My latest article after recent trip to Serbia to discover Prokupac. Full text is here.
My latest article after recent trip to Serbia to discover Prokupac. Full text is here.
Today a little look into Central Europe’s best blue-skinned grape – which grows under many guises including Kekfrankos, Blaufrankisch, Frankova, Lemberger and many more. Written for Wine of Hungary’s newsletter.
My attempt to explain some of the little we actually know about why drinking too much causes a hangover. Written for The Wine Society blog
Some thoughts on the rise of serious rosé and the options for making wine pink, written for the Wine Society blog.
Over the years I’ve been writing about wine I found my role has changed. Back in the mid 1990s when I first went freelance, there were still a lot of really quite poor wines for sale, so the job of wine writers and critics was largely to sort the good from the ordinary and downright bad. But today better winemaking everywhere means most wine (at least in Western Europe) is decent and drinkable, so wine consumers don’t need wine journalists in the same way.
Nowadays I see the role of writers and communicators as providing insight and telling the stories behind the wines to engage consumers. Ironically wine is a product where more knowledgeable drinkers, often the desirable customers who are prepared to pay more, are less likely to be brand loyal. Wine knowledge encourages a desire to experiment rather than stick to a few favourites. It is therefore important for wineries to try other ways to engage these desirable customers and telling an interesting story is one.
People tend to be interested in people and are more likely to connect through personal stories than simply a wine being delicious to drink (that is of course still important) or through the technical history of how it has been made. Wine is also a great lens to focus on bringing together the factors that affect the taste of the wine –landscape, climate, culture and the human factor. These all add up to that indefinable term of “terroir”. Central and Eastern Europe is a particularly hot topic today. Arguably, it is the last undiscovered corner of the wine world and yet is based on a long and authentic history, and is full of genuinely interesting wine stories – just a few examples highlighted here.
At Verus in Slovenia, three friends set up their own winery in 2007 in the stunning hills around Jeruzalem-Ormoz after leaving the big former state winery. They have 20 ha and a simple warehouse winery in a former bakery and each of the three friends takes a different role. Danilo does the winemaking, Bozidar looks after the vineyards and Rajko looks after sales and marketing. Sauvignon Blanc is a key grape for them and it does really well in this part of Slovenia. It’s continental and hilly so great for flavour development along with good acidity and this wine is genuinely handcrafted, with six harvesting trips though the vineyard in 2016.
Over to Turkey, where winelover Mustafa Camlica founded his Chamlija winery high in the Strandja mountains in a region historically known as “city of vines” in Bulgarian. His family have farmed here since the 1930s and he was keen to join the new wave of Turkish winemaking. Rediscovering the potential of local, Thracian grapes like Papaskarasi has been a passion for Mustafa. Its parents are Alba Imputato and Prokupac so it has proper Balkan heritage. It was particularly highly regarded by Marcel Biron, the founder of modern Turkish viticulture in the 1930s who wrote about it as a Blanc de Noir, which inspired Mustafa to recreate this this historic style.
In the Republic of Macedonia, unusually it’s the big wineries that are key in driving quality revolution. Tikveš is the country’s biggest winery, and even one of the biggest in the Balkans, but has also committed a lot of effort to quality, hiring a French consultant and taking on one of his protégés as their winemaker. They’ve also conducted extensive viticultural research in conjunction with a Slovenian university. The result is selection of a couple of better sites for single vineyard wines especially Barovo which is relatively high at up to 600 m in the hills. The white version is an intriguing blend of Grenache Blanc (known locally as Belan) and Chardonnay which works beautifully.
Back to Bulgaria and the boutique winery Borovitza, in the stunning Belogradchik national park near Vidin. This region in Bulgaria was never famous for its reds, but long sunshine hours and the proximity of the Danube actually give fine elegant reds with good acidity and a long life. Founded in 2007 in an abandoned winery building by Ognyan ‘Ogy’ Tzvetanov and Adriana Srebrinova to realise their dreams of limited parcels of handcrafted interesting wines, often bought from growers in nearby villages. One such is their Great Terroirs Bouquet 2015 – produced from a rare grape that is was described by Ogy as “A cross of beauty and the beast”. Developed in 1951, it’s a cross of Pinot Noir and Mavrud and this is one of only two wineries to produce it commercially. Sadly, Ogy is no longer with us but wishing Adriana well in carrying on their joint vision.
Over to the gorgeous region of Istria in Croatia where the great local white grape variety called Malvazija Istarska is king. The green rolling hills have distinctly Mediterranean climate and a bedrock of limestone and a multitude of small family wineries. Benvenuti is owned by Livio and his two sons Nikola and Alberto. They focus on local grapes including Malvazija in both its light, easy, summer-drinking form but also a more serious version. This is a versatile grape and picked late from ancient vines, then given a few days skin contact and oak fermentation can produce wines that age really well – giving amazing long-lived complex food wines with an extra dimension.
From Romania comes a wine from SERVE, the first private winery in the country, founded in 1993 by Guy de Poix (a Corsican count with a family history of 600 years in winemaking). He was inspired to come to Romania by reading Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine. His Cuvée Charlotte red blend has long been held up as an iconic wine for Romania to show the world the country’s potential for quality. It also pioneered the idea of a blend which brings together the best of both worlds. Here the international Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot work beautifully with the local dimension of the Feteasca Neagra. Sadly Guy died in 2011 but his widow Mihaela and Aurel the company’s long-time winemaker continue Guy’s vision.
Finally to Serbia, perhaps a little behind other countries in the Balkans but catching up fast with an incredibly dynamic wine scene right now. Prokupac is coming to the fore – once treated as a rustic workhorse grape but now showing that it has serious potential. Vina Budimir Svb Rosa is 60% Prokupac from ancient vines (some are a century-old) aged in 3000l and 5000l casks, along with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from barrique. The name means “under the rose” and is so named because a rose over a doorway was a symbol of a secret meeting and on tasting this classy wine reveals hidden depths.
The Balkans is such a dynamic and exciting part of the wine world, with so much to keep exploring, and so many inspiring personal stories to tell and great wines to discover.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Verus, Slovenia
Blanc de Noirs 2016, Papaskarasi, Chamlija, Turkey
Barovo white 2015, Tikveš, Macedonia
Malvazija Istarska Anno Domini 2013 Benvenuti winery, Croatia
Great Terroirs Bouquet 2015 , Borovitza, Bulgaria
Cuvee Charlotte 2011, S.E.R.V.E, Romania
Svb Rosa, Prokupac, 2009, Vinarija Budimir, Serbia
“It’s been wonderful to participate in the renewal of the Tokaji region, and to see great Tokaji being made again” according to Christian Seely of AXA Millésimes, owners of Disznókő in Tokaj. Seely was in London for a fantastic and possibly unique opportunity to taste two decades of Aszú wines, from 2013 back to 1993, to celebrate nearly 20 years overseeing the company. AXA was one of the region’s first foreign investors after the Iron Curtain came down, and Seely himself arrived in 1997, appointing MD László Mészáros in 1999, “Not a choice I’ve regretted for a day.” Disznókő is unusual in having a single plot of over 100 hectares of vineyards with a stunning winery at the heart, giving close daily contact with the vines. It is also one of the very few that has the continuity of history in the region to be able to show such a line-up, highlighting how modern winemaking Tokaji has evolved since the previous era, where quality was highly debased.
Amazing sweet wines are possible in this northern region due in part to the unique terroir. The meeting of the two rivers Tisza and Bodrog creates densely foggy autumn mornings, which is great for noble rot to get going. Mountain breezes and sunny hillside sites on the slopes of hundreds of extinct volcanoes are also important in drying the grapes to create the unique Aszú berries. This combination of shrivelling and noble rot that has led to Tokaji’s special winemaking method of soaking the Aszú in wine or fermenting must. The other great feature of Tokaji is its grapes. Furmint in particular (supported by Hárslevelű, Zeta and Muscat) has amazing ability to accumulate sugar, is prone to noble rot, but always keeps its hallmark amazingly zingy acidity. These are wines that have fabulous balance and great richness but are never cloying and have a remarkable ability to age shown by Disznókő’s 1993, which is still in great shape.
Dry Furmint as been on the rise in the region in the last few years, but as Seely says, “It’s all about Aszú for us. Above all I love the wines and this tasting underlines how great they are.”
(originally written for decanter.com but never published)
|Wine Name||Vintage||Score out of 20||RRP||Tasting note||Drinking window||Alc||Stockists or UK importer|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2013||19||tbc||A late ripening year with “an Aszú miracle” appearing from mid-September onwards giving beautifully concentrated Aszú berries with intense botrytis but also great acidity. It’s still a real baby, showing creamy vanilla aromas with ripe pear, acacia and peach. It’s luscious and silky with lovely purity and superb intensity of quince and honey, and fine acids to give balance and a very lingering finish.||2020 to 2035||12.10%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2012||18||tbc||This was an early and hot year but lots of autumn rain allowed for good noble rot development but less shrivelled berries, so a more “Sauternes style” vintage. It’s limpid pale golden but still a touch closed on the nose with vanilla oak and ripe peach, and a twist of orange zest. To taste, it has lovely rich velvety texture, with notes of peach and orange blossom backed by intense vibrant acidity and good structure||2019 to 2030||12%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2011||18.5||tbc||2011 was hot and dry and lack of humidity meant the Aszú berries had more shrivelling than botrytis character, but fantastic concentration and that all-important acid structure. This is a beautiful old gold wine with amber highlights. The nose has lots of spice and exotic aromas followed by lovely richness, exotic notes of mango and peach and a touch of orange blossom. Vivid acids give the fresh clean finish so typical of great Tokaji.||2019 to 2030||13%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2010||17||tbc||A year of dramatic floods and lots of rain in Hungary, giving small amounts of intense noble rot and notable acidity. An amber wine with more mature aromas of honey, dried fruits and nuts, and a hint of herbs. To taste, it has tangy orange peel, marmalade and fig flavours and a long finish, almost savoury due to its firm structure and lively acidity.||now to 2025||12%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2009||18||tbc||Another hot dry year with hugely rich but clean Aszú berries from pure Furmint. Still pale golden and limpid with a bouquet of poached pear, white peach and a hint of papaya. Still remarkably youthful and fruity. Luscious, velvety and mouth-filling with notes of peach skin. Silky, elegant and lingering but still needs time for the rich sugar levels to integrate. A promising future.||2018 to 2030||11.50%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2008||19||tbc||2008 is proving to be one of the best years of the decade and this glowing amber wine is showing a beautifully complex nose and classic Tokaji Aszú aromas. Lots of apricot, with orange peel, nuts and Christmas spice on the nose. In the mouth, there is superb intensity and expression, with liquid apricot, citrus and spice. Exquisite balance between sweetness and vibrant acidity, making a very complete Tokaji.||2017 to 2030||12%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2007||18.5||£26.99 to £30.95||Rain during harvest meant ideal conditions for noble rot to make an appearance in already perfectly ripened grapes. This is a very classic expression of the 5 Puttonyos Aszú style with expressive aromas of orange zest, dried apricot and peach, and a hint of dried fruit. It’s intensely sweet to taste but its bright, tangy acidity means it almost seems dry and savoury.||now to 2030||12.50%||Clos & Cru, Lea and Sandeman, Ocado, Waitrose Cellar,|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2006||19||£33||A great vintage for Tokaji with a wonderful Indian summer resulting in a perfect Aszú crop. Just lovely on the nose, showing apricot, cinnamon and exotic fruit and just a hint of marzipan. To taste, it is rich and silky but also incredibly pure and vivid, with amazingly vibrant acidity lifting the orange and dried apricot fruit notes. Lingering and refined.||now to 2030||11.50%||Richard Granger, Christopher Kellier, The Wine Library,|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2005||18||tbc||A welcome Indian summer followed a cool damp summer so lots of opportunity to make multiple pickings of Aszú berries. The wine is showing some attractive development with distinct amber hues and a bouquet of caramel, barley sugar and dried apricot and even a touch of raspberry. It’s appetisingly tangy and rich, with crunchy acidity to balance the sweetness and peach fruit notes.||now to 2025||12%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2004||16.5||tbc||A cool and late year with less concentration than some vintages, so the wines are evolving more quickly. Amber orange in colour, it shows spice dried fruit and baked apple aromas. It’s a firm and structured wine with plenty of marmalade and orange peel flavours, and typical steely acidity. A good wine still but but without the ethereal quality of great Aszú years.||now to 2020||12.50%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2003||17.5||tbc||A notably hot year across Europe, though Tokaj’s northern location took the edge off the heat. It was a year more about shrivelling than noble rot, giving beautifully rich wines but perhaps lacking a little of the region’s hallmark vibrancy. A bouquet of liquid apricot with orange blossom overtones leads on to a gorgeously rich and rounded palate and a fine velvety finish.||now to 2020||12.50%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2002||19||tbc||An early vintage and early development of that all-important Botrytis, so a good vintage for Aszú that was picked before October rains spoiled the crop later. This has a glowing amber appearance with a complex nose of barley sugar and dried apricot, with hints of mock orange, spice and walnuts. A simply lovely, luscious and velvety expression of citrus and apricot with mouthwateringly fresh acidity on the finish too.||now to 2025||13%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||2001||18||tbc||A challenging year though September rains encouraged botrytis to take hold. Almost savoury on the nose with bitter orange and spice notes. To taste, it is sweet and rich with excellent concentration of apricot, peach, mandarin and floral hints, possibly due to higher than normal levels of Hárslevelű. A pretty and delicate wine.||now to 2025||125||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||2000||18.5||tbc||A dry hot summer brought early ripening and more shrivelling than noble rot and enormously sweet Aszú berries. There are expressive scents of dried fig, dates and orange peel here, then a lusciously velvety and rich palate. It’s silky and rounded with lovely purity and finesse and a long aftertaste, but gentler acidity than more classic years. Still a lovely wine.||now to 2025||13%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||1999||19.5||£40||A great and classic year for Tokaji, probably the best of the nineties due to its fabulous balance of rich Aszú and amazingly vivid acidity. It’s a bright orange-toned gold with an inviting bouquet of dried apricot and candied peel with a twist of spice. It has gorgeous, intense flavours of peach, honey and papaya then amazingly lively and youthful acidity. Tokaji’s “refreshing magic” in a glass.||now to 2025||11.50%||Fine & Rare|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||1998||17||tbc||A rainy autumn with noble rot but not so much shrivelling and concentration giving a simpler less intense Tokaji. It’s showing more mature nutty and dried fruit notes. Very much Tokaji on the palate with sweet apricot, marmalade and lively acidity but clearly a more simple wine.||now to 2025||11.60%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||1997||19||tbc||A cool and late vintage with very little Aszú but what appeared late on in the season was very high quality. This limpid orange-toned wine is ageing beautifully with ethereal orange blossom aromas and notes of fresh peach. Great intensity of flavour and sweetness is balanced by vivid lemon and orange zest notes and almost steely acidity. Complex and long||now to 2025||11%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos||1996||18.5||tbc||Unusually Hárslevelű played the starring role in this changeable season, which produced a lot of noble rot but not so much shrivelling. It shows inviting creamy peach and fig aromas. The palate is broad and rounded with velvety mouth-filling texture and flavours of apricot jam, sultana and citrus. It is ageing gracefully and has a lingering and harmonious finish though in a less classic style.||now to 2025||11.40%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||1995||18||tbc||This was the last vintage where Disznókő bought in Aszú berries from other growers. Plenty of noble rot appeared this season with good acidity levels too. The wine is fully mature though will last some years yet. Sultana, apricot jam and toffee show on the nose with a hint of Earl grey tea. It’s luscious and intense to taste and the perception is almost of a dry wine on the finish due to its steely acid backbone .||now to 2025||11.50%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||1993||19||tbc||A truly historic vintage as the first great year in Tokaj since the Hungary gained her freedom. Almost brown in colour with lots of aromatic complexity – coffee, chocolate, dates and apricot. Still in great shape with a broad range of rich flavours of fig, dates and apricot and classic acidity. Long and complex but more structured than today’s wines.||now to 2025||12%||contact UK UK agents: Gonzalez Byass UK|
|Kapi Vineyard Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||2011||19||tbc||A single vineyard wine made from pure Furmint only in the very best years and 2011 delivered some exceptional Aszú berries. Still very youthful but already showing fine aromas of quince, pear and acacia honey. It has superb intensity and vibrancy with ethereal aromas of fresh quince, pear and apple blossom and mouth-watering vivid acids to balance. Superb potential for long term ageing.||2020 to 2035||12%||Lea & Sandeman|
|Kapi Vineyard Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||2005||19||£80||A lovey expression of pure Furmint from old vines in Disznoko’s Kapi vineyard. It has wonderfully ethereal aromas of white peach, mirabelle and mock orange. To taste, it is gorgeously fine and pure yet intense, and very lingering. A very complete and elegant wine.||now to 2030||12%||Christopher Keiller, Hampshire – rrp @ £80|
|Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos||2002||18.5||£52.99||Amber orange and very bright. This shows a complex bouquet of mango, papaya and apricot crumble. It’s richly textured and sweet to taste with honey and marmalade favours and superb acid balance.||now to 2030||12.50%||Cambridge Wine Merchants, Clos & Cru, Lea & Sandeman|
A look at some of the technical reasons behind the enduring reign of glass in the wine world. For The Wine Society blog