Wednesday 11 November 2015

Back in Budapest

On a business trip to Budapest recently we took time to check two serious wine shops, for the wines of Kertesz Pince and Terroir Club, the agents for Oszkar Maurer. We have sung the praises of both these producers already in this blog and the time had come to investigate bottles not stocked by Hungaricum, the Hungarian wine (and food) duty free shop at the airport - winner of the Slotovino best Airport Duty Free.

In the days of our visit Hungary felt under siege by the unfortunate Syrian and other refugees trying to get to Germany so the name Terroir Club had an ironic connotation, especially in view of something almost shocking that happened later.

First things first: after a long taxi ride to Obuda - the third city united with Buda and Pest to form Budapest on November 17th, 1873 (until our visit we had thought this was just Buda with some Hungarian prefix) - we came to an industrial estate and a firmly shut rolling metal door (above). Oh dear, was this one of our goose chases ending at the offices of an online company only?

No, fortunately it was a retail shop, venue for tasting and warehouse all in one. With the taxi waiting, we had a quick tour d'horizon and came out with some Maurer including

a white made from Szeremy Zold (Green of Szeremi) a discovery for us, turning out to be a major one,

and something called Bakator. We weren't sure if this was a grape variety or the name of a blend but we believe Piros Bakator is an old Hungarian variety whereas white Bakator is actually Ezerjo.

Zoltan who had helped us mentioned that there was a tasting at 5.00pm. We were tempted to return on the way to the airport because he said Maurer would be there with further wines from his vineyards which are situated across the border in the Vojvodina province of Serbia where there used to be a sizable Hungarian community, after 100 years down from about 28% to 13%.

We asked Zoltan if he had any Menoir (aka. Medoc Noir or Kekmedoc), a native Hungarian variety from Eger making a truly funky red wine with Muscat flavours, he said not but what he did have was Turan - a Hungarian crossing from Menoir among others (Bikaver 8 x Kadarka/Gardonyi Geza x Menoir). So we took a bottle of that as you would.

In the meantime we went over to which was another interesting stop as it turned out. Friends of the producer Kertesz Pince whose Kiralyleanyka we had so enjoyed at the Kiraly Borhaz (now sadly defunct) we had called ahead to reserve a few bottles and Gabor helped us out with these and our further selection.


The present vintage (12%) was more neutral than the one we had tasted in May 2014 (13%) but it is still a nice wine even if the hopes we had had for this grape will perhaps not be realized. It has a reputation for neutrality which we could not have imagined on that one exceptional showing. Perhaps Kiralyleanyka has to be over 12% to realize its personality?

There were plenty of other items of interest though. One which caused amusement was the marketing of wine from Szekszard as Sexardique and others from this region with an image of the young Franz Liszt. Liszt was a very attractive young man as well as one of the greatest pianists who ever lived and a fine composer. His love life was such that he felt the need later on to take holy orders and became the Abbe Liszt.

It is not known if the Hungarian 'Madmen' were aware of the cockney rhyming slang aspect of his name but there he was, very much harnessed to the promotion of Sex - 'ard wines. Should go down well with the Stag parties and Hen nights of Budapest courtesy of Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizz Air.

Next, we added two whites we had tried previously in the hope of either re-enforcing our prejudices or having them overturned: a Juhfark and an Ezerjo.

Back at Terroir Club at 5.00pm, we found the place already in full swing. That is when we learned that Oszkar Maurer had become a victim of Hungary's tightening of its border controls. He had simply not been able to cross the border from Serbia so we were unable renew the contact we had made in May 2014 at the RAW wine fair.

Our sadness at this news was a little bit alleviated by a heartening discovery though. The wines of Hegyi Adam and Kalo Julia. Adam and Julia are a young married couple who make astounding natural wines including their own Turan with which we fell in love. Julia's father Imre Kalo is by all accounts a marvelous character known various as the wild man of Hungarian wine and Hermit of Szomolyai. Google him and you will see! We are trying to devise ways of visiting him ourselves one day.

HegyiKalo had a Turan of their own: Tiszta Szivvel (Pure Heart). One taste and we were captivated.

Their other wines are known as Oroksegul (Heritage) of which the white is a blend of Riesling, Leanyka and Gruener Veltliner and the red, Turan (60%) and Cabernet Franc (40%). there is another red blend called Cseresznyeeres (Ripening Cherries) from a local crossing Medina (aka Medea), a crossing of Seyve Villard and Menoir.

Over to Hungaricum at Liszt Ferenc Airport with a good hour to check out the Hungarian wines on offer there. An hour is a minimum amount of time for this exercise.

We first laid our hands on Gedeon's Arany Sarfeher. This had been seen last year but here was our first chance to buy a bottle. Arany means Gold, Sar means mud and Feher is white.

Next a very inexpensive but quite marvelous Portugieser from Frittmann

a Siller (pronounced Schiller) from the Szekszard (a pink wine from Kadarka grapes) just to compare with the Austrian Schilcher; a rose from Blauer Wildbacher grapes.

At that point we needed some help as previously we had bought a delicious Menoir at this shop but on this occasion it was nowhere to be found.

Without much optimism we asked the chap in charge and he went to the shelves but returned empty handed. He didn't give up though and had a good old check on the computer. This pointed to there being a bottle in stock but he said it had either been sold or misplaced. Still on a mission, he finally went over to a corner where he picked out this beauty from behind some other bottles. Now that's service for you! Our delight would have been complete if he could have plucked Oszkar Maurer and the poor souls trying to cross the border out from behind the border with Serbia.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Trimani wines better

they certainly do wine better at Trimani, Rome's oldest wine merchant. Trimani Vinai a Roma was founded in 1821, its doors have been open ever since under the direction of successive members of the Trimani family. The most recent of these is a relatively young man, Giovanni Trimani very much born to the office.

Sr. Trimani himself, the latest of scions of the family dating back to 1821
Enoteca Costantini, the other serious wine shop in Rome looks more venerable with its vaults and Art Nouveau filigree but it was only founded in 1972. It may have a larger stock than Trimani (6364 wines as opposed to 3158). Its salesmen may walk the floors in uniform creating the impression of a veritable temple to wine, but Sr. Trimani has something unique and precious; an exhaustive knowledge of every single bottle in his shop. He can tell you every detail of the producer, the terroir, the grape varieties, vinification and taste. This is something we have never encountered before. He is something approaching a living treasure.

Not only all this but Sr. Trimani is one of those rare souls who would like to share his enthusiasm with you and is genuinely happy that you might have the same pleasure as he obviously does from his wines and the stories behind them. Discreet and somewhat diffident, he will spend as much time as you wish pursuing the common academic interest in wine with no discernible impulse actually to sell you anything or God forbid, steer you towards an expensive bottle. If you are lucky enough to have half an hour of his time as we were one morning soon after the shop had opened, it is as good as an entire wine course.

His staff are also very knowledgeable and seem to have been at the shop for decades. Despite signs of modernity - the marketing slogan, the contemporary prints on the wall, the excellent 'Trimani il Wine Bar' around the corner (which we visited earlier this year) and so forth, there are pleasant remnants of tradition to be found including a glass booth where a lady cashier sits and must receive your payment before your purchases are wrapped,

 the old Vino Sfuso taps behind a marble fascia, the glass winelist preserved from an earlier incarnation of the shop.

So what about the wines of Enoteca Trimani?

We first asked for a Nero Buono and were not disappointed. Sr. Trimani had more than one. We chose this less expensive one despite its 14.5% alcohol.

Next, a Malvasia Puntinata to replace the one we had previously brought back from Rome and which had 'gone off' due to poor storage and too long a passage of time. No problem, again there were others.

Next, we chose a Rossese di Dolceacqua on Sr. Trimani's recommendation (he has over 20 different Rossesi) and not least as it was low in alcohol

and then a very interesting bottle indeed from the Val d'Aosta, a Chambave Rouge made from Petit Rouge, Dolcetto and Gros Vien de Nus. There may have been others - grapes that dared not speak their names. Sr. Trimani explained that because of the DOC laws, vignerons lived in fear and trembling of any component of local varieties entering the food chain as it were. The addition of heritage varieties not permitted in the DOC could spell ruin so hence the unwillingness of many producers to specify the components. We always imagined they were just worried no one would buy the wine if they thought it contained something they had never heard of. This was an eye-opener.

In his classic 'Italian Wines' Victor Hazan waxes very lyrical about Chambave Rouge concluding that it is a deeply satisfying red, irresistibly good with Val d'Aosta specialities.

Wines we didn't buy included a wine by the famous Sardinian producer, Dettori made from Cannonau at 17.5% alcohol. Alessandro Dettori says “I do not follow the market; I make wines that please me, wine of my own local area, wines of Sennori. They are what they have to be and not what you want them to be.” Perhaps we should try this one, one day?