Wine column for week of March 11

Wines from former Soviet-bloc nations feature this week, from Hungary and the Ukraine.
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 Ágoston 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 organised 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 colour, 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 flavours 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.
The entire collection was evacuated to Tbilisi in Georgia just before the Germans invaded in November 1941, and returned to Massandra after Germany’s defeat. Legend has it that the three Allied leaders — Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt — enjoyed these wines at the Yalta conference in the Crimea in 1945 that decided the structure of post-war Europe.
Today Massandra focuses on sweet and fortified wines. I tried a range of sherries, madeira and red and white ports. They paired especially well with spicy seafood dishes, the sweetness of the wines matching nicely with black bean and chili sauces.
The Red Stone white muscat was especially memorable. Made entirely from the muscat grape, it is aged in oak for two years. It has an aroma and taste of roses, orange peel and honey and slips down one’s throat the way a silk cravat winds elegantly around one’s neck. This wine was a favourite of Winston Churchill, the great WWII British prime minister, and also the mother of the current English monarch. It has won at least 22 gold medals.
Ukrainian wines are available online from the Everlasting Cup company, at http://elcup.asia/
Endnote: If you are looking for a bargain sparkling wine, consider the Hardys Nottage Hill non-vintage blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. It retails for HKD 95 (about US$12) and is better than many sparklers costing twice the price. In April Hardys celebrates its 160th birthday.
* Published 14 March 2013. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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