Posts Filed Under on the road
The second installment of my (drunken) Tokaj Furmint adventures is now available, embedded below for your viewing edu-tainment!
In this week’s video, you’ll meet the affable (and very, very tall) Gergely Makai, winemaker at the famed Tokaj-Hétszőlő. In this episode, Gergely and I manage to combine modern winemaking, Jedi Knight mind tricks, one of the coolest wine cellar spaces on the planet, and European history dating back to the early 1500s, involving kings and Ben-Hur-style chariots.
Yeah, I really, actually do get paid to do this shizz! For the full run-down of the vids released so far – and for the detailed scoop on dry Hungarian Furmint wines in general – head on over to FurmintUSA.com.
Enjoy, preferably with a glass of Hungarian vino:
Furmint Adventures – Episode 2.: Tokaj-Hétszőlő Vineyards
A note to musically-inclined wine people: if you help the nice folks at Claypool Cellars folks pick their consulting winemaker, eventually you’ll get to hang backstage at kick-ass Primus concerts.
And while that might at first sound like a raging conflict of interest, I suppose it’s worth noting that a) that hasn’t stopped me from telling them how I think the wines could be improved, and b) I didn’t charge them any consulting fees (so maybe we’re just about even, actually).
Anyway, long-time 1WD faithful will know that we’ve been following the career of Claypool Cellars (founded by Primus front-man Les Claypool and his wife Chaney, both Sonoma-area residents) with great interest over the years.
And while it might seem strange that a rocker who is performing trippy, virtuosic renditions of music from the 1971 Willy Wonka movie would be attempting to make world-class California Pinot Noir, I can offer this tidbit from Les: “We want it to be like Primus; I mean, we’re goofy, but underneath, it’s pretty serious. We can play.”
[ Editor’s note: for what it’s worth, Les has also told me things such as “have you ever had cannabis wine?” and “hey man, where’s the fanceé booze?!???” ]
I am happy to report that, since picking up Ross Cobb as their consulting winemaker, Claypool Cellars has come closer to achieving their goofy-meets-serious goal, and have in their 2012 releases produced the best wines I’ve yet to taste from them. I recently caught up with Chaney, Ross, and Ross’s winemaker partner Katy Wilson to eat some viddles in Sonoma, and taste through some of their single-vineyard 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinots (yeah, I know, tough life I’ve got here)…
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…is a Hungarian man with serious stones.
And he will gladly show them to you, if you ask. Actually, I think he might show them to you even if you don’t ask. He has them laid out on his front porch; dozens of them, organized by 21 different dulo (basically akin to climat). Of course, since we are talking about István Szepsy, not all of the dulo areas represented by his stony display are official; some are his own classifications, harkening back to a map of Tokai region parcels that dates back to 1816. Sixty percent of the holdings are recognized as first class vineyards under the current classification system in Tokaji.
At this point, we should pause and set up a bit of context for you: En route to my visit, my Hungarian handler (himself a winemaker and wine critic) introduced Szepsy like this: “I am now taking you to see the best winemaker… in the world!” So expectations were kind of high by the time we pulled up (late, of course – hey, we were in Hungary, after all! – with the small man himself waiting somewhat impatiently outside the gate) to Szepsy’s estate in the town of Mád.
History suggests that Szepsy should know what he’s doing when it comes to crafting wine in Tokaji: his family has been making wine in the region since (at least) the late 16th century. István Szepsy senior managed to hide a small independent vineyard parcel from the ruling Communists until the 1970s, so it’s not difficult to imagine how István junior got his independent streak. During the socialist regime, he planted about four hectares of his own vineyards, delivering the yield to the state combine until the ruling party changed in 1990.
Since then, Szepsy has pretty much focused obsessively on quality wine production without looking back: out of 52 hectares of plantings, less than 50,000 bottles are made. It’s now a total family business, and no second wines are made (whatever doesn’t make the cut is sold out in bulk). As Szepsy told me, “it’s a very fragile balance economically.” I doubt too many would want to try to get this guy to change his mind, though.
Back to the guy’s stones…
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I don’t want to say that every aspect of my life is firing high on all cylinders right now, because that’s not the case.
… when you get sent to one of the most beautiful places on the globe to try excellent wines, work hard, then play hard, and get paid well to be yourself, it’s hard to think that like is sucky.
And that’s exactly what happened to me for the latter two weeks or so of September, when I toured Hungary’s famed Tokaji (for which I was not paid), and then spent about seven consecutive days MC-ing a video series that will be used to help launch a campaign on the dry white Furmint wines of the region (for which I was paid).
Our final filming stop took place at Tokaj Kereskedőház Zrt., the state-run winemaking outfit that, at a few million bottles of production a year, dwarfs everything else in the region by a factor of, literally, about one thousand (and has not been without recent controversies). The film crew and I were asked to see if we could fit in an interview and tasting at the massive six-kilometer underground cellar and wine library of Tokaj Kereskedőház Zrt., hosted by Kiraly Eniko, the company’s General Deputy/CEO (who billed herself, quite rightly, as “Madame Tokaji”).
Now, I hesitated to write about that visit here, because technically I was paid to be there. However, given that none of my tasting comments were scripted, and that the producer and I had veto power over the wines if we felt that they weren’t up to snuff, and that there’s little chance of you getting your grubby little hands on the wine about which I am about to tell you, and that it was one of the seminal tasting experiences of my wine life… sorry, f-ck the minor conflict of interest here. You need to know about how I nearly lost my sh*t over the wine that we tasted in subterranean caverns beneath Tokaji that day…
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