the grape variety, length of maceration and a whole host of other inputs the wines can be light or heavy, strong or delicate and just like with red wine, each suited to a different taste.
Kabaj, Stetson continued, is not experimenting with "orange wine." It is what they do. Not for the sake of making orange wines (which is trendy these days), but for the expression of their location, varieties and tradition. If someone drinks more red, Stetson recommends the Rebula. For white wine drinkers, he recommends the Sivi Pinot (pinot gris).
Our class was evenly split on whether they did or did not enjoy the wine, which, if sipped from a black glass, could fool any wine drinker for a light-bodied red. I imagined that, like blind tasting, such an exercise could be quite humbling. Stetson countered that it is more enlightening than humbling. "The disassociation of sight and smell heightens one's senses of smell and taste. It is valuable to appreciate how misleading sight can be."
From Slovenia we traveled to Hungary to try the wine that would give us all male heirs. The bottle's label tells you that the wine should be enjoyed with roast fowl by candlelight. Of course, Stetson has had the enviable pleasure of visiting Fekete Bela's estate and enjoying this wine, by candlelight, with the winemaker himself. There was no mentioned of what fowl was roasted.
Alas, this opportunity is no longer available. Now in his 90s, Fekete Bela has sold the winery. His last vintage was 2013.
At this point, Stetson broke out the rock, a dark hunk of a rock. Somlo has basalt-rich soils.
What, I asked Stetson, other than rocks, which would tip you over your luggage weight limit, have you brought home from all your travels?
Stetson admits to a cardinal sin of travel: packing too much. But there is always space to bring home wine samples and liquor. The liquor is for him. Strange local stuff. A bottle of liquor lasts a lot longer than wine.
While Stetson has never had an officer confiscate a corkscrew - which can be devastating - he has had some curious questions from customs officers about all that wine he brings back. One genius asked why, if the wines are samples, aren't they in small bottles?
When the old world starts making wine in airplane size bottles, we'll have to let him know
From Somlo to the town of Sopron, where Pfneiszl Winery is located. At this point, our speaker addressed the "meaninglessness" of political boundaries. Sopron is so far west, it might as well be in Austria. I did a quick Google Maps check. You can, too. He's right. Sopron pushes the Hungarian border into Austria.
Like many other border regions, there is a blending of cultures. The region has both Austrian and Hungarian influences, just like Alsace is both German and French. People move, cultures mingle, and recipes are shared, no matter where governments draw lines on paper.
The Pfneiszl Kekfrankos - Blaufrankish is called Kekfrankos in Hungary - is a white peppery, savory and spicy red.
We ended the evening in Croatia with a red blend. Stetson has poured Bibich's R6 Riserva for California winemakers. Their responses? These Cali wine guys said that this Croatian wine is what California Zin was in the 1970s.
Hold the phone.
True story. This blend is brimming with berries, juicy and fresh, smoky and savory, too. A blend of ancient grape varieties, the ancestors of Zinfandel. You are looking for a good BBQ conversation starter, aren't you?
After the seminar, I had to ask Stetson if he also has a side gig as a travel agent. He spoke highly of the lodging at Kabaj and the beauty of these wine regions. I can't wait to book my trip!
Alas, he isn't a travel agent. But, he believes you can't know the wines without spending time in their areas. "I love it when the wines inspire others to travel, or reminisce if they have visited the regions the wines are from."
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