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A Hungarian With Serious Stones (István Szepsy Recent Releases)

Vinted on October 23, 2014 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

István Szepsy…

…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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Dispatch From Subterranean Hungarian Haunts (Tokaji Kereskedőház Zrt. 1972 Aszú 5 Puttonyos)

Vinted on October 2, 2014 binned in kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

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.

BUT

… 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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A Few Hundred Bucks Worth Of Cult California Cab, Definitely Not Made By Metallica Roadies (Tanner Dafoe Recent Releases)

Vinted on September 25, 2014 binned in kick-ass wines, sexy wines, wine review

Question: What do you get when you cross a law-school trained producer of films and commercials with a former professional mountain snowboarder?

Anyone???

In the case of Tanner Dafoe (named after Jeff Tanner and Rob DaFoe, the producer and snowboarder, respectively), you get some fairly complete and substantial Cabernet Sauvignon priced like the California cult red that it is, only (blessedly) with more acid.

What, you didn’t see that one coming?

That Tanner Dafoe can price their (very) small production wines (less than 200 cases for the most part) the way that they do (over $100 per bottle), and yet produce Santa Ynez Valley Cab so complex that the lofty price tag seems justified, is a bit of a minor miracle in the high-end CA wine world. Based on the uncorked contents of a large wooden box full of samples that I received recently from this duo, the hype surrounding their mini-cult endeavor ought to be entertained seriously, if not believed outright.

Even if the guys look like a pair of Metallica or Rolling Stones roadies (sorry, somebody had to say it… c’mon, just look at that picture!)…

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Turn Up The Piiiiiinot (IPNC 2014 Alfresco Tasting Highlights)

Vinted on September 18, 2014 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines, wine review

As you read this, I’ll be in Hungary, a trip of which half is a curated media tour, and half a working stint doing video interview stuff that I will discuss later, but about which I am particularly excited (not just because it’s a paying gig, but also because it involves one of my personal fave white wine grapes, one that is seriously underrated and underrepresented in the U.S. market at the moment; much more to come on all of that soon).

Today, I’m going to be talking about a different paying gig that I recently took on, and a previous media jaunt.

The gig is a monthly run over at Snooth.com, and in the first installment (for the September “edition”) I dish on some of my favorite wines from the the IPNC 2014 alfresco tasting, held in the pre-dinner hours on both days of that event (the next installment will be on Chablis… I know, life is hard, right?). I also photo-bomb Sokol Blosser’s vineyard view in that piece (sorry, guys!).

Now, the Snooth article is only so long, and I found myself with a smattering of other fine Pinots about which I wanted to pontificate, but for which we just didn’t have enough room in that first article. And since this is my blog and I can pretty much do whatever the hell I want here, today we’ll be pontificating on those leftovers, which are themselves totally capable of making a superb, captivating meal. Think of them as the post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich lunch of IPNC 2014 Pinots…

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