Savoring the fruits coming from the great revolution of Soviet-bloc wines
By Stephen Quinn, Special to The China PostWines from former Soviet-bloc nations feature this week, from Hungary and the Ukraine.
March 14, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
Research by British wine writer Hugh Johnson suggests that Hungary was one of Europe's top three wine producing nations about 200 years ago. Indeed, the Tokaj region in the north of the country was the home of the world's oldest vineyard classification system, dating back to the mid 1700s. And A'goston Haraszthy is considered the father of the Californian wine industry, introducing scores of innovative ideas in the 1850s. He developed Buena Vista vineyard in Sonoma.
Hungary's Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a tasting of seven wines in Hong Kong, aiming to promote the country's wine in the Asian region.
One of the most pleasant was a 2011 cserszegi fuszeres (pronounced cher-segy fue-seresh) from Benedek winery. This white tasted like a young gewurtztraminer from Alsace. It was crisp and zingy in the mouth, with aromas of gooseberry and elderflower.
Also compelling was a 2009 furmint from the Szepsy winery in the Tokaj region. Furmint is the grape used to make the great Hungarian dessert wines known as tokaji, which taste like the classic German wines made using the botrytis method described in earlier columns. The fungus botrytis cinerea shrivels the grape, meaning the juice is extra sweet and concentrated.
But this furmint was dry with hints of minerals and toast, the latter coming from astute use of Hungarian oak barrels. It tastes of lemon curd and has good structure and a long elegance.
Also intriguing was a 2010 pinot noir from the Etyeki Kuria vineyard in the north of Hungary. It was the first time I had tried a pinot from Hungary. It was rust in color, with an elegant aroma of red berries and forest floor (mushrooms and composted leaves). In the mouth it tasted the way that light lingers in the sky just on sunset on a winter's day in the country, with touches of liquorice and spice. The acidity was pleasant and the wine balanced, meaning the memory of the flavors stayed in one's mouth for a good amount of time.
Hungarian wines can be found online at Veritas Wine, at http://www.veritas-wine.com/. The site also offers information about the various wine regions in the country. A new era of quality wine-making started in Hungary about two decades ago, and the above wines suggest that this effort is beginning to show good results.
The Massandra winery in the Ukraine has a similar background to the vineyards of Hungary, in the sense of its strong links to heritage and history.
It was built on the shores of the Black Sea in the Crimea in 1894. Its cellars currently contain more than a million bottles.
One would assume that the cellars, owned originally by Tsar Nicholas II, would have been ransacked during the Russian revolution of 1917. But the area is relatively isolated and workers disguised the seven tunnels that housed the wine. When the Red Army took control of the Crimea in 1920 they discovered an intact collection of outstanding wine.